One of our members got to chat with Mandy from PhilosophyofHealth.org about Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch: social reproduction, bodily discipline, gender, capitalism and working class struggle. The interview could serve as an introduction to Federici’s ideas, some foundational concepts that drive our work as a collective. Thanks to Mandy for hosting us!
We recently had the pleasure of meeting Mandy, the host of PhilosophyofHealth.org, who discusses navigating her disability, access to health care, and critiques of the modern health care system, and many other health-related topics. We are reposting Mandy’s interview with her Home Health Aide (also known as a Personal Care Attendants or Personal Care Aide), where the two of them discuss their journeys that brought them together. In the introduction, Mandy gives an overview of the exploitation HHAs experience and the real antagonisms between patients and health care workers.
The Florence Johnston Collective strongly believes that a struggle for human care must bridge the gap between patients and care workers. We appreciate how Mandy and Shyam are working through these questions. We are excited to share Mandy’s and Shyam’s story here on Flo Jo’s blog. Enjoy.
Recently a spate of personal and political hardship (impending divorce, and a healthy dosage of state repression) pushed me from what Freud calls “ordinary everyday unhappiness” to the domain of the crippling neuroses. Despite having a dependable network of reliable friends and comrades, I judged myself to be a burden to those whom I love, and decided to face the heartbreak and uncertainty on my own. Part of this was informed by a juvenile attachment to the stoic philosophy of Aurelius, Epictetus, the hellenophile Nietzsche, and co., according to which external phenomena must wash over one’s visage like waves breaking on a steadfast cliffside. Of course this metaphor, often evoked among in stoic literature, has no place for erosion. And facing down constant nervous exhaustion gives lie to the parable that what doesn’t kill one only makes one stronger; to the contrary, what didn’t kill me left me thoroughly fucked up.
I found myself sobbing uncontrollably, walking the streets with no destination, sometimes for hours at a time, even in torrential rain. Once indoors and alone I would be seized by pains in my stomach and chest inducing shortness of breath and mortal panic. I would summon to mind at once dozens of failures and shortcomings, competing with one another for primacy before becoming at last a deafening cacophonic chorus. I would picture my partner with her new lover and be overcome with grief and rage. The center of my chest became a wellspring of the most intense surges of self-destructive energy I have ever encountered with or without the aid of illicit drugs, and at times I would punch myself hard directly in the head or dig my fingernails into my hands to dull the unbearable onslaught of these hostile emotions.
Not incidentally, I have battled substance abuse for my entire adult life. I have dulled my influx of nervous energy — overflowing whatever scant outlets are available in our society for politically conscious and otherwise creative and romantic people — with booze, downers, uppers, hallucinogens, and the like, since I was old enough to get my hands on these things. Sadly enough it was during times of prolonged substance dependency that I felt myself to truly have a place in the world, as an addict. I woke up with a mission and I fucking succeeded. And being under the influence was the only time I could quiet down my mind sufficient to look at my life with detachment, admit its positive qualities, and like myself. Otherwise I was awash in self-doubt, self-hatred, and associated expressions of nastiness and hostility that continue to derail my adult relationships to this day.
The following is a short piece by Florence Johnston Collective, who have been participating in the anti-police activity here in New York following the acquittals of Darren Wilson and Daniel Panteleo.
“This Stops Today”
Since August of this year (2014), people in Ferguson, Missouri have been in the streets, experimenting with a wide variety of resistance against police violence, spurred by the murder of 18 year old Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. A little over two weeks ago, Darren Wilson was acquitted through a secretive Grand Jury trial of the murder, and last week another police officer, Daniel Panteleo, was similarly acquitted following his murder of Staten Island resident Eric Garner.
For the past two weeks, thousands of people all over the country have engaged in some of the most militant protests this country has seen in decades. In cities where the norm is for protests to be per-approved by the police and for marches to stay on the sidewalk, protestors are taking over and shutting down major highways and bridges. In situations where six months ago people may have been frightened or scattered by the police, they are fighting back, using the cops’ tools of violence against them–throwing back barricades and tear gas canisters, and forcefully releasing their fellow protesters from arrest and incarceration.
At least one New York City march last week began with a reading of Garner’s last words. Before gasping “I can’t breathe” eleven horrific times before Panteleo and his fellow officer made sure Mr. Garner would never breathe again, he said this:
“Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today. Why would you…? Everyone standing here will tell you I didn’t do nothing. I did not sell nothing. Because every time you see me, you want to harass me. You want to stop me (garbled) Selling cigarettes. I’m minding my business, officer, I’m minding my business. Please just leave me alone. I told you the last time, please just leave me alone. please please, don’t touch me. Do not touch me.”
