Standing in a sunny Parliament Square surrounded by a colourful mix of trade union flags, Mick Lynch spoke to LFF about the troubling state of democracy in Britain.
The RMT general secretary was a speaker at the emergency protest organised ahead of the final Parliament vote on the anti-strike legislation, Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill.
For Lynch, the anti-strike legislation comes under a broader attempt by the Tory government to clamp down on any kind of opposition, warning that a threat to trade union power is a threat to democracy.
“The government has got an attitude towards anything they don’t agree with, any kind of dissent. It could be politically or more broadly socially, where if they don’t agree with people, they try to ban them,” said Lynch.
“We got these police bills and these counter-demonstration bills where people will be stopped from demonstrating or protesting.
“We saw that during the coronation, one of the most passive pieces of civil disobedience if you like, was banned in effect and people were put in jail for the day.
“They’re trying to clamp down on any dissent, and I think that’s a very troubling state, and it’s time for the British people to wake up to that and see that if trade unions, which are an organic part of life and grow in every society, if they’re not allowed to function properly, democracy in this country is in a lot of trouble.
“We’ve got to make sure that people are out opposing that and we’ve got to make sure that people understand the issues.
UNIONS will be taking legal action against the government’s strike-buster agency worker regulations after the High Court granted permission for the challenge today. [yesterday]
The judicial review of anti-worker rules has been brought by 11 trade unions, co-ordinated by the TUC, to protect the right to strike.
Reports suggest that the government is considering new ways to undermine industrial action amid a surge in strikes across the country.
The 11 unions — Aslef, BFAWU, FDA, GMB, NEU, NUJ, POA, PCS, RMT, Unite and Usdaw — have taken up the case against the government’s new regulations, which allow agency workers to fill in for striking workers.
The unions argue that the regulations are unlawful as ministers failed to consult unions as required by the Employment Agencies Act and as they violate fundamental trade union rights protected by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Being a doctor – or any public sector worker – shouldn’t be such a battle. That’s why we must support junior doctors in their planned strikes.
For the last 9 years I have been the medical director of an NHS service providing confidential help to doctors and dentists with mental health problems, seeing a rising number of doctors week on week.
But our patients have changed.
In our early days the ‘typical’ patient was an older male (GP or psychiatrist) with alcohol problems.
Now nearly half of all new patients are under 30 years old. They come to us with depression, anxiety and symptoms akin to posttraumatic stress disorder. Many have worked in the NHS only a few years. They started out bushy tailed and bright eyed, but end up ‘burnt-out’ (a polite euphemism for depression) after only a few years working. Our youngest patients are only a few months qualified and many are in their Foundation years.
Patient after patient talks of feeling betrayed and bewildered by their loss of enthusiasm about a profession that they had strived to enter (often since their early teens). How their desire to care for patients is sapped by every working day. The language they use to describe their work is that of the battlefield. Being on the ‘front-line’, of ‘surviving’ another shift, being ‘at war’ with management. They talk of feeling abandoned by the NHS. Of working intolerable shifts that appear to have been designed by robots with no concept that humans will need to work them. Of having no sustenance – literally and metaphorically – as they try their best to deliver care to patients.
They talk of working in an unforgiving environment – where every error will lead to punishment and where every move is watched and recorded. They describe the fun having gone out of their profession. They say that they cannot see a future any more in medicine.
Our junior doctors are striking for more than pay and conditions – important though these are. Their planned strike is consciously or unconsciously action to shine a light on what is going on within the NHS – to shine a light on the conflict between idealism and industrialization.
Increasing privatisation has changed the relationship doctors have with their patients. Constant reorganisation has fragmented services, and shattered long-standing teams. At a series of NHS listening events I held in 2014, the overwhelming term used by all NHS staff to describe their working environment was ‘Fear’.
The pay of junior doctors has never been good – not when calculated across the hours worked, the responsibilities they have and when compared to their non-medical peers.
But this was part of the compact we all had – we gave our all for our patients and the organisation we worked in gave their all to us – cared for us, nurtured us, trained us. We also knew that the intolerable hours would end as we climbed the medical career ladder. Now all of this has been fractured.
