By Shujat Liaqat (Revolutionary Workers Organization, Pakistan section of the RCIT), 25.7.2012
The struggle of the young doctors in public hospitals in the Punjab province reveals the real picture of the poor health system in Pakistan. It also makes clear how much – or better how little – the capitalist class care about the working class and poor people.
Young doctors went on strike on 18th June. The strike is led by the Young Doctors Association (YDA). The young doctors suffer from low wages and demand a substantial increase. According to the YDA they earn only 24.000 rupees per month (Note from the Editor: this is about 211 Euro) which is only a portion of the income of a stenographer of high court (65.000 rupees).
They also demand the introduction of a regular services structure for doctors, nurses and paramedical staff. At the moment young doctors stay in one and the same salary schema for many years. In addition they call for a substantial increase of the health budget which at the moment stands by a pathetic share of 0.3% of the GDP. Finally they protest against plans for the privatization of the health services.
Police brutality and media slander
However the Punjabi government led by Shahbaz Sharif ignored the young doctor’s demands and finally sent police forces to brutally attack them. As a result more than 450 doctors were arrested and many are seriously injured.
The capitalist media, the politicians and the Punjab government have started a wave of slander against the doctors. They state that the young doctors have no right to go on strike. They also spread the lie that because of the strike, patients have died. These filthy rich and middle class people, who all earn much more than the young doctors, lecture them that being a doctor is a “noble profession” and such a person would not call for pay increases. And – so they claim – the government does not have the money and doctors already get already sufficiently high salaries and any further increase is not possible.
The media are portraying the young doctors as criminals and supported the brutal police attack. Of course they don’t give the doctors space in the media to argue their case.
So it appeared that the young doctors were isolated. Even this bourgeois opposition parties sided with the government on this issue. But the young doctors bravely stand for their demand.
Unfortunately the young doctors get no support from the labor movement. However there are some symbolic solidarity activities from some left groups. Also when the doctors faced the brutal police attack, they got support from the young doctors from other provinces. Representatives from the paramedical staff and nurses said that they will go on strike if the government does not release the imprisoned doctors and talk with the strike leaders.
The strike has sparked a political crisis. The government ordered army doctors to replace the young doctors and undermine the strike. However this could not solve the conflict and in the end the judiciary intervened and asked the government to accept the demands and the doctors to end their strike and resume their duties.
However the government strongly opposes to accept the demand of the doctor since it fears that in such a case protest could spread to other public sectors. This could create a mighty mass movement.
Now the young doctors have started again protests with demonstrations all around the country to mobilize for their struggle.
The Revolutionary Workers Organization (RWO) stands in full solidarity with the demands of the young doctors. RWO members joined them on the picket line for common activities. Together with radical medical students we call to build rank and file committees in all public hospitals which integrate the young doctors, nurses and paramedical staff and lead the strike.
* Victory to the young doctors’ struggle!
* For wage rises! For a regular services structure for young doctors, nurses and paramedical staff!
* For a massive increase of the health budget!
* No to plans for the privatization of health services!
* For solidarity actions of the workers movement and student organization! For a joint protest movement to fight against the austerity policy, unemployment and for a public employment programme which massively creates jobs and improves the health and social services. Such a public employment programme must be financed by taxes of the rich and the multinational corporations!