What these words reveal, beyond the complete disregard of human life by the police, is the history of harassment Garner faced as someone allegedly involved in the informal economy (the police were supposedly harassing him for selling loose cigarettes, although he was not arrested nor charged), living in a mostly black and working class neighborhood. What they also reveal is that despite the threat of state violence, Garner took a stand against this abuse.
Last year we wrote the an article, featured below, ahead of the mayoral and several important local elections. Despite the election of Bill DeBlasio, supposed hospital supporter extraordinaire, and Leticia James as public advocate, the conditions of healthcare for poor and working class people in the city have definitely not improved. Shortly after de Blasio’s election, LICH hospital finally closed under the spirited protest of workers and community members. Conditions for Home Health Aids continue to decline, and the public housing projects near closing hospitals go heavily policed and with intermittent services such as electricity and water. Despite the inability for elected officials to change these conditions, FloJo isn’t discouraged. Over the last year we’ve met incredible people engaged in struggles against their exploitative conditions and for a new kind of care. This month we’re launching our “Care Worker’s Support Network” to help build campaigns of struggle in workplaces around the city–so hit us up if you have demands in your workplace or community and need support. This election day, we’re “voting” for everyday people–CNAs, HHAs, nurses, patients, teachers, secretaries, nannies, and everyone struggling to create a new world!
Besides LICH, here are some exciting struggles of the last “election” year:
- After a fervent struggle by workers and community members, North Central Bronx Hospital was compelled to re-open their Labor and Delivery Unit
- In Oregon, precarious teachers at the University are going on strike and are continuing to fight even with the threats of backlash
- The people of Ferguson continue to resist violence against their community by police
- Know of struggles we didn’t include? Send us an email or leave a comment!
Click here or scroll down to continue to last year’s “Election day Special!”
Where: 16 Beaver St, 4th Floor, Manhattan
When: 9/28/14 @ 6PM
What is the future of struggles around social reproduction? As 2014 winds down, capital continues its offensive against reproductive labor conditions, women and trans* power, social programs, and overall quality of life for working class people in New York and beyond. Where are people pushing back? And how can we forge meaningful connections capable of linking these struggles without glossing over their particularities?
Florence Johnston Collective is an autonomous and unfunded group by and for working class people, dedicated to advancing struggle and generating analysis around issues of social reproduction.
Over the past year we have met countless inspiring people who share our desire for radical change in social reproduction. In our pickets, flyering, public meetings, movie screenings, reading groups, and door to door campaigns, we have met folks of every stripe who share a common desire for a society based on human need, and capable of human care.
As we plan our next steps, we want to hear from you.If you share our vision, want to discuss the future, or just want to hang out and see what we’re all about, join us for a dinner event to welcome the Fall and plan for the spring ahead. Bring your friends, co-workers, family, children, lovers, and let’s put our heads together toward a meaningful way forward.
As a group, we are constantly reading together to broaden our analysis of social reproduction. We are always interested in socializing the readings we do so we are happy to introduce a new page on our site where we’ll begin listing some syllabi that are important to our analysis and growth. As of late, we have been reading about transgender health care and transliberation. Check out our four week syllabus, posted on the new page, and let us know what you think!
In July, a last minute contract reached by 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East leadership and hospital executives in New York City averted a one-day strike that was to impact 70,000 health-care workers in over 100 hospitals and nursing homes. During the previous week, union members voted 95% in favor of the strike and 1,500 low-wage healthcare workers in Staten Island picketed for better benefits and working conditions.
The contract promises an annual raise of 3% in year 1 and 2, followed by 3.5% in year 3 and 4 of the deal. In addition, workers will receive full health insurance coverage but will reduce pension payments by employers. Several questions remain unanswered such as new hiring practices, the unclear future of outpatient clinics—especially in the newly merged health Contiuum Health Systems, overwork and short-staffing, the closure of units in various hospitals, and the overcrowding due to closed units and hospitals elsewhere; not to mention the ongoing working conditions in most city hospitals, which include concerns over safety and wellness related to shortstaffing, the inability to take breaks, and the division between workers in different paygrades. In short, the union is fighting a purely defensive battle, but still aren’t able to maintain the standards of workers, only to stave off a percentage of the attacks.
