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Junior doctor Mona Kamal calls for support for the upcoming strikes and the demonstration organised by student nurses this Saturday. Only a united strategy will be effective

In November last year junior doctors across England voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action in response to the government’s threats to impose a contract that threatened patient safety whilst also amounting to intolerable working conditions for junior doctors. Since then, anger has grown amongst all health care professionals, not just at the unfairness of the proposed contract but also in recognition of the fact that Jeremy Hunt was knowingly sabotaging NHS workers, and by extension threatening to destabilise the NHS. These contracts will also mean a further step towards an even greater private sector takeover of our health service.

In December, we were poised to go ahead with a rolling programme of strikes, including two unprecedented full walkouts. However, having rejected the BMA’s offer of negotiation for months, the Department of Health agreed to temporarily suspend the threat of imposing the contract less than 24 hours before the first strike was due to commence. Industrial action was called off. Faith in the BMA remained largely intact as we waited to see what these negotiations might yield. Many were also sceptical over whether the government had any intention of pursuing a meaningful resolution and grew anxious that such a strong mandate for strike action could be squandered.

Yesterday, however, the BMA announced that industrial action will go ahead. They argue that “it is clear that the government is still not taking junior doctors’ concerns seriously… repeatedly dragged its feet throughout this process, initially rejecting our offer of talks and failing to make significant movement during negotiations.”

In light of industrial action being re-instated, there is a sense that junior doctors must now use this opportunity not merely to fight for our own pay and working conditions but to fight for the survival of the NHS as a whole, which members of this government and Jeremy Hunt in particular have consistently and, in rare moments of frankness and plain-speaking, explicitly made clear they wish to dismantle.  

Junior doctors know that this is no longer just our fight. We are mindful that we are now representing working people across the wider public sector, many of whom have been watching closely as this story unfolds. We also understand that progress in this dispute would serve to embolden all those within the public sector who are seeing their own working conditions eroded as a result of the damaging, ideologically driven austerity imposed by this government.

In a statement issued by the BMA, Dr Yannis Gourtsoyannis, a member of the Junior Doctors' Committee National Executive, writes that “a victory for the Junior Doctors would signify the first real crack in the entire edifice of austerity in the UK” and calls on all trade unionists and activists to stand with us in solidarity to defend the NHS and all other publicly provided services which are under attack.

Crucially, support can be provided by visiting the picket sites. These will be set up at major hospitals across England on all three days of proposed industrial action: 12 and 26 January and 10 February. There will also be ‘Meet the Doctors’ events, which will be running alongside the pickets and going on throughout the day at nearby public spaces. Please come by to find out more about the wider attacks on the NHS that are threatening safe service provision and hear more about motives for the strike. This would also provide an excellent opportunity for junior doctors to link up with local activists and campaign groups whose support we will need in taking this fight forward.

Junior doctors across the country are already beginning to organise more effectively. Through this experience we have understood that unity must extend not just within our own profession but across all allied health professionals, auxiliary staff and to other public sector workers beyond.

The first crucial step as we build momentum for the first day of industrial action next week, is marching in solidarity with student nurses this Saturday, 9 January to protest the unjust and unnecessary removal of the NHS Student Bursary. Junior doctors will be there to demonstrate that we are committed to defending the NHS as a whole and not in this fight merely to preserve our own pay and working conditions. 

The protest will assemble outside St Thomas’s hospital at 12 noon and proceed towards Downing Street for a rally and speakers. Please join us – the Tory government are engaged in an active campaign to dismantle the NHS and it is only by standing united that we will have the means to resist these attacks effectively.

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