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.”
Review condemned as ‘a Tory election stunt’ by Unite union, while coalition tensions emerge over remit
David Cameron has ordered an inquiry into the tactics of the trade unions in the wake of the bitter industrial dispute which almost led to the closure of the Grangemouth oil refinery in Scotland.
Downing Street said the wide-ranging review, headed by Bruce Carr QC, would investigate allegations of the use of “leverage tactics” by the unions as well as the impact of such disputes on the critical national infrastructure.
However, in a sign of renewed coalition tensions, the Liberal Democrat business secretary Vince Cable made clear he had only agreed to the inquiry on the basis that it would also examine the practices of employers.
The review follows claims that Unite sought to intimidate executives from Ineos, the refinery’s owners, including sending demonstrators to protest outside their homes and at premises associated with Ineos chairman, Jim Ratcliffe.
A Unite spokesman said: “This review is a sorry attempt by the coalition to divert attention from the cost of living crisis. Vince Cable may not have noticed but the Grangemouth dispute has been settled. This review is nothing more than a Tory election stunt which no trade unionist will collaborate with.”
[Glad to see that Capitalists will be investigated re: their affect on critical national infrastructure.]
Given what we know about blacklisting, the lobbying bill’s demands on union membership lists pose a sinister threat
The government’s lobbying bill may be in trouble, but its attack on the confidentiality of union membership records continues in the Lords on Monday. To avoid what would have been a stonking defeat, ministers last week announced a “pause” on part two of this troubled bill, which would restrict free speech for groups other than political parties during an election campaign. The huge opposition it has provoked from across the political spectrum forced the government into this tactical retreat.
But this is no time to celebrate. The government has merely delayed debate in the House of Lords until December on part two – and it has brought forward to later on Monday the attacks on trade union membership contained in part three of the bill. They still aim to finish the bill by Christmas. Debating it in a different order is no victory for campaigners.
No one other than unions might be thought to be interested in plans for tying up union membership systems in blue tape. But there are wider questions at stake about how much personal data should be open to the state and its organs. The bill requires unions to appoint independent membership “assurers” from a list provided by government. These assurers, plus the government-appointed union regulator (the certification officer), and any other investigators appointed, will all have access to union membership records.
Any employer or political opponent of trade unionism will be able to make complaints about membership, which have to be investigated. As the extent of blacklisting in the construction industry has been revealed, members are naturally concerned at union lists being made open.
The government is unable to say why this section of the bill is needed. There is already a strong legal requirement on unions to have robust membership lists. Unions need efficient systems to collect subscriptions and they know that if there is anything dodgy about the membership in a strike ballot, the employer will win an injunction.
Freedom of information requests have established that no one has called on the government to introduce such a measure. And, according to its website, the Certification Office has received no complaints from trade union members relating to registers since 2004. On top of that, between 2000 and 2004 only six complaints were received – five of which were dismissed and no declaration was issued for the sixth.
Britain is an extreme oddity regarding privatisation: nowhere else in the advanced world is there such a willingness to sell everything that isn’t nailed down. Time and again the British public is ripped off and sold out by its leaders.
A few weeks ago, London was the scene of a heist of spectacular proportions. We may never know the full extent of what was stolen, but the indications are that it was anywhere between £1 billion and an eye-watering £6 billion. Although the robbery was carried out in broad daylight, it is unlikely the money will ever be recovered or the perpetrators brought to justice. This is because they were sitting in some of the world’s largest financial institutions – Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Bank of America and UBS – and acting on behalf of the British government.
Their instrument was the undervaluation of shares in Royal Mail, which with the initial public offering immediately soared from 330p to above 500p. The company was sold at £3.3 billion but in J.P. Morgan’s estimation the real value may have been as high as £10 billion. No wonder the IPO was oversubscribed. It was, as TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady pointed out, akin to “selling five pound notes for four quid.” The biggest private shareholder is now the hedge fund TCI, which snagged 5.8 per cent of the company. The principal victim of this daylight robbery is, of course, the British public.
There has been plenty of public and media commentary – and even a little outrage – at this latest instance of the looting of Britain’s dwindling public sector. After all, even Margaret Thatcher was “not prepared to have the Queen’s head privatised.” The sell-off was conducted in the teeth of sceptical public opinion as well as fierce opposition from postal workers, with 96 per cent opposed in a recent ballot. Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union, denounced the manner in which a centuries-old public company, returning regular profits to the Treasury, was “flogged on the cheap for no good reason.” Postal workers have voted for industrial action, seeking guarantees on pay and working conditions.
Missing from most of the discussion, however, is any recognition of just how extraordinary all of this is. Business Secretary Vince Cable may have faced some tough questions about the handling of the flotation but it will blow over. No heads will roll. Asset-stripping of the public sector has become a fact of life. Even among the British left, battered by the serial privatisations of the 1980s and 1990s, there is a certain wearied resignation, a sense of going through the motions in the face of the seemingly unalterable order of things.
We should resist this normalisation. Viewed from an international perspective, Britain is an extreme outlier regarding privatisation. In no other advanced industrial country would quite so flagrant a rip-off have been engineered and tolerated. Nowhere else – not even in the corporate-dominated United States – is there such a degree of nonchalance about ownership and control over vital infrastructure and public services. In the UK, the attitude seems to be that if it isn’t nailed down then it is for sale. Privatisation is increasingly the British disease.
From Pinochet to perestroika
Privatisation has been a prominent feature of the British political landscape for decades, but on the basis of an assumed international policy consensus about how to improve efficiency and economic performance. It is true that, since the 1980s, privatisation has been a key instrument in the toolkit of neoliberal globalisation, enforced from Latin America to Asia to Africa wherever the writ of the IMF and World Bank could be made to run. By 2009, 132 of the world’s 500 most valuable corporations were privatised former state enterprises. But within this neoliberal framework, very few countries were actually prepared to go quite so far quite so fast as the UK.
In a 2002 encomium to privatisation, HM Treasury calculated that, all told, between 1980 and 1996 Britain had racked up fully 40 per cent of the total value of all assets privatised across the OECD. This is an astounding figure. Elsewhere, the only remotely comparable experiences occurred in countries – Pinochet’s Chile and the disintegrating Soviet Union – that were undergoing exceptional transitions and in which the rule of law was basically inoperative.
Chile was the original laboratory. Between 1975 and 1989, under the jackboot of the Pinochet regime and at the urging of carpetbagging Chicago school economists, the country implemented two waves of privatisation. Not merely companies nationalised by Allende but a host of older public concerns – including 16 banks and thousands of mines, real estate holdings and agricultural enterprises – were auctioned off to elites at bargain-basement prices.
Given the accolades afforded the “Chilean miracle” by Milton Friedman and others, it is worth noting that the first wave of Chilean privatisation was a major embarrassment. All but five of the banks and many of the other enterprises failed and had to be taken back into public hands. By 1983 the government-controlled portion of the economy again equalled that under Allende, and critics mockingly referred to a “Chicago road to socialism.” (The second wave of privatisation, beginning in 1985, eventually returned many of these firms to the private sector).
Road tested in Chile, privatisation was then exported out across Latin America and worldwide. Under Margaret Thatcher, Britain served as the most prominent conduit and cheerleader. With free market economists again hectoring from the sidelines (see Thatcher’s correspondence with Hayek), all memory of capitalist mismanagement of factories and mines in the interwar years was forgotten as the commanding heights of the economy – electricity, gas, water, steel, civil aviation, telecoms and railways – were delivered up for auction. It was a massive transfer of wealth from public to private interests, marketed to the people with soothing promises of a shareholder democracy.
As with Royal Mail, the brazenness of the theft was stunning. In his magnificent recent book on public ownership, Andrew Cumbers, Professor of Geographical Political Economy at the University of Glasgow, found “considerable evidence that state assets were sold off at remarkably cheap prices.” Shares in BT jumped from 130p at privatisation to £15 by 1999. Railtrack was sold for £1.9 billion, but within two years had soared in value to £8 billion. The rolling stock company Porterbrook Leasing, privatised for £528 million, was re-sold just eight months later for £826 million, while the other two rolling stock companies were subsequently sold for £900 million more than their privatisation price. The architects of privatisation could barely be bothered to disguise what they were up to. Former Chancellor Nigel Lawson went so far as to state in his memoirs that undervaluation was a deliberate government tactic.
Hugely important strategic considerations were at work, as was evident in the subsequent development of the UK economy. Privatisation not only allowed for attacks on the trade unions but also – together with big bang deregulation – contributed to the build-out of London-based capital markets. The £3.9 billion rollout of shares in BT in 1984, for example, was six times bigger than any previous IPO and four times the size of any other capital-raising exercise in the world at the time. In this way, the privatisations of the eighties and nineties helped secure the City’s continuing place as a world financial capital.
In addition, the sale of 2.5 million council houses at a total value of £86 billion – more than all other privatisations combined – helped generate the real estate boom and (as Stephen Wilks notes) ultimately contributed to the property credit bubble. Revenues from the sale of other public assets – totalling £69 billion between 1979 and 1997 – allowed successive Tory governments to maintain public spending while cutting taxes for short-term electoral gain. Leon Brittan insisted that “people always overestimated Mrs Thatcher’s grasp of economics while underestimating her grasp of politics.”
