Parade for junior doctors Samba solidarity through Bristol. Photo: Jack Sherwood

Samba protest parade through Bristol rallies support for student nurses, junior doctors and the NHS

Just days before the junior doctors’ strike, student nurses, doctors and anti-austerity activists led a 500-strong vibrant and defiant protest parade through Bristol city centre, stopping traffic. Amazed shoppers cheered and whipped out cameras to capture the sights and sounds of the ‘African Sambistas’ band, drumming along with raucous chants of “NHS… Not for Sale!” and “Jeremy Hunt, shame on you!”

The march ended in a rally at the city’s focal point, ‘the fountains’, where speakers included a long-time psychiatric nurse and Unison Women’s Officer, a junior doctor GP organising on the pickets, a retired nurse (now anti-privatisation campaigner) and a student nurse out protesting for the first time.

In a moving and fiery fashion, speakers related their various campaigns to the destructive Tory austerity and privatisation agenda opposed by all with equal vigour: against a recurrent threat to outsource local Children’s Mental Health services to Virgin Care (and drop a local ban on tax-avoiding providers), against Jeremy Hunt’s draconian imposition of the #NotSafeNotFair doctors’ contract, in support of the NHS Reinstatement Bill,  against vicious cuts to bursaries for student nurses and health workers, and mobilising for the People’s Assembly National Demo for Health, Homes, Jobs & Education on 16 April.

A key note was the tough (and tiring) nature of the speakers’ work in the NHS, which, though providing great optimism for the strength of human cooperation and mutual concern, was being downgraded, under-resourced and made impossible to accomplish by government’s ruthless ‘reform’ agenda – an agenda against which they were determined to fight ‘to the end’, in the knowledge that this is a struggle for the existence of a public health service as we know it!

A rallying cry of “all out” for the junior doctors’ picket lines sprung from all speakers, made up of representatives of local campaigns Protect our NHS, Protect CCHP, Bristol Bursary or Bust, Severn Junior Doctors Pressure Group and Bristol People’s Assembly Against Austerity, who joined up in organising the march and other flashmob actions during the day to take their messages of resistance to the streets. These groups were joined by Green and Labour Party contingents, trade unionists, socialists and flocks of passers-by, drawn to the march by the inimitable sounds of the samba band, and the striking, colourful placards of protesters and uniformed nurses, dancing and chanting their way through the central avenues.

The mood at the close of the events was at fever pitch, with campaigners and health workers – battle-weary before the day, from recent months by the ruthless tactics of the Tories and right-wing media and the strain of NHS cuts on their jobs – found uplifted, encouraged and more determined than ever after such an energetic and gloriously enraged demonstration of collective resistance.

And it seemed the call of the rally was heeded in the following days, as hundreds brought solidarity to the picket lines, heartening for junior doctors – with some feeling uncertain amidst the pressures of a dogged and trying dispute and their crucial situation on the front line of a sweeping movement of resistance to Tory austerity.

Yet, in fully embracing its role in that movement, this ‘do or die’ struggle for a well-staffed public NHS might find a more defiant and unifying expression in bringing some of the sound and fury (and sights) of that Saturday’s ecstatic protest, and the student nurses, trades unionists and wider public with them, right onto the pavement pickets of the doctors’ struggle.

Jack Sherwood

Jack Sherwood has been an organiser in the People's Assembly and Stop the War. Based in Bristol, he coordinated the largest demonstrations and public meetings in the city 2014-2019: against austerity, in support of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of Labour, over the Junior Doctors' struggle and against the British bombing of Syria.

Tagged under: