Junior doctors picketing at St Thomas’ Hospital in London (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Thousands of junior doctors in England defied both the Tories and Labour on Thursday by walking out on a five-day strike.

It was their 11th round of strikes since the dispute began at the end of 2022.

The action—which is set to end just days before the general election—is a sharp reminder that doctors remain determined to win the 35 percent pay rise they richly deserve.

“We do this job because we want to help people and there’s an assumption that if you do good work you’ll be rewarded—but not in this job,” says Amisha, a stroke doctor in Birmingham.

She has recently completed six years of medical training but is now on strike.

“Through all of those six years, junior doctors’ pay has kept falling,” she told Socialist Worker at a BMA union rally in London.

“And, this dispute is not just about pay, it’s about everything that’s linked to pay too.

“Because we are short staffed, we work too hard, and we worry about mistakes. Then, when we get home, we find it hard to switch off and we are anxious about the patients we saw during our last shift.

“I’m not the only person I know who gets into work early so that I can check-up on the people I cared for the day before. That’s a result of stress and it interferes with your sleep and your home life.”

Both the Tories and Labour insisted the BMA call off its action, saying it was “inappropriate” to strike in the run-up to the election.

.The supposedly left wing Guardian newspaper even ran a story apparently based on “more senior” BMA members who said that by striking, the junior doctors had scored an “own goal”.

That article was nothing but an attempt to create division in the union.

But far from an own goal, it is precisely the union’s campaign of hard-hitting strikes that has pushed Labour’s would-be health secretary, Wes Streeting, to say he would broker new pay talks on “day one” of taking office.

Amisha says that striking just before the election was “necessary”. “We needed to send a message,” she said. “The new government needs to know what it is in for.”

The top of the union backed up that message. Dr Rob Laurenson, a GP and co-chair of the BMA junior doctors’ committee, told the London rally that the wave of strikes was a way to hold the old government, and a future government, to account.

“For 15 years you have cut our pay, over and over again,” he said, to shouts of “shame”.

“Our message is that we are no longer prepared to suffer in silence.

“All we hear from them is that our demand for pay restoration is unaffordable, that it’s unreasonable. But our message is that if you can’t afford to pay for it, then you can’t have it.”

Many striking doctors told Socialist Worker that they understood an incoming Labour government would try to end the strike without meeting the union’s demand in full.

On the picket line at Homerton hospital, in east London, one striking doctor said the union must withstand that pressure.

“We are putting our dispute front and centre of the general election. We set the government a deadline and we won’t give up until our demands,” he said.

“If Labour doesn’t meet our demands we should continue striking. Our demand is constant irrespective of the government.

“Whether it’s Wes Streeting or a Tory health minister, we demand pay restoration. We don’t deserve any less than 35 percent.”

That’s right. And to turn the demand into reality, the hundreds of thousands of other NHS workers who are waiting for a pay settlement should now step up their demands too.

If doctors and all NHS workers stand united, they can win decent pay for all—and fight off the threat of cuts and privatisation from all the main parties.

Find your nearest picket line here


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