US press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. How China steals our secrets (New York Times)

By failing to act, Washington is effectively fulfilling China's research requirements while helping to put Americans out of work, writes Richard Clarke.

2. Lévy for le president (Wall Street Journal)

This editorial asks: How about a write-in ballot for Maurice Lévy, whose business success is making him the most publicly reviled man in the country?

3. How Romney can overcome his shortcomings (Washington Post)

Romney, who speaks politics awkwardly, now faces his largest political task: He must be something more than a generic Republican, says Michael Gerson.

4. And now, the Veepstakes (New York Times)

Don't throw your own hat into the ring. If the last few election cycles are any guide, to be named a running mate is to befall an evil spell that ultimately strains your sanity, scrambles your future and does grievous injury to your reputation, writes Frank Bruni.

5. Bosnian war offers lessons for Syria's conflict (Washington Post)

Bosnia shows the way. The Syrian war will worsen. Many more people will be killed and, finally, the United States will have to show Turkey and Saudi Arabia how these things are done, writes Richard Cohen.

6. Obamacare will be Romney's savior (LA Times)

Romney has been attacking Obamacare since its inception. "I'll stop it in its tracks on Day One!" he promises constantly on the stump, says Johah Goldberg.

7. Romney's "Women Problem" (Wall Street Journal)

William McGurn says that Romney's inability to generate much excitement among women appears related to a general inability to generate much excitement among anyone.

8. Battle hymn of the anti-abortion feminist (Politico)

In the ongoing debate over women's health care, one voice has been mostly absent: that of the anti-abortion feminist, writes Lila Rose.

9. The imagination goes wild: Paying for the health care of the irresponsible (Chicago Tribune)

You healthy people will be paying more for juicers, addicts, gangbangers, smokers, fatsos, drunken drivers and other assorted careless, thoughtless creatures, writes Dennis Byrne.

10. Obama joins attacks on court even before health care ruling (Washington Examiner)

During his 2010 State of the Union speech, he took the rare step of scolding the Supreme Court as justices looked on in the House chamber, says this editorial.

President Obama speaking at the White House Rose Garden 2 April. Credit: Getty Images
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Junior doctors’ strikes: the greatest union failure in a generation

The first wave of junior doctor contract impositions began this week. Here’s how the BMA union failed junior doctors.

In Robert Tressell’s novel, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, the author ridicules the notion of work as a virtuous end per se:

“And when you are all dragging out a miserable existence, gasping for breath or dying for want of air, if one of your number suggests smashing a hole in the side of one of the gasometers, you will all fall upon him in the name of law and order.”

Tressell’s characters are subdued and eroded by the daily disgraces of working life; casualised labour, poor working conditions, debt and poverty.

Although the Junior Doctors’ dispute is a far cry from the Edwardian working-poor, the eruption of fervour from Junior Doctors during the dispute channelled similar overtones of dire working standards, systemic abuse, and a spiralling accrual of discontent at the notion of “noble” work as a reward in itself. 

While the days of union activity precipitating governmental collapse are long over, the BMA (British Medical Association) mandate for industrial action occurred in a favourable context that the trade union movement has not witnessed in decades. 

Not only did members vote overwhelmingly for industrial action with the confidence of a wider public, but as a representative of an ostensibly middle-class profession with an irreplaceable skillset, the BMA had the necessary cultural capital to make its case regularly in media print and TV – a privilege routinely denied to almost all other striking workers.

Even the Labour party, which displays parliamentary reluctance in supporting outright strike action, had key members of the leadership join protests in a spectacle inconceivable just a few years earlier under the leadership of “Red Ed”.

Despite these advantageous circumstances, the first wave of contract impositions began this week. The great failures of the BMA are entirely self-inflicted: its deference to conservative narratives, an overestimation of its own method, and woeful ignorance of the difference between a trade dispute and moralising conundrums.

These right-wing discourses have assumed various metamorphoses, but at their core rest charges of immorality and betrayal – to themselves, to the profession, and ultimately to the country. These narratives have been successfully deployed since as far back as the First World War to delegitimise strikes as immoral and “un-British” – something that has remarkably haunted mainstream left-wing and union politics for over 100 years.

Unfortunately, the BMA has inherited this doubt and suspicion. Tellingly, a direct missive from the state machinery that the BMA was “trying to topple the government” helped reinforce the same historic fears of betrayal and unpatriotic behaviour that somehow crossed a sentient threshold.

Often this led to abstract and cynical theorising such as whether doctors would return to work in the face of fantastical terrorist attacks, distracting the BMA from the trade dispute at hand.

In time, with much complicity from the BMA, direct action is slowly substituted for direct inaction with no real purpose and focus ever-shifting from the contract. The health service is superficially lamented as under-resourced and underfunded, yes, but certainly no serious plan or comment on how political factors and ideologies have contributed to its present condition.

There is little to be said by the BMA for how responsibility for welfare provision lay with government rather than individual doctors; virtually nothing on the role of austerity policies; and total silence on how neoliberal policies act as a system of corporate welfare, eliciting government action when in the direct interests of corporatism.

In place of safeguards demanded by the grassroots, there are instead vague quick-fixes. Indeed, there can be no protections for whistleblowers without recourse to definable and tested legal safeguards. There are limited incentives for compliance by employers because of atomised union representation and there can be no exposure of a failing system when workers are treated as passive objects requiring ever-greater regulation.

In many ways, the BMA exists as the archetypal “union for a union’s sake”, whose material and functional interest is largely self-intuitive. The preservation of the union as an entity is an end in itself.

Addressing conflict in a manner consistent with corporate and business frameworks, there remains at all times overarching emphasis on stability (“the BMA is the only union for doctors”), controlled compromise (“this is the best deal we can get”) and appeasement to “greater” interests (“think of the patients”). These are reiterated even when diametrically opposed to its own members or irrelevant to the trade dispute.

With great chutzpah, the BMA often moves from one impasse to the next, framing defeats as somehow in the interests of the membership. Channels of communication between hierarchy and members remain opaque, allowing decisions such as revocation of the democratic mandate for industrial action to be made with frightening informality.

Pointedly, although the BMA often appears to be doing nothing, the hierarchy is in fact continually defining the scope of choice available to members – silence equals facilitation and de facto acceptance of imposition. You don’t get a sense of cumulative unionism ready to inspire its members towards a swift and decisive victory.

The BMA has woefully wasted the potential for direct action. It has encouraged a passive and pessimistic malaise among its remaining membership and presided over the most spectacular failure of union representation in a generation.

Ahmed Wakas Khan is a junior doctor, freelance journalist and editorials lead at The Platform. He tweets @SireAhmed.