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Pressure Groups: Strike action by doctors

Mike McCartney

23rd February 2023

Quite an interesting case study of success and status

Before looking at the doctor strikes in depth, it is worth quickly recapping on some fundamentals.

How do some pressure groups achieve success?

  • It is worth defining ‘success’. This would mean the prevention of unfriendly legislation, the passage of friendly legislation, amendments to legislation, or raising public and political awareness of an issue. In the case of the train staff, it is improving pay and conditions - i.e. a salary increase that mitigates the effects of the recent high rates of inflation
  • Achieving insider status (see above for methods) can promote success. Farming and environment groups in the UK are good examples
  • A factor in success is finance. Wealthy groups, such as those representing industries or the professions such as the British Medical Association can afford to mount major campaigns, undertake research and access the media to campaign
  • Good organisation can promote success. Organising major demonstrations is impressive and can influence both public and political opinion. Thus the Countryside Alliance put rural affairs on the political map in 2003 by putting 300,000 demonstrators on the streets of London. The use of the Internet and mobile phones mean pgs can organise demonstrations quickly and effectively – as the anti-fuel tax lobby has discovered
  • Good use of the media is a useful tool. Joanna Lumley and the Ghurkha Justice Campaign is an oft quoted example.
  • Related to a these points is good leadership
  • Sometimes a group may be ideologically in tune with the party in government. Thus rights groups such as Liberty will prosper when the government has a liberal flavour - relatively more successful when New Labour was in power than after

So it has been announced this week that junior doctors (a somewhat confusing term for this not in the know that refers to any qualified doctor who has not yet reached consultant level - it means they can have years of experience and even be the most senior doctor in a hospital ward) have voted overwhelmingly to take industrial action by refusing to go to work for three days in March. This action is almost unprecedented, with the same professionals only having taken such action only once in their history (back in 2016 over a change to contracts). The main reason, as reported in the BBC piece in the link earlier, is that they feel their pay has fallen below unacceptable levels.

Most junior doctors are in the BMA, and this is often cited as the archetypal insider group. In fact, a quick browse of 10 UK Politics text books on my shelf reveals that six listed them as such. It used to be joked that you didn't see people wearing lab coats and stethoscopes marching on Whitehall. Now we can jettison that idea, as the doctors adopt tactics that are normally the preserve of frustrated and politically disadvantaged outsider groups.

Will it be a success? Only time will tell. Watch the videos below, and decide what you think...

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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