What Britain now has is a blue-orange coalition, with the little-known Orange Book forming the core of current Lib Dem political thinking. To understand how this disreputable arrangement has come about, we need to examine the philosophy laid out in The Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism, edited by David Laws (now the Chief Secretary to the Treasury) and Paul Marshall. Particularly interesting are the contributions of the Lib Dems’ present leadership.
Published in 2004, the Orange Book marked the start of the slow decline of progressive values in the Lib Dems and the gradual abandonment of social market values. It also provided the ideological standpoint around which the party’s right wing was able to coalesce and begin their march to power in the Lib Dems. What is remarkable is the failure of former SDP and Labour elements to sound warning bells about the direction the party was taking. Former Labour ministers such as Shirley Williams and Tom McNally should be ashamed of their inaction.
Clegg and his Lib Dem supporters have much in common with David Cameron and his allies in their philosophical approach and with their social liberal solutions to society’s perceived ills. The Orange Book is predicated on an abiding belief in the free market’s ability to address issues such as public healthcare, pensions, environment, globalisation, social and agricultural policy, local government and prisons.
The Lib Dem leadership seems to sit very easily in the Tory-led coalition. This is an arranged marriage between partners of a similar background and belief. Even the Tory-Whig coalition of early 1780s, although its members were from the same class, at least had fundamental political differences. Now we see a Government made up of a single elite that has previously manifested itself as two separate political parties and which is divided more by subtle shades of opinion than any profound ideological difference.
The Match Women of Bryant and May formed Britain’s first women’s trade union and won the right to better conditions. So why do so few know about their achievement?
by Lyn Brown, Labour MP for West Ham.
Hearing of the grim conditions, Annie Besant investigated and published an article in her weekly newspaper, The Link, headlined: “White Slavery in London,” prompting Bryant and May to threaten libel action. The company put pressure on the women to discover who had spoken to Besant.
Bryant and May identified and dismissed “ringleaders,” provoking around 1,400 women to walk out on strike. The workers put a picket line in place. The factory was at a standstill.
The striking women marched daily through the streets, collecting money to sustain their families. They marched on parliament where they lobbied and impressed MPs. Bryant and May was forced, through public, social and political pressure, to accede to the women’s demands for safer working conditions and the cessation of arbitrary fines.
Crucially, the company allowed them to form a trades union, so that “future disputes, if any, may be laid officially in front of the firm.” The Union of Women Matchworkers, the greatest union of women and girls in the country, was formed.
The Star newspaper congratulated the workers on their “magnificent victory, a turning point in the history of our industrial development.” Truly, it was.
Given Bryant and May’s political and economic power, the strike by these impoverished women was particularly audacious and by no means predestined to succeed. The struggle of these women, played out in the glare of publicity, had repercussions far beyond the betterment of their own conditions.
The Match Women’s Strike was a vital catalyst for ‘new unionism’. It was openly acknowledged by the dock strike leaders a year later in 1889 when the call went out from John Burns to a meeting of tens of thousands of strikers to: “Stand shoulder-to-shoulder. Remember the match women, who won their fight and formed a union.”
The Match Women demonstrated to working people that it is possible for marginalised, unskilled workers to bind together in solidarity in trade unions and succeed in their demands for reasonable pay and conditions.
Yes, the CWU was caught on the hop by a sell-off timetable that was brought forward, a bargain basement initial share price and having to take extra time to fully check the accuracy of its membership records in order to avoid a possible high court injunction to stop any action.
The Royal Mail is offering a £300 bonus to any of its 150,000 staff who cross the picket line in any forthcoming nationwide postal strikes.
Moya Greene, its chief executive, wrote to all employees before Wednesday’s strike ballot result to offer the sum if they continue working while colleagues are out on strike.
… <about shares being ridiculously undervalued >
Greene’s last-ditch attempt to avert the first nationwide strike in four years came as the Communication Workers Union (CWU) said it was confident workers would back industrial action when it announces the results of a strike ballot on Wednesday afternoon.
Postal workers described her offer as an “act of desperation and discrimination” and a “scab bonus”. Paul Firmage, one of the 371 of Royal Mail’s 150,000 staff to rejected free shares in the privatisation, said the £300 bonus was “yet another bribe”.
“They are offering people money to be a scab. It is a scab bonus,” he said.”
The CWU said: “It’s an act of desperation and discrimination. We believe it’s irrelevant and will make no difference to the strike ballot.”
In a consultative ballot this year 96% of postal workers were opposed to the privatisation, which they said will erode their pay and conditions.
If staff have voted in favour of industrial action, the first strike could take place on 23 October and would likely be followed by a series of rolling strikes in the runup to Christmas.