Strike action by doctors could be on the cards, as part of a British Medical Association campaign for a 30% pay rise. This struggle must be linked to those of other health workers and striking unions – and to the fight for socialist policies.

Strike action by doctors could be on the cards, as part of a British Medical Association campaign for a 30% pay rise. This struggle must be linked to those of other health workers and striking unions – and to the fight for socialist policies.

Delegates to the recent annual conference of the British Medical Association (BMA) passed a motion calling for a 30% wage rise over the next five years, with the aim of restoring doctors’ pay to pre-2008 levels.

This sets the BMA on a collision course with the Tories, paving the way for potential strike action by doctors in the months ahead.

The leadership of the BMA must urgently link the doctors’ struggle with similar battles being waged across the trade union movement, uniting these fights in order to bring down this decrepit government.

Austerity and privatisation

Stressed Doctor

Following the 2008 economic crash, successive Tory governments have implemented a brutal regime of austerity and privatisation, opening up the NHS and social care to parasitic investors and outsourcing companies.

We were told that running NHS services as businesses would increase efficiency and cut unnecessary costs. Since the start of the pandemic, however, treatment waiting lists have grown from 4.43 million to a record high of 6.48 million. And this number is expected to rise to over 10 million by 2024. This is the so-called ‘efficiency’ of the free market. 

In 2018-19, 67% of hospital trusts were running a deficit. Individual trusts have been forced to go to extreme measures just to balance the books. This means cutting vital services, and attacking the pay and conditions of NHS staff.

This explains how doctors have ended up receiving 30% less in real-terms pay than in 2008. It also explains the chronic understaffing seen inside the NHS.

For example, there are approximately 110,000 unfilled posts across the health service in England; 8,158 of these vacancies are for doctors. Consequently, healthcare workers are forced to work longer, with more intense shifts, for lower pay.

No wonder then that 58% of doctors report symptoms of burnout and depression, whilst 6-in-10 nurses state a desire to leave the profession.

Fighting organisation

This situation is clearly unsustainable. And it was only a matter of time before doctors said ‘enough is enough!’

The ‘proletarianisation’ of the profession – similarly to what has been seen with other traditionally privileged layers, such as barristers – has forced doctors to begin organising using traditional working-class methods.

This can be seen in the grassroots ‘Doctors Vote’ campaign, which aims to transform the BMA into a fighting organisation that is willing and able to restore doctors’ pay to pre-2008 levels.

The first signs of this pressure from below were seen at the recent annual BMA conference, where a motion was passed stating that the leadership should aim to “achieve pay restoration to 2008 for its members within the next five years”.

Moving the motion, Dr Emma Runswick, a member of the BMA’s ruling body, asserted that: “I know it is likely that industrial action will be required to move the government on this issue.”

This is absolutely correct. The ruling class have never given any concessions without militant struggle by the working class.

United struggle

Spring of Discontent

This motion reflects the growing militancy amongst the rank and file of the BMA; the positive fighting mood amongst doctors. But by itself, it does not go far enough.

The Tories are on the ropes, mired in sleaze and scandal. The recent RMT rail strikes, meanwhile, have sparked a wave of class anger, channelled through the trade unions, setting the scene for a ‘summer of discontent’.

Speaking at the BMA conference, Dr Kevin O’Kane correctly stated that: “This is our time of maximum power. Don’t waste it with a five-year flaccid fudge. We need action this side of a general election.”

The BMA therefore needs to demand pay restoration with immediate effect. And the organisation’s leadership must coordinate action with other trade unions and striking workers – including nurses, NHS staff, and other public sector workers – to mobilise a mass campaign that can fight for a proper pay rise for all.

Furthermore, with the Tories in meltdown and Boris on his way out, all of these struggles should be brought together across the labour movement in an effort to kick out this crisis-ridden government.

Socialist programme

This must also be linked to the fight for socialist policies: to end austerity and privatisation; and to expropriate the billionaires in order to fund a mass recruitment drive of NHS staff and the construction of new hospitals.

Right-wing critics assert that a 30% pay raise for doctors is outrageous and unrealistic. What is outrageous, however, is that approximately £400 million per month is syphoned off from the public purse by private vultures, and by Tory chums given lucrative contracts to supply substandard services and equipment.

The money and resources are there to improve services, and to give all NHS staff a proper pay rise. But these are in the wrong hands. 

We must fight for a full reversal of privatisation and outsourcing, bringing all jobs and services under public ownership and workers’ control.

The nationalisation of the banks and major monopolies, meanwhile, would provide the cash needed to improve services, and to secure better pay and conditions for health workers.

Only on the basis of a clear socialist programme can we save our NHS, and ensure that healthcare is run for everybody’s needs, rather than the profits of a few.