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Have you heard? The doctors’ trade union has been infiltrated by dangerous, left-wing radicals! Some of whom are also home-owning, jet-setting doctors who drink champagne!
In early January, the Sun published its “#moetmedics” story about junior doctors sometimes going on holiday or having “swanky meals” (whatever they might be) or being photographed with an elephant (while doing charity work overseas, but let’s ignore that bit, right?). A few days later, the Times, Daily Mail and Telegraph took it in turns to publish attempted smears against BMA Council members for daring to have political views at odds with the government’s.
These weren’t the first smears against doctors, either. Back in November the Daily Mail warned us about “militants medics” who were using the dispute for political ends. This triggered the defiant hashtag #militantdoctor to explode, as large numbers of junior doctors picked up the accusation flung at their feet and wore it with pride.
I myself was one of the BMA people listed in the January articles. The Telegraph, Daily Mail and The Times all included me in their galleries of “activists at the heart of the BMA” that week. The smears were all pretty weak and we took the view that if they’re trying to monster you in the Daily Mail, you’re probably doing the right thing.
The BMA is a professional body (and deliberately avoids aligning with any political party), but it is still a union, too, and its members are becoming politically active. Back when I was a medical student, if doctors used the word “unionised” it simply meant the opposite of “ionised”. Now, BMA membership is climbing as doctors sign up to join the fight against the imposition of an unsafe contract on juniors and – in due course – imposition on consultants and others too. The government has viewed this grassroots surge with dismay, I’m sure, and these stories smearing BMA representatives are partly intended to put people off getting involved.
Trade unions are the main reason we have weekends, paid sick leave, minimum wages, health and safety at work, limits on working hours, and so on. But when you look at how unions are presented in the media, the news stories entirely focus either on the inconvenience caused to people affected by strike action or on personal attacks against trade union leaders.
The actual demands being made by the unions are glossed over or reported as being demands for higher pay. Were you aware, for example, that the transport unions’ strikes on the London Underground are primarily about safe working practices for staff under the Night Tube plans, and safety of passengers and staff following the ticket office closures? You would never know that if you read the news reports.
You will have recognised this problem with the junior doctor contract dispute, too. The genuine concerns that doctors have about patient safety with the new contract have been drowned out by nonsense about elephants and champagne, as the papers gleefully help Jeremy Hunt by smearing doctors to weaken our public support.
I am growing heartily sick of the race to the bottom. A culture has developed in which, instead of demanding improvements for all, people tweet things at junior doctors such as “Other industries are 7 days a week service on basic lower standard pay! Suck it up!” – and that was a local councillor. What happened to trying to bring everyone up to the higher standards of living?
At every turn, people trying to defend or improve their terms and conditions, or stand up for safety in their workplace, or protest about political issues, are demonised, smeared, and intimidated. The BMA and junior doctors are experiencing it this year, and it may yet get worse. It seems like a cliché, but our strength really does come from our unity as a profession. If we let them divide us, we’re finished. Unions are their members, and that is true of the BMA, too.
So yes, the Daily Mail is right: there are politically active people in the trade union movement, and that includes the BMA. Anyone who has been on a demonstration, tweeted #ImInWorkJeremy or shared a facebook infographic about the juniors’ contract is politically active. This is our fight. You, too, are a #militantdoctor, and I stand with you.
Here are the links to the stories mentioned above...
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