Unison union members at Homerton hospital in east London joined the junior doctors’ picket line

This week’s England-wide junior doctors’ strike can become a focus for everyone working in the NHS—and for the thousands of others that depend on it. That was the message from a solidarity rally at one of London’s smallest general hospitals. 

Scores of health workers—from admin staff to therapists—joined a lunchtime time picket line at the Homerton hospital on Thursday. It marked the second day of the doctors’ six-day strike.  

They were joined by local health campaigners and trade unionists, plus local councillors and socialist MP Jeremy Corbyn. 

BMA rep and striking doctor Johnny Denfhy opened the rally saying, “The NHS is the best thing ever made in this country but now it is in a battle for survival.” 

He said the government had already spent more on trying to defeat the union that it would have cost to settle the doctors’ claim in full. “That means the government’s aim is ideological,” he said to loud applause.  

Sharon is a surgical appliance officer who’s worked at the Homerton for 21 years. The Unison union member told Socialist Worker that she was keen to come out on the picket line during her lunch break.  

“These doctors work really hard and aren’t paid nearly enough,” she said. “To be honest, no one that works for the NHS is paid enough, so if they get a win, I think it will make it easier for us all to win.” 

Sharon worries about the state of the NHS, and fears that the Tories will try and make more cuts.  

“In my department, we are busier than we were before Covid. We see far more patients but with less staff. You have to wonder how long that can go on? What will be left of the service in 20 years’ time?” she said. 

“We can’t let them cut services and privatise us. This fight over pay must be about fighting for the NHS as a whole.” 

Des, a rep from the local NEU education union, took up that theme. He pointed to the vast wealth of the rich and contrasted it with the lack of money for public services—including health and education. 

“In Britain, there are now more billionaires than ever before. We should be taxing these people to make sure we have what we need.” 

RMT union rep Dales works at a nearby train station. He told the rally why the Homerton, and all that work in it, mean so much to him.  

“This hospital saved my life a few years ago. And since then, it has been treating a shoulder injury, so I’m very glad to see some of my physiotherapists out here in support of the doctors’ today,” he said.  

“All of us workers are under attack. And, if we don’t fight back things will only get worse. We can already see what privatisation is doing to the NHS.” 

Looking ahead to the coming general election, Dale added, “There’s no point Labour coming to power and then repeating Tory policies.” That drew a big response from the crowd that had grown. 

Jeremy Corbyn told the rally that doctors’ were right to defy right wing pressure to strike for six days. 

“We know that this is not only about pay but is in support of the NHS. This dispute is about being able to pay the rent here in London, and it’s about the stress of the job and the stress of being in debt.  

“What we are witnessing today is the outcome of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act—it is the dismantling of the NHS.  

“The NHS is becoming just a badge for the private sector interests that now run parts of the service. The private sector now wants the whole lot.” 

And Corbyn also had a message for the Labour leadership. “If the party sells its soul to big business, it will open the door to the far right. We need proud solidarity between workers to push back at them,” he said.  

Rounding off the rally, local patient Millie stepped up the mic and told the doctors how much she believed in their fight. “Don’t’ be emotionally blackmailed by this government,” she insisted. “Don’t think that the public believe that doctors don’t care about patients. We know we can rely on you.  

“It’s them, the government, that don’t care. They don’t care about anyone but themselves. That’s why we all have to fight for the NHS.” 

The Homerton rally gave the doctors a boost at a time when right wing papers and politicians are gunning for them.  

It is something that could be repeated at almost any NHS workplace in England or Wales—which is set to join the strike next Monday. And it can inspire other health workers. Activists in all the main unions are now preparing for a new round of pay disputes starting this Spring that could help sink this rotten government. 

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