As the 60th anniversary of the heroic anti-Stalinist uprising in Hungary approaches, Chris Birch – one of the few surviving eye-witnesses – replies to a request for further information in a letter to the Morning Star:
Chris Gould asks (M Star October 11) for an analysis of the 1956 Hungarian uprising and its effects. I was working in Budapest before, during and after the fighting and met Matyas Rakoski, the general secretary of the Hungarian Working People’s Party and the man largely responsible for the crimes and policy mistakes that led to the uprising in October 1956.
It started with a student demonstration at the Petofi memorial, demanding to be allowed to travel to Western countries. It had been banned, then the ban was lifted and I went to look.
During the afternoon the demonstration grew to immense proportions, and the party’s first secretary went on the radio to denounce the demonstrators, many of whom were communists, as “counter-revolutionaries.”
He said that the policies of the party and the government were correct and would not be changed. I was in Parliament Square listening to the broadcast, and the good humour of the crowd visibly turned to anger. A fortnight later I found myself trying to bandage Soviet soldiers.
Soon after my comrade Charlie Coutts and I returned to London, we had a meeting with Communist Party of Great Britian (CPGB) general secretary Johnny Gollan, and presented him with a 19-page document simply headed “HUNGARY: Charlie Coutts and Chris Birch.”
It covered our views on party democracy in Hungary, Hungarian and Soviet party relations, democracy and corruption. Gollan passed it on to the Soviet ambassador in London and he sent it on to the central committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and to the Soviet foreign office in Moscow. It was eventually published in a Soviet journal.
John Callaghan in his “Cold War, Crisis and Conflict: The CPGB 1951-68” gives a brief account of what was happening in Hungary in 1956 and a fuller account of their effects on the British party. I hope the above may help Mr Gould.
CHRIS BIRCH London SW6
JD recommends some reading and resources:
1956: the Hungarian revolution – A short and clearly written history of the Hungarian workers’ revolution against the Communist dictatorship.
By Matt Cooper (this article also appears on the Workers Liberty website)
The 1950s saw a revival of interest in “folk” music in Britain and the USA. Folk revivalism in Europe has a long heritage going back to the early nineteenth century and was largely allied to nationalist movements.
European nationalists sought out, and often invented, national cultures on which to base their claims for statehood. This was not always an illiberal project — it was based on the idea that a common identity was the basis for national self-determination and that in turn was the basis for democracy.
Composers helped the search for common identities: thus Greig researched Norwegian hardanger fiddle music and orchestrated folk tales, Bartok adapted Hungarian folk dances into his work, and Glinka interpreted the balalaika music of the Russian peasantry.
In the 1930s this “nationalist” view of culture re-emerged in the state policy of the Soviet Union. It was a million miles way from the cultural policy of the Bolsheviks in the early years of the Russian Revolution.
The Bolsheviks were for free artistic expression, and if their policy had a tendency it was towards modernism, cosmopolitan internationalism and the avant garde.
Like all else democratic and progressive in the Russian Revolution, cultural experimentation was abandoned and subverted with the rise of Stalinism. In 1934 the USSR adopted an official cultural policy of socialist realism.
Socialist realism had two elements. The first, and the one that is unusually emphasised, was that the measure of good art is the degree to which its message was “progressive”. That was in practice synonomous with the interests of the Soviet bureaucracy. As one supporter of the new orthodoxy put it in the 1930s, “A writer today who wishes to produce the best work that he is capable of producing, must first of all become a socialist in his practical life, must go over to the progressive side of the class conflict… unless he has in his everyday life taken the side of the workers, he cannot, no matter how talented he may be, write a good book, cannot tell the truth about reality”.
In Britain or the US Stalinists, and those who lived in their intellectual shadow, began to like any old crap so long as it toed the party line. In Soviet Russia and its satellites it was accepted that art and culture be put at the service of the “people” and “socialism”, or rather the state that claimed to embody these. In the USSR it was dangerous to think otherwise. Writers who refused to adapt to the new thinking were executed or died in labour camps.
There was a second element to socialist realism — an element of folk culture. One of architects of socialist realism, Andrey Zhdanov, stated, after the Second World war, that music should be, “realist and of truthful content, and closely and organically linked with the people and their folk-music and folk-song.”
The idea was that music should not only carry a socialist message but also be the “people’s” music, a national music, music that is not “owned” and only enjoyed by a cultural elite but of everyday life. In Russia this came to mean regimented state folk ensembles that make Riverdance look like an honest, restrained and tasteful expression of Irish culture.
Outside of Russia, coming as its did at the time of the Popular Front where the Communist parties sought to align themselves with the “progressive” section of their own ruling classes against fascism, this very quickly came to mean promoting a nationalist conception of folk music.
Of course the Communist’s approach could also attach itself to a living tradition. This was particularly true in the USA which had a strong and living tradition of workers’ song, both black and white. Woody Guthrie was someone in this tradition. He became intellectually close to the Communist Party while never joining. A writer and performer of real merit, his songs often transcended the kind of doggerel and simplistic propagandising that characterised what passed for “socialist” song-writing at the time.
It is impossible to say whether the folk revival in the 1950s and 1960s in Britain and the USA were directly caused by the ideas and the members of the Communist parties, but it is certain that they were heavily influenced by the Communist line.
In Britain one of the major protagonists for the folk revival was A L Lloyd, a card-carrying CPer, as were some performers such as Ewan McColl (although he left the CP in 1953, he continued to bear its politics). The CP ran a Workers’ Music Association and its record label, Topic, was the first British folk label.
In the USA the folk-song collector and folk-promoter Alan Lomax was a CP member, as were key performers such as Pete Seeger (like McColl, Seeger left the CP — in 1950 — but continued to hold its beliefs in music).
The folk-revival had programmed into it the idea that there was an authentic workers’ music that was superior both in its folk-style and its political content to the pop music of the day. This “authenticity” was something of a concoction. The folkies were, at heart, middle class urbanites. The folk revival in the USA happened in Greenwich Village and university campuses; in Britain it happened in rooms above pubs in middle class suburbs.
The invented nature of the tradition it claimed to stand in can be seen in its attitude to the blues Most of the important blues artists in the US in the 50s played in electric bands in the north, but this is not what the folk purists wanted. When John Lee Hooker played New York and when Big Bill Bronzy played in Britain, they had to go acoustic, and imitate a Southern country blues style for the white middle-classes. They were not “allowed” to present the revolution in popular music that they were really engaged in.
Folk music was also seen as politically of the left. Tribune had a folk music column until the mid-1960s.
The folk revival was not a bad thing. It engendered interest in music beyond the increasingly bland pop-mainstream, which after the rock and roll of the mid ’50s had fallen back into saccharine crooning. Much of what collectors like Lomax collected was interesting in its own right and suggested new musical directions. It was not merely bucolic reaction. Out of the folk-revival grew the 1950s British skiffle boom and out of that eventually came the British beat bands, including the Beatles.
But these developments were opposed by many folk purists. Folk became a straitjacket — performers were expected to work within the tradition. Even when they wrote there own music it was expected to be musically conventional (and above that meant acoustic) and “realist” in its lyrical approach.
By the early 1960s new folk writing consisted either of “protest songs” — topical songs that showed folk’s political engagement — or songs which simulated the form of the “folk canon”. The template for this was Woody Guthrie, who mixed political songs, traditional songs, and songs that sounded very much like traditional ones although he had written them. It is at this point in the story that Bob Dylan comes in.
In the early 1960s, when Dylan came on the folk scene in Greenwich Village, he consciously modelled himself on Woody Guthrie — sang his songs, mimicked his clothes and his political engagement. It soon became clear that Dylan had a greater and more mercurial talent than his idol. After a throwaway album of folk standards, Dylan’s real debut as a songwriter was The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Here Dylan went beyond the protest song.