The new junior doctor contract will erode not just pay but also the current safety net against exploitative hours of work. Saturdays will be counted the same as week-days (tell their children that when they are off school and wanting to see Mum or Dad). Women and others who take career breaks will be discriminated against. Junior doctors have been forced to look into the abyss and chose between pain today (strike action) or pain tomorrow (agreeing to an unfair and unsafe contract). They are being treated as children rather than the committed adults they are – their please ignored, instead accused by Jeremy Hunt of being ‘extreme’, ‘militants’, and even unpatriotic.
The junior doctors are not alone in their discontent. The nurses who are marching this Saturday, the teachers and social workers, in fact most public sector workers have seen insecurity, exploitation, fear, and subtle discrimination as the backdrop to their working lives.
The junior doctors are fighting for fairness for all of these workers. They are leading the charge for a restoration of the values that should drive our public services. For a change by those who employ them – ultimately our Government – who have a moral duty to protect those who care for some of the most vulnerable in society.
Without this change, goodwill will disappear forever and with it the glue that binds our public services together. The government must now stop their bullying tactics and accept that something is profoundly wrong the NHS today and act before it is too late.
This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.
UK political events combine into a lurch towards Fascism.
The gagging law is passed. Called the Transparency of Lobbying Bill, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act it has nothing to do with transparency of lobbying and everything to do with silencing the government’s critics and opponents. It’s a huge blow against trade unions and other campaigning groups like 38degrees and charities. The Conservative-pretendLiberal coalition have attacked democracy by passing this law.
Fascism is described by it’s creator Benito Mussolini as corporatism – the unification of corporations and government. This is entirely the action that the gagging law continues to excuse. Fascism is right-wing authoritarianism typified by attacks on trade unions and political opponents.
Home secretary Theresa May wants to strip suspected terrorists of their nationality and leave them stateless. This is to be done through the use of secret courts. Theresa May has previously stripped dual-nationals of UK nationality so that they could then be renditioned, etc.
This is intended to be done to suspected terrorists. If there was any evidence against them they would be terrorists. Political activists and dissidents are suspected terrorists. Terrorism as defined in UK law is not necessarily anything to do with explosives or arms or similar threats. Once again the government is seen to be silencing it’s critics and opponents.
Madman and London Mayor Boris Johnson wants police to use water cannon and “get medieval” on protesters. The riots of 2011 were sparked by the police murder of Mark Duggan.
later edit: Home Secretary Theresa May’s intention is to deprive ‘naturalised’ subjects i.e. from abroad and granted UK status, of UK nationality. It’s still disproportionate since it only needs suspicion rather than any evidence and the powers are bound to be extended later. Politicians love terrorism because it gives them cover for Fascist laws.
Although reported almost universally as suspected terrorists it is actually “… the Secretary of State is satisfied that the deprivation is conducive to the public good because the person, while having that citizenship status, has conducted him or herself in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom, any of the Islands, or any British overseas territory.” [source] That seems far wider than suspected terrorists.
George Osborne has made it clear that he plans to introduce “billions” more in welfare cuts if the Tories win the next election, including a possible reduction in the £26,000 household benefit cap and new limits on child benefit, but where does Nick Clegg stand? At the Deputy PM’s final monthly press conference of the year, I asked him whether he was prepared to consider a reduction in the benefit cap in the next parliament. He told me:
It’s not something that I’m advocating at the moment because we’ve only just set this new level and it’s £26,000, which is equivalent to earning £35,000 before tax…I think we need to keep that approach, look and see how it works, see what the effects are, but not rush to start changing the goalposts before the policy has properly settled down.
The key words here are “at the moment”. While Clegg again declared that he believed the priority should be to remove universal pensioner benefits from the well-off (“you start from the top and you work down”), he was careful not rule out a cut in the level of the cap.
Home Secretary Theresa May fails to provide any evidence that the Guardian’s publishing the Edward Snowden leaks have damaged national security as claimed by boss of MI5, Andrew Parker. Keith Vaz, chair of the home affairs committee told May “What you have given us today, and what we have heard so far, is only second-hand information. Mr Parker and Sir John are making statements in open session and nobody knows what the follow-up is.” and “Everyone is appointed by the prime minister … They are asking questions of each other, and giving answers to each other … That is exactly why we need to see them [the agency heads]. But you don’t want us to see them at all.”