Thousands of doctors in Northern Ireland began strike action this morning in a UK protest over pensions. As a result, hospitals have cancelled some non-urgent operations and General Physicians are accepting only emergency cases.
This marks the first strike by doctors in the UK in almost forty years.
Dr Paul Darragh from the union’s Northern Ireland branch said: “We were driven to this.
“We had a fair pension scheme that we had negotiated with the government four years ago by which new entrants to our scheme would have a normal pension age of 65.
“We increased contributions. There were tiered contributions by which those who were highest paid would offset the contributions of those who were lowest paid. We also had an agreement by which, if there was any increased cost for those pensions, it would be met by us and not the tax payer.
“The government has walked away from those agreements and refuses to negotiate with us.”
Under the proposed changes, doctors currently under the age of 50 would have to work to 68, and pay more for their pensions. The government is imposing a deal that would require the best-paid doctors to contribute 14.5 percent of their salary (up from 8.5 percent).
Strikes involving the professional classes tend to be treated with more gravitas by the establishment media, perhaps due to a degree of bigotry rooted in classism. It’s one thing if teachers and janitors strike, but lawyers and doctors? Now things are serious.
A similar style of reporting occurred in Egypt and Tunisia when the professional classes there gathered to strike. Of course, devoting special coverage to a sea of lawyers marching in the streets is understandable. The spectacle of attorneys dressed in suits, marching toward an army, makes for great media.
Additionally, the presence of doctors and lawyers in a protest movement serves as a bellwether for how high up the social ladder the rot of instability has risen. Class snobbery has conditioned us to expect blue-collar workers—those people—to have to take to the streets to fight over their scrap benefits, but we expect the professionals to live lives of permanent comfort.
However, this is no longer the case. In fact, here in the United States, the number of individuals with PhDs who are on food stamps has tripled.
Overseas, class barriers are blurred under the crushing pressure of authoritarianism. In Tunisia, thousands of lawyers went on strike to demand an end to beatings by security forces at the beginning of that country’s unprecedented unrest. Similarly, doctors in white lab coats and lawyers in black robes poured into Cairo’s Tahrir Square in the seventeenth day of the revolution.