Typically a protest song would retell a news story, sometimes with a bit of editorialising. Indeed Phil Ochs, a protest singing contemporary of Dylan’s, called his first album All the news that’s fit to sing. Sometimes there would be calls to action, such as Pete Seeger’s Which side or you on? But the songs on The Freewheelin’… and its follow up The times they are a-changing’ did not fit these templates. The questions raised were often rhetorical; they offered no answers. In many ways Dylan’s most famous protest song, Blowin’ in the wind was not a protest song at all. It mentions no specific injustice, and offers no answer; it was a demand to think. As Dylan commented at the time, “Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is, but oh, I don’t believe that.”
The complexity and texture of Dylan’s lyrics gained Dylan a huge following. (As opposed to his music, which was derivative; his guitar playing, which was mediocre; and his harmonica playing, some of which was diabolical.) Bizarrely Dylan’s non-specific “message” raised him in the eyes of many to the spokesperson, if not the leader, of a new movement. The designation clearly revolted him, and eventually angered him. In his next set of songs, the carefully titled Another side of Bob Dylan, he began to question the ideas of the left, the morality and motivation of himself and those around him. In My back pages he writes:
“Equality, I spoke their word
as if a wedding vow
but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now”
As Dylan stated, “Me, I don’t want to write for people any more — you now, be a spokesman. From now on I want to write from inside of me… the bomb is getting boring because what is wrong goes much deeper than the bomb… I’m not part of no movement…” For those who expected folk to be about the repetition of received truths and comforting consensus, it was something of a shock, but it really was no preparation for what was to come.
Dylan’s first albums had been musically unexceptional, old folk and blues tunes recycled. But all along something else musically had been happening in the world. While the folkies were singing to themselves, while mainstream pop was sinking into a pit of pink glop, black urban America had created a new, dynamic, electric music. For a long time this had been designated a “race” music, and then Rhythm and Blues, and despite Rock and Roll (which was R&B played by white people) it had really passed the American mainstream by.
In Britain, to the disgust of the folk purists, some moved beyond acoustic blues and started to discover the electric R&B. Bands like the Rolling Stones, the Animals and the Beatles took black urban music back to the USA.
For Dylan these developments were a way to cut himself out of the cocoon of folk music. Dylan gathered a group of (white) electric blues musicians around him. In response to the heckler in the Albert Hall in 1966 demanding that he play folk music he responded that, “This is not British music, this is American music, now come on.” Popular music had at last very imperfectly come to terms with a changed world. While modernism had transformed the visual arts, jazz had been transformed by bebop and orchestral music was comfortable with dissonance, pop music was still swaddled in easy certainty and formal order. Folk music even more so. Dylan splashed out with shocking colour and let rip a splenetic howl.
Freed from the assumption that songs should be realist, topical and in service to a movement’s immediate political requirements, Dylan looked to the avant garde, the absurdist and the surreal to develop his lyrics. This kind of experimentaion underlay a trio of albums, Bringing it all back home, Blonde on blonde and Highway 61 revisited.
The story of the huge confrontation created between Dylan and his folk audience, a section of which booed him for these years, has been well told. But what it is difficult to understand is enormity of what Dylan had wrought. This was loud, raucous and challenging music. He played American music, the music brought to the UK by the Beatles and Stones, but played with more energy than either. And welded to this were rich and multilayered and at times downright oblique lyrics, that demanded to be listened to, demanded to be questioned. This was pop-music as art, serious, literate and modernist. It was a cultural watershed.
So when someone shouted “Judas” at Dylan when he was playing his electric set at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, there was a political background to it all. The “purist” heckler was demanding that music was not modern, was rooted in tradition, even if that tradition were invented. It was a demand that easy questions be given and that the audience could already mouth the answers. It was a demand not to be challenged, confronted and questioned.
As Irwin Sibler, a leading member of the left-folk establishment in the early sixties who denounced Dylan’s electric turn, and later recanted, put it: “Dylan is our poet — not our leader”. Of course in time he ceased to be that, but that is another story.