In addition, while there is a pay increase, it is not retroactive to pay for neglected cost of living increases in previous years. Furthermore, whole those who voted were overwhelmingly in agreement, many workers felt that yes, a strike was necessary, but not on the terms set by the union. Of our colleagues with whom we spoke, and other healthcare workers we surveyed who are 1199 members, many expressed extreme dissatisfaction. If the one-day strike had happened, no strike pay would have been offered. Furthermore, workers felt that they were being told to go on strike, not that they were deciding to strike. Finally, many workers were dismayed with the demands of the strike; while the potential rise in cost of health insurance matters, it is a relatively minor aspect of de-facto decreasing wages, overwork, and the potential at any time for a worker to lose her job. It is important to understand worker critiques of the strike not as a critique of taking action, but of the content of the demands, and the complete lack of democratic control. Workers feel like they get told when to come to work and when not to, and the master seems the same whether management or union leadership.
Another healthcare is possible
The overwhelming vote in favor of the strike is not surprising. Healthcare workers are upset and seeking new alternatives. Unlike the rest of the non-unionized private sector, healthcare unions are recruiting record numbers of workers. Since 2010, healthcare strikes have risen by 73% and numbers of days on strike have risen by 27%. Despite ambiguous claims by ‘expert’ academic and policy analysts claiming rising mortality following hospital strikes, such analysis ignores the motivating factors behind worker initiated strikes – such as unsafe working conditions, administrators’ use of inexperienced temporary workers, mandatory overtime and weekend shifts, lack of ancillary staff which delays vital diagnostic and treatment procedures, and higher volumes of patients in the face of staff shortages that have all been blamed for rising deaths and costs. Studies also neglect the critical role of strikes in protecting healthcare facilities in underserved communities that would otherwise be left with no access to immediate care.
Despite the increased mobilization of healthcare workers in unions, why is New York left with fewer hospitals? Why are our workplaces getting busier and more stressful? Why do we work so closely with another (the janitors, nurses, techs, doctors, social workers, aides) and yet are carved out into different unions that rarely talk or show solidarity for one another? And why is our relationship with the union more like a “grievance mill” filing for individual complaints rather than forums for collective reflection and larger-scale organizing?
More often, those we trust to be our representatives (such as hospital and union hierarchies, politicians, ‘expert’ academics) are unaware of immediate conditions in the units and clinics. We (healthcare workers) should open new forms of collectively practicing our visions for a better form of practicing care. We hope these suggestions may be of use:
- Find times and spaces inside and outside the hospital that can launch conversations that bring together all of our co-workers (i.e. nurses, aides, techs, janitors, doctors) to vent but also think of solutions that can make our workplaces safer and less stressful. For example, one lunch per week on the unit could be a relaxed space to hear one another’s concerns and consider immediate solutions. And for solutions that might benefit other units or require more resources and support, we can start having a monthly lunch with other units to explore larger-scale alternatives.
- We must identify ways to sustain our group meetings, be it in the form of regular lunches, committees, or gatherings outside work that link with other unit staff and present larger-scale concerns to hospital administration for immediate attention. And if ignored, mobilizing co-workers to find new strategies to press for a response.
- We must challenge our unions and locals to begin working in solidarity with other unions that represent other skilled professionals in our hospitals. Our work relies entirely on a team-based approach, so we must help one another, including our ‘temporary’ co-workers secure full-time jobs.
- We must not only avoid working over-time, but have protected time of at least several hours per week, in which we are free of clinical responsibilities to participate in quality improvement projects. These projects involve receiving training in health services research and finding solutions to improve the quality of care in our specific units and clinics. The work is rewarding and helps nurture real leadership and team-work skills.
- The protected time from clinical duties can also help us initiate projects that build stronger links with community groups to address locally pressing health issues, such as diabetes, asthma, alcoholism, or obesity. Many of our hospitals have lots of meeting space for support groups, educational and prevention projects, workshops, health fairs, and other forms of community support. Often sharing resources and skills with the community empowers residents to improve their health in a respectful and perhaps more effective form than if it were to be addressed in an ER or clinic. It also allows residents to see us, healthcare workers, as people that genuinely care for their well-being beyond acute or emergency care, and may support us if we were facing our own crisis, such as a closures or lay-offs.
As Palestinians engage in massive protests, in NYC we are calling for solidarity. We are inseparable from the Palestinians injured, and the healthcare workers struggling not just to survive but to resist, as Israel bombs hospitals and ambulances to the ground in an attempt to break their spirit. In NY, we face, slower, every day assaults–overwork, lack of healthcare, silent deaths and ongoing mental and emotional trauma. The fight of Gaza is our fight! We will gather outside Bellevue Hospital, which is one of the largest hospitals serving poor populations in the city, and which treats patients in and out of Riker’s Island (a small version of the open air prison that is every day life in Palestine).