With the Trade Union Bill grinding its way to the upper house, it is worth noting that the majority of British trade unions today can barely organise a pissup in the proverbial brewery, let alone meaningfully compromise the nation’s economy as they could 40 years ago. At worst, even the most effective can occasionally inconvenience London commuters – hardly the all powerful union barons of tabloid opprobrium.
There is however one exception to this trend. One union which more than any other does possess this towering influence. Whose prestige, power and pinstriped suits afford it a level of respectability and control not granted to the representatives of sons and daughters of toil. Question the commitment or work ethic of some of its members and you are treated with the moral authority of a Holocaust denier. It alone has the power to ruin careers, derail legislation it takes a dislike to and hold the country to ransom.
The British Medical Association’s latest histrionics regarding the government’s proposals to revise the contracts of junior doctors are a masterclass in mendacity and mean-spiritedness. In threatening to reduce service levels to the bare-bones provided over the Christmas period, it is shredding any remaining commitment to the public good or common decency in a tawdry trawl for more money.
Make no mistake: the BMA is threatening to kill patients to extort a pay deal even more munificent than the already generous ones floated by the government.
Never mind that the BMA willfully misrepresented the government’s proposals – which increases pay in return for modest changes to weekend working arrangements – as a “pay cut”. Never mind that mortality rates are unacceptably higher at weekends – when doctors on the wards are in their shortest supply. Never mind that doctors already benefit from subsidised education, a guaranteed career at the end, close to automatic promotions and, effectively, 100% job security.
Of course, doctors and, especially, junior doctors work hard – but this is already reflected in existing compensation as well as in the government’s offers. The BMA’s refusal to even negotiate following the government’s latest proposal for an average pay rise of 11% demonstrates its intransigence and intemperance yet again.
Frankly, most people would view a pay rise of even half what was offered to the BMA’s junior members as an unbelievably good deal in a time of continuing austerity. Nurses, midwives and other healthcare workers – many of whom do the grunt work of modern medicine have to make do with annual pay rises of just 1%.
Comparisons with salaries of other, more menial and presumably less worthy professions, are almost always misleading and disingenuous. Comparing full-time work on London weighting with unorthodox medical placements elsewhere in the country to assert that doctors would be “better off stacking shelves”, for instance, betrays both a financial illiteracy and a stark elitism.
The losers from all of this are the patients – who do not have the luxury of a well-spoken and well-heeled lobby to agitate on their behalf. But luckily nobody cares about them anyway – they only rely on and pay for the system, after all.