The People’s Assembly hosted a defiant and inspiring rally in support of the junior doctors, reports Cameron Panting
The emergency rally followed a series of historic strikes, and Jeremy Hunt’s subsequent imposition of the damaging contract, set to come in to effect at the beginning of August.
However, judging from the resolute speeches, and bubbling atmosphere of last night, further strikes seem likely, and if it wasn’t already, it is clear the fight is now being fought on political grounds: as one junior doctor said to me, ‘We just so happen to be the first line of defence - but if we don’t fight they will come for the rest of the service’.
On a miserable evening, and with the Tories' imposition, you could have forgiven a downbeat mood, but the place was buzzing. The night was set off beautifully, with the chart-topping NHS Choir singing a dedication to the junior doctors called ‘Yours’ (you can download the song online).
Following them, Yannis Gourtsoyannis set the tone for the evening with a rallying cry for junior doctors and all NHS staff to get behind the movement. He also noted the initial warnings the junior doctors were given about a public backlash, and how the complete opposite had happened: ‘Junior doctors across the country have been moved by the level of support they have found on picket lines, demonstrations and across the media’.
Yannis has spearheaded this campaign, but it is clear he truly represents the views of the junior doctors, as Ken Loach pointed out later on: the Tories can’t even find one doctor who supports the contract.
Fantastic speeches followed, from trade union leaders, Vanessa Redgrave, a DPAC representative, Jolyon Rubinstein and Sam Fairbairn to name a few. Lauren Gavaghan - whose sharp interview on LBC went viral recently - provided some context to this attack, pointing to Jeremy Hunt’s contribution to a paper arguing for the privatisation of the NHS - page 78!
Particularly notable was a superb speech from student nurse Danielle Tiplady, who brought passion and fire to the evening, and reminded us exactly what we are fighting for. The #BursaryOrBust campaign to save student bursaries has re-enforced the junior doctors movement, and is proof that unity is key. Danielle also pointed out a few of the problems with the broken-up, privatised service creeping in, and what happens when you put profit before care.
As many speakers said throughout the evening, it's clear that this dispute is about far more than pay. This is about the defence against an all out attack on the NHS, and a fight for the soul of the service, which as Jolyon pointed out, is the ‘crowning glory of this country’.
We await the outcome of meetings by the BMA this weekend, but one thing is for sure - this fight has only just begun, and we have already started winning. The imposition by the Tories is a sign of weakness, and we certainly have the strength to take this fight further.
It’s truly inspiring to see those from different parts of the health service realise that their fight is the fight of their co-workers. This movement is seriously starting to join the dots between the different challenges facing us, and the numerous assaults from this government. There were many calls for building the ‘Stop Trident’ demonstration on 27 February, as well as the 16 April People’s Assembly demonstration ‘Health, Homes, Jobs and Education’.
Solidarity with the junior doctors, and all those who work for the NHS.
Cameron Panting was formerly National Organiser for Counterfire. He is active within the People's Assembly and Stop The War.
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