Junior doctors in east London on strike in January (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Junior doctors in England have given a lead to workers everywhere by announcing a five-day strike in the run-up to the election. They decided it is the best way to push their pay claim and highlight the NHS crisis.

Everyone should support them and other unions should pile in behind them. The best way to drive the Tories out is action over Palestine and also against austerity and to win pay rises. And that will also put pressure on an incoming Labour government.

The British Medical Association (BMA), the main doctors’ union, said on Wednesday that junior doctors will walk out from 27 June to 2 July.

Robert Laurenson and Vivek Trivedi are co-chairs of the BMA junior doctors’ committee. “When we entered mediation with government this month, we did so under the impression that we had a functioning government that would soon be making an offer,” they said.  

Junior doctors had “made clear to the government that we would strike unless discussions ended in a credible pay offer”, they added. “Clearly no offer is now forthcoming. Junior doctors are fed up and out of patience.” 

In a message to members, the BMA said, “In the face of Government washing their hands of negotiations, we are compelled to take a stand. 

“The election doesn’t absolve Rishi Sunak of his responsibility to settle our dispute. We demand a public commitment to pay restoration.

“Force his hand and put us at the top of the agenda during the general election campaign for both this government and the next. Join us on the picket line.

“The moment has not passed us. It is right in front of us.”

After five weeks of talks late last year, the BMA rejected the government’s offer of a 3 percent pay increase, on top of a roughly 9 percent rise already offered. It said the proposal was not “credible” and did not address 15 years of real terms pay cuts.

Disgracefully, Labour doesn’t support the doctors’ demands.Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary, told the BBC on Wednesday he is “willing to sit down and negotiate”. But just days earlier he had underlined opposition to the junior d doctors’ pay claim. 

He had tried to entrench division by saying that instead he would be “a shop steward for patients as health secretary”.

“I need to be upfront with people on this side of the election,” Streeting said. “So I’m not prepared to sit here and say to junior doctors, ‘Your pay demand, don’t worry, you’ll be alright with Labour’, and then let them down on the other side of the election.”

He’s getting in his betrayals early. As an aside, he added that “handouts” are not the solution to tackling poverty and he spurned students protesting over Gaza. “You wouldn’t have seen me in one of those tents when I was at the NUS” student union, he said. 

Doctors are right to strike. They should call picket lines everywhere and make them a focus for everyone who hates the Tories, wants to defend the NHS, and sees the need to put pressure on Labour too.

Junior doctor says, ‘Strike while the iron’s hot’

Paul, a radiology doctor in the east of England, thinks the timing of the strike is important.

“They say you should strike while the iron is hot,” he told Socialist Worker. “Well, it doesn’t get much hotter politically than during a general election campaign. The strike will send a strong message to the Tory government that we haven’t gone away. But it is also a warning to the government that will follow.”

Paul says he is bitterly disappointed with Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting for saying that he would not commit to pay restoration for junior doctors.

“It seems that all governments want to pay us as little as possible,” he says. “I was hoping that at a minimum he would commit to the idea that our pay should return to what it was. His statements are disappointing, but not demoralising. We know that our strike has already made progress.

“At the beginning, the government insisted that we were only going to get a 2 percent rise. But it has already been forced to up that offer several times. Junior doctors can see that, and that’s why we won our recent re-ballot with a good vote for strikes.”

According to Paul, the mood for the coming five-day strike is strong. But, he says, the fact that the dispute has become long and drawn out means it doesn’t grab attention the way it did at the beginning.

“But I think striking during the election will galvanise people,” he says. “There’s a positive sense of change around it.”

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