[note from authors: the end of the article contains several exciting examples of healthcare organizing. To skip right there click here and scroll down!]
This past week, the Democratic primary seems to have taken over New York. If you’re a union member, your phone has likely been ringing off the hook–not because someone has finally addressed your 20-month-old grievance, or has called for a much needed strike action to prevent thousands of layoffs in your job, but to remind you to “get out the vote!” today. If you’re one of the millions of non-unionized, unemployed, or disabled people in this city, then for the last several months you have been getting endless campaign notifications in the mail along with news of medicare cuts, medicaid “redesign”, and a smaller balance on your SNAP cards. And if you are a hospital worker, a teacher, a cleaner, a kitchen worker, or one of the 100,000’s of people facing the loss of their local hospital (as is the case with the imminent closing of Interfaith, the closure of Labor and Delivery services at North Central Bronx, the closure of several St. Vincent locations, and the yet-to-be-determined loss of units at Mt Sinai/Beth Israel/Roosevelt/St Luke’s merger) then you’re probably wondering, what does all of this have to do with you?
This election period in particular is especially hectic, and it’s no accident. In the last year, Labor and Delivery was cut at North Central Bronx Hospital, leaving thousands of mothers without local care and hundreds of workers to transfer to unfamiliar units; Long Island College Hospital shuttered its doors and laid off its workers and medical residents; Mt Sinai is taking over Beth Israel, St Luke’s, and Roosevelt Hospitals in which cuts have already started, and more are on the way without any communication to workers or patients; and Interfaith Medical Center has made its determination that it will close, sending layoff notices to over 1500 employees and it is holding on now by a last ditch injunction pushed by DeBlasio in a cynical campaign move. And when the hospital closes either on its scheduled date (currently slated for November 14th of this year) or a month or year after, DeBlasio’s position will be sealed, along with his healthcare package. On top of this, many of us–underwaged workers (many in healthcare), the elderly,the disabled, and unemployed people are facing “medicaid redesign” and medicare sequestrations which will cut access to care even more drastically.
Many politicians have been putting their electoral and legislative weight behind issues that matter to people, because they can’t ignore the real crises that workers and patients are facing all over the city, and have to address them when campaigning. But should we be relying on them to make actual changes? We need to be clear that even if some politicians are very well-meaning people, they have to operate based on what will give them leverage to get elected. This means appeasing lawmakers, making connections with businesses, and supporting “public” institutions, which operate nearly the same as “private” institutions in terms of how they treat workers and clients. Politicians get their power from laws that keep people down, like no-strike clauses for public workers, or laws that prevent workers from expelling bosses from hospitals and clinics and running hospitals them themselves. And politicians make sure that everyone thinks electoral politics is the only way to gain power, afraid that every day people will realize the power is ours.
Unless we come together to fight on our own, outside of elections, come November, Bill Deblasio, Elliot Spitzer, Laurie Cumbo, and the rest will be nowhere to be found, and we’ll still be facing layoffs, overwork, the boss we hate, tension between coworkers because of short staffing, and cuts to essential care