This week I joined other BMA council members in making a collective donation to the strike fund for RMT workers. This donation is not any form of charity, nor did we do it to be kind or to look generous. We made the donation as a practice of solidarity between workers, and we’re using the opportunity to learn about what solidarity is, and why it’s strategically important.
We are in the same fight
There are many similarities between doctors and rail workers. Like us, rail workers are facing attacks on their working conditions and real-terms pay. Like us, rail workers are at the behest of overpaid managers who see them as costs to be minimised. Like us, rail workers are vital workers running a vital service that this country relies on.
Most importantly, like us, rail workers are fighting for better pay and better working conditions. Our struggles are not only connected in their similarities, they are also interdependent on each other. RMT has traditionally been one of the strongest and most successful unions in the UK, and their current demands are being resisted by the Government as well as the rail companies. If the rail workers win, they will have paved the way for other unions, including ourselves, to follow. If they lose, suddenly our own fight becomes a lot harder.
We struggle for better pay and conditions as part of a union because we know that when workers come together as a group, to collectively organise, negotiate and strike, they are far more likely to be successful than individual workers taking on individual fights. It’s easy for bosses to ignore the demands of a single worker, but they can’t ignore a mass of angry workers all refusing to work until their pay and conditions have improved. A union describes the relationship that workers have to each other, because it’s that relationship that gives us power.
The labour movement
Similarly, trade unions themselves are far more powerful when they work together. Each trade union is part of an ecosystem of various groupings who are all working to win better pay and conditions for working people. This ecosystem of workers across different industries coordinating, learning and taking action together is known as the labour movement – and the BMA is part of it.
There is a long tradition of unions making donations to the strike funds of other unions. In 1889, Irish dockworkers made a collective donation to the strike fund of the Jewish East End tailors during their industrial action. This donation enabled them to win.
More recently rail workers in RMT have donated to the strike funds of UCU, and UCU members at one branch donated £3,000 to striking members at another branch.
In making a donation to the strike fund of RMT, we are materially supporting the rail workers to be able to strike for longer. This means they will be more likely to win. And that means that we, doctors in the BMA, will also be more likely to win. Solidarity is all about strategy.
Solidarity is effective, which is why previous UK governments have made some forms of it illegal. It is no longer legal in this country to organise solidarity strikes, and there are tight restrictions on the number of workers who can attend a picket line.
Our solidarity needs to extend to the hundreds of thousands of workers across the country who are preparing to take industrial action for better pay and conditions. Solidarity can take many forms, but the key is that it is done as a collective effort. Although the BMA doesn’t (yet) have local union branches, please do consider organising a collective donation from a group of colleagues to a local group of workers who are undertaking industrial action.
See you on the picket lines!
Jo Sutton-Klein is a member of BMA council and a junior doctor in Yorkshire