Junior doctors on the march last month (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Junior doctors in England are this week set to push ahead with the longest walkout in the history of the health service. Their fight is vital not only for health workers but for everyone that wants to rescue the NHS from death by Tory cuts.

Thousands of medics in all services, including A&E, are ready to strike for five days from Thursday in the long running battle over health service pay.

Their action will bring many NHS services to a halt because junior doctors are the largest part of the medical workforce.

Right wingers will doubtless cry crocodile tears over lives lost during the strike. But those same people refuse to acknowledge the daily drip of pain and death caused by a demoralised health service starved of funds.

Tory health secretary Steve Barclay refuses to talk to the doctors’ BMA union while strikes are ongoing. So far he has only insulted the union with poor offers he knew it would reject.

Junior doctors are fighting for their pay to be restored to 2008 levels —and that means a rise of 35 percent. That pay claim is the least they deserve. But there are worrying signs that some in the union leadership would settle for far less.

The Scottish BMA agreed to call off pay strikes set for this week after the Scottish government made a revised offer. But the offer is poor and scarcely better than previous government positions. It amounts to just 17.5 percent over two years—with an immediate rise of 12. 4 percent.

Scottish BMA leaders say they will recommend the offer because it stops further pay erosion over the next three years.

But the deal does nothing to address the 26 percent fall in pay that has already happened. The union is also making worrying noises about a pay settlement for consultant doctors in England.

Last week the BMA said it would cancel strikes planned for next week if the government offered just 12.4 percent—-the same deal being pushed on junior doctors in Scotland.

There is a real danger that the Scottish offer will become the union’s benchmark and be used to bring the more radical junior doctors’ leaders into line.

That means activists must adopt a tough stance on this week’s picket lines and back the union’s original pay claim and the strategy of longer strikes.

They will doubtless be buoyed by the radiographer’s SoR union announcing a two-day strike from Tuesday 25 July—- just days after the planned strike by consultants.

That pay strikes are still a red hot issue in the NHS, and with the broader public, is causing no end of problems for the Tories as they enter a period of byelections in poor shape. And now cabinet splits are emerging, with some ministers wanting improved offers to workers in dispute.

All health workers should take advantage of the doctor’s and radiographers’ strikes and the Tories’ weaknesses.

That means getting large union-led delegations to every picket line –and raising issues over pay, grading and allowances that might lead to more local NHS disputes. 

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