Chris Nineham: wretched Putin-appeaser
These things really happened, that is the thing to keep one’s eye on. They happened even though Lord Halifax said they happened. The raping and butchering in Chinese cities, the tortures in the cellars of the Gestapo, the elderly Jewish professors flung into cesspools, the machine-gunning of refugees along the Spanish roads — they all happened, and they did not happen any the less because the Daily Telegraph has suddenly found out about them when it is five years too late – George Orwell, Looking Back At the Spanish War, 1943.
In a car crash of an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme, Chris Nineham, deputy chair of the Stop The War Coalition, was questioned about Boris Johnson’s call for people to protest Russia’s involvement in the war by demonstrating outside the country’s embassy in London. Nineham concluded by stating that the STWC’s guiding principle is to “oppose the West.”
The Foreign Secretary’s comments came after Labour’s Ann Clwyd urged those who care about the plight of Syrian civilians to gather outside Russian embassies across the globe until the country stops its bombing campaign.
Johnson also called for a war crimes investigation into the bombing of an aid convoy last month in which at least 21 people died.
Today host, Sarah Montague, began the segment on Wednesday morning by asking what the Stop the War Coalition was doing to oppose the conflict.
“But we were set up as a coalition as a response to 9/11 and in response to the Western, British-supported drive to war back in 2001 and that is our focus.
“There’s a good reason for that…”
Montague interrupted, pointing out “we are in 2016 now” with a conflict raging in which “Aleppo is being destroyed”.
She added: “You have a Labour MP, Ann Clwyd, saying ‘where’s the rage, we should have two million, three million, four million people outside the Russian embassy…’
“Should people demonstrate outside the Russian embassy?”
Nineham replied: “This is not a serious argument being put [forward] by Boris Johnson, he’s characteristically trivialising the situation. If they want to protest outside the Russian embassy, they know where it is.”
“As I was saying, there’s a very good reason for this because we can make a difference to what Britain does, we can make a difference to what our allies do to a certain extent and we have done.
“But if we have a protest outside the Russian embassy it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to what Putin does because we are in the West and we are in Britain.
Montague said: “So you would urge people not to demonstrate against Russia?”
Nineham replied: “We’re not worried about it but what we’re saying is that there’s a hysteria that’s being organised by politicians and by the media against Russia to see Russia as the only problem in Syria.
“Syria is a multi-faceted war that involves Saudi Arabia, it involves the US and Britain who have been bombing the country as well.
“The real problem here is you have people who regard themselves as responsible politicians like Andrew Mitchell and John Woodcock and Boris Johnson to a lesser extent who are seriously saying that what Syria needs is more Western bombs, more Western munitions.
“And Andrew Mitchell actually came on this programme yesterday and seriously said it wouldn’t be a problem if RAF fighter pilots attacked Russian planes.”
“And anyone who has a responsibility for peace or the future of the planet quite frankly needs to mobilise against that…”
At this point Montague cut off the interview but Nineham managed to get in a last few words.
“… and that means opposing the West.”
The Stop The War Coalition has now confirmed what many of us have been saying for a long while: the remnant of the group which ten years ago organised big marches against the invasion of Iraq, is now merely a “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” lash-up with Putin, Assad and any reactionary force or regime that happens to find itself in conflict with the West.
The STWC has made a conscious decision not to criticise Assad’s filthy regime. Why? Because in this war Counterfire and Socialist Action (the main political forces within the STWC) are effectively siding with the regime.
Stop the War’s organisers are seriously politically disorientated. And that leaves them sharing platforms with a ridiculous Stalinist, Kamal Majid, and a Syrian academic, Issa Chaer, who when interviewed by the Iranian state’s propaganda outlet, Press TV, said, “I see President Assad as the person who is now uniting the country from all its backgrounds, all factions and all political backgrounds… anybody who calls for President Assad to step down at this stage; would be causing Syria an irreversible destruction.”
In theory, the STWC opposes Russian bombing. But, in reality they don’t: after all, Stop The War’s Chair supports the Assad regime and Russian imperialism in Syria.
It’s time for the serious left – including Jeremy Corbyn and Unite – to withdraw support from this nasty, reactionary bunch of apologists and appeasers.
NB: the quotes used in this piece come from the Huffington Post
Daily Telegraph editorial, 2 June 2016
Leave now has a rallying issue in immigration reform
The Leave campaign is finally talking in specifics, giving the public a clearer idea of what life post-Brexit might be like. Posing almost as a government-in-waiting, they now promise the introduction of an Australian-style points-based immigration system. And focusing on immigration is certainly clever politics. It turns the slightly existential issue of sovereignty into something more tangible.
Last year, Britain experienced a net immigration rate of 333,000 – though the real figure may be far higher than our unreliable statistics suggest. Many voters perceive a squeeze on public services and fear a loss of control over security. Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, has claimed that freedom of movement rules have prevented him from denying entry to people with a criminal record, or even those who have suspected links to terrorism.
Australia is not necessarily perceived as being anti-immigration so much as a country that demands and gets precisely what it wants.
A points system would not necessarily achieve the results that every Eurosceptic is looking for. The Prime Minister has countered that Australia actually “has more migration per head than we do here in the UK”. But Australia is not necessarily perceived as being anti-immigration so much as a country that demands and gets precisely what it wants. As a member of the EU, Britain essentially has to take as many people as wish to come. Outside the EU, the argument goes, it would only have to take the numbers that employers actually need.
Above: the authentic face of ‘Leave’
The attractiveness of this argument will surely cause Remain a little panic. The referendum is increasingly being cast not just as a vote on the EU but on David Cameron’s record in office – and his many promises on reducing migration remain embarrassingly unfulfilled. That criticism is only intensifying from members of his own party gives the impression that this referendum is in fact a choice between two varieties of conservatism. Thanks to Labour’s near silence on Europe, there is a case for saying that this is what it has become.
If Leave can use issues such as immigration to reconstruct the Thatcherite coalition of the Eighties – an alliance between the patriotic Right and the usually Left-wing working class – they could reshape politics for years to come. What it will hopefully bring in the next few weeks is a new energy to the discussion. After so much negativity and hysteria from Remain, Leave has offered a positive agenda – an agenda that could rally their troops and give Britain the debate it deserves.
The letter below appears in today’s Morning Star. The author, Mary Davis, is Professor of Labour History at London Metropolitan University, a former member of the University and College Union national executive and the TUC women’s committee. She is also a member of the Communist Party of Britain’s executive committee and the party’s national women’s organiser:
Dodgy Livingstone has no place in the Star
I AM writing to protest against the decision to give Ken Livingstone a regular column in the Morning Star (May 28).
I think that at the present time this is a very impolitic move on the part of the Star in view of Livingstone’s suspension from the Labour Party and Shami Chakrabarti’s inquiry into anti-semitism.
I do not know anyone who approves of Livingstone’s “Hitler supported Zionism” remarks (repeated at least twice and based on Lenni Brenner’s spurious and ahistorical evidence).
This doesn’t mean that I support John Mann’s outrageous tactics; but the issue is important in itself and one to which our paper should show great sensitivity in view of our alleged opposition to anti-semitism.
It would appear judging from his opening comments in last weekend’s paper, that Livingstone is grateful to our paper as being the only voice on the left open to him.
How will this go down among our friends on the Labour left? (I certainly do not regard the entire Labour Party as anti-semitic — the Tories win the accolade for this).
It is thus hugely embarrassing on our paper’s part to offer Livingstone this lifeline at the present moment and serves to muddy the waters among our allies while at the same time detracting from our own stated opposition to anti-semitism.
Livingstone has not been a friend of this paper in the past. He and the group supporting him did not support former Star editor John Haylett when he was wrongly sacked and furthermore he has a chequered history of making injudicious comments bordering on the anti-semitic.
I, as a communist and a Jew, am personally affronted by the privileged treatment he is receiving. I can only hope the decision to offer him a column will be reversed.
Shiraz (like most of the left) has been remiss in failing to mark the recent passing of the outstanding socialist graphic artist and archivist David King. Here’s an excellent interview published at Mike Dempsey’s Graphic Journey blog; the Graun obituary is here.
He identified as a Marxist and a Trotskyist and his images will be immediately recognisable to any leftwing activist who’s read books or attended demos over the past forty years.
His style is a mix of forceful sans serif typography, solid planes of vivid colour and emphatic borders; a modern reworking of the graphic language of 1920s Russian Constructivism and the collage of John Heartfield.
Below are some of the outstanding, and instantly recognisable, book covers and posters he produced over the years; but we should start with what is probably his most ubiquitous creation:
King’s 1977 poster for a march against the Official Secrets Act
The British Medical Association (BMA) has announced three further 48-hour strikes of junior doctors. The BMA also announced that it is to seek a judicial review into the government’s plans to impose new contracts.
The dates planned for industrial action are 9 March, 6 April and 26 April. All are scheduled to begin at 8am. Emergency cover will be maintained.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s controversial push to impose new terms and conditions on all 45,000 junior doctors has exacerbated the bitter and long-running dispute.
We publish, below, a detailed critique, by science writer Les Hearn, of Jeremy Hunt’s “evidence” of excess deaths at weekends, used to justify imposing the new contract. This article first appeared in Solidarity:
Lies, damned lies, and Jeremy Hunt’s statistics
The government’s argument in their attack on junior doctors’ pay and conditions has been that they had a manifesto commitment to introduce seven-day access to all aspects of health care and that this was necessary to reduce excess deaths among weekend hospital admissions.
The government’s approach seems to amount to forcing junior doctors to work more at weekends for less pay. But, unless they also force them to work longer hours, this must reduce the number of doctors on weekdays. If the original problem of excess deaths was due to a lack of junior doctors at weekends, the result would be to equalise death rates by lowering death rates following weekend admissions and raising those following weekday admissions. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was very keen to talk about the evidence of excess deaths to justify his actions and, of course, evidence is very important. He claimed “We now have seven independent studies showing mortality is higher for patients admitted at weekends.” We will look at this evidence.
The DH says there is significant evidence of a “weekend effect” where patients admitted over the weekend have higher rates of mortality.1 The DH lists eight pieces of what they call research in support. 1. The major study cited by DH is from the British Medical Journal (Freemantle et al., 2015):2 one of its co-authors is Bruce Keogh, National Medical Director of NHS England. It found that death rates were higher for patients admitted on Fridays (2% higher), Saturdays (10% higher), Sundays (15% higher) and Mondays (5%) than on other days. Since the overall death rate within 30 days for all admissions is 1.8%, this means that the 15%-higher Sunday rate is 2.1% or 3 in 1000 “extra” deaths. We need to understand why and this is where it is important to look at how ill patients are on the day of admission. Risk The study informs us that, while 29% of weekday admissions are emergencies, on Saturdays the figure is 50% and on Sunday 65%. Using another criterion, mortality risk from all factors except day of admission, while 20% of weekday admissions were in the highest category, 25% on Saturdays and 29% on Sundays were in this highest risk of dying group. On these bases, we would expect an increased death rate for weekend admissions of anywhere between 25% and 125%. The observed “excess” of 15% on Sundays should be a cause for congratulation.
This paper is an update of the previous study by Freemantle et al. (2012)3 (see 5 below), also including Keogh. The findings were broadly similar except that the death rate on Saturdays and Sundays were very significantly lower than the average for weekdays. In the update this curious fact, which certainly needs discussion and explanation, is barely mentioned. To summarise, death rates for admissions on Saturdays and Sundays are increased by 10 to 15% but death rates for those already in hospital are reduced by 5 to 8%. Thus, the main source of support for the government’s Seven Day NHS plans does not provide any evidence for it. The weekend death rates for all patients are in fact far lower than one would predict from the seriousness of their illness. Read the rest of this entry »
From the BMA:
With no agreement reached on key issues, junior doctors will provide emergency care only for 24 hours from 8am on 10 February.
Despite the best efforts of our negotiating team, and hours of talks facilitated by Acas, we have not managed to reach agreement with NHS Employers and the Department of Health on the new junior doctors contract.
As a result, the industrial action we planned for 10 February will be going ahead. However, rather than the planned full walkout, the action will mirror that of 12 January. Junior doctors in England will be offering emergency care only for 24 hours from 8am on Wednesday 10 February to 8am Thursday 11 February.
Advice note for junior doctors on days of action
We are aware that some trusts have sought to nominate junior doctors to have one or two doctors to be on standby for every ward, other than out-patient departments and elective procedures, for the duration of the industrial action (IA). The BMA has taken expert legal advice on this issue.
Read more (PDF)
Read our FAQs (PDF)
The BMA is calling on junior doctors in England to take official industrial action on 12 January, backed by a near-unanimous vote in favour in accordance with trade union legislation. Many members of the public have expressed support for our action, but we do not condone or encourage any form of unofficial industrial action or unlawful activity.
We have announced three days of action in total:
12 January 2016 – COMPLETED
Emergency care only between 8am on Tuesday, 12 January and 8am on Wednesday, 13 January (24 hours).
26 January 2016 – SUSPENDED
Emergency care only between 8am on Tuesday, 26 January and 8am on Thursday, 28 January (48 hours)
10 February 2016
Emergency care only between 8am on Wednesday 10 February and 8am on Thursday 11 February (24 hours).
The DDRB, an independent body, undertook a review and provided recommendations for a new contract. After the recommendations were released the Government asked the BMA to re-enter negotiations with the recommendations as the basis. We could not agree to the unsafe and unfair preconditions proposed, and so the Government said they would impose a new contract from August 2016.
We have consistently and clearly asked Government for the key assurances we would need in order to re-enter negotiations – the first of which was a withdrawal of the threat to impose a contract. These assurances have still not been given to us. In September, the BMA’s junior doctors committee took the decision to ballot junior doctor members on support for industrial action. We have continued to request the key assurances for genuine negotiations. The result of the ballot of more than 37,000 junior doctors in England was announced on 19 November, with more than 99 per cent having voted in favour of industrial action short of a strike, and 98 per cent for full strike action, demonstrating the strength of feeling amongst the profession.
The BMA suspended industrial action planned for December following progress made through talks facilitated by Acas. While progress was made on some issues during negotiations between the BMA, NHS Employers and the Department of Health, the offer that Government made on 4 January was not acceptable to the BMA. As a result, the action planned for 12 January went ahead.
Discussions with the Government continued throughout January, which led to the suspension of the planned 48-hour action on 26-28 January. However, despite the best efforts of the BMA negotiating team, major sticking points, including around the classification of Saturdays, remain. Because of this, the BMA decided that the industrial action planned for 10 February would go ahead, although it would see junior doctors offering emergency care only over a 24-hour period, rather than the planned full walkout from 8am to 5pm.
The BMA is supporting around 149 picket lines across England. Contact your junior doctor representative, your LNC representative or your Industrial Relations Officer for more information.
The right to strike is a fundamental human right protected by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, we are aware that an NHS trust has suggested that the proposed industrial action by junior doctors is unlawful, being in breach of the Trade Union Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULCRA). We have sought urgent legal advice from John Hendy QC, the leading authority in this area of law.
Campaign materials can be ordered for meetings, rallies and street stalls via local BMA reps or ordered online.
Orders must be placed by 11am on Monday 8 February in order to be despatched in time for industrial action.
Please email email@example.com, stating your name, your BMA membership number, and delivery address. The pack will include the following:
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org, stating your name, your BMA membership number, and delivery address. Choose from the following:
Would you like advice on how to most effectively use social media to share your message? Download our top tips (PDF)
The decision to take industrial action has implications for all doctors working in the NHS in England. Read our guidance:
Read our leaflet explaining why junior doctors are taking industrial action, Copies will are also available from local BMA representatives on picket lines.
Few people choose medicine for the glory and the riches. Far more likely is the opportunity to make a difference, to help people – but just because, for most, this is a vocation, that isn’t an invitation to undervalue what they do.
While politicians and commentators may try and portray the junior doctors dispute as being all about money, doctors themselves are clear that it’s more fundamental than that: it’s about valuing what they do – and what they have to sacrifice to do it.
Junior doctors are also holding ‘meet the doctors’ events across England to explain the position to members of the public.
Hear what some of the junior doctors had to say during the day of action.
Key dates as the junior contract negotiations have unfolded:
The Northern Ireland health minister, Simon Hamilton, has said he has “no desire” to impose the junior doctor contract and an imposed contract would be the “worst possible outcome”. BMA will be meeting with the Minister to discuss how we can work together to resolve the situation.
On 18 September 2015, Welsh Government officials issued a statement to BMA Cymru Wales indicating that they will retain the current junior doctor contract in Wales.
The Scottish Government has made clear that there will be no junior doctor contract imposition in Scotland.
Join 160,000 members standing up to unreasonable Government demands
In the uncertain and volatile environment that the Government seems intent on creating for doctors, representation is more important than ever.
The current situation:
Junior Doctors across England will be commencing industrial action on Tuesday 12th January. We are opposing this government’s attempt to impose an unsafe new contract on the medical profession. It is our view that the proposed contract represents an existential danger to the NHS as an institution.
You may be aware that the BMA had initially suspended its planned industrial action at the start of December and returned to talks with the Department of Health. That decision was made in good faith. However, over the last few weeks, in the course of negotiations with Government we have encountered only intransigence. It is clear that the government perceives our contract issue as pivotal for its attempt to “reform” the NHS towards a neoliberal, commercialised system.
It is therefore evident to us that we have no choice but to transform our 98% ballot mandate into action.
The developments of the next few months will have consequences stretching far into the future. This government is wilfully putting at risk our patients’ safety, the tolerability of our working lives as NHS workers and the very viability of the NHS as a publicly-funded, publicly-provided service.
Why we need YOU
The coming period will be the ultimate test of the BMA’s resolve as a Union. However, we remain mindful of the fact that the BMA is not an abstract entity operating in isolation from wider political developments. There is no way that we can win this on our own. We need all concerned citizens, activists and trade unionists to stand alongside us in this fight.
Over the last few months we have been in dialogue with many trade unionists throughout the country and we have been enormously grateful for their support both at a local and national level. The public messages of support from our allied health worker colleagues, the firefighters, the teaching unions and the TUC and TUCG unions have galvanised junior doctors.
We are therefore well aware that all eyes are upon us and that the institutions which represent the wider working class stand with us in solidarity.
We are in no doubt that Osborne, Cameron and Hunt will use the proposed doctor’s contract as a tool for achieving the destruction of safe terms and conditions throughout the NHS and throughout the public sector. The Conservative Party is attempting to stretch the NHS into an ostensibly 7-day elective service whilst simultaneously launching the biggest assault on NHS resources in its history. The politics of austerity represents a clear and present danger to the nation’s health.
A victory for the Junior Doctors would signify the first real crack in the entire edifice of austerity in the UK.
Please stand with us. And when you need us, ask us. We will stand by you.
Invitation to attend our pickets
On behalf of the entire BMA we thank you all for your incredible support so far. Many of you will have seen the details with regards to the planned action and I will reiterate them below. We invite you to come out and display your visible support for us on the days of action.
Emergency care only — 24 hrs from 8am Tuesday 12 January to 8am Wednesday 13 January
Emergency care only — 48 hrs from 8am Tuesday 26th January to 8am Thursday 28 January
Full withdrawal of labour — from 8am to 5pm Wednesday 10th February
I would also like to take this opportunity to remind you of another important upcoming date. On Saturday 9thJanuary student nurses, midwives and allied health workers will be marching in opposition to Government plans to scrap the NHS student bursary. The protest will assemble outside St Thomas’s hospital at midday and proceed to Downing St. The BMA will be marching alongside the nursing students and we hope to see you there!
Just as the social democratic consensus in this country began with the inception of the NHS in 1948 so too will the NHS be the site of Britain’s last stand against the all-consuming forces of austerity.
Solidarity is the antidote to the cynicism of those in power. Now is the time to stand together in a common defence of the NHS. If not now, when?
Dr Yannis Gourtsoyannis, Member of BMA Junior Doctors Committee National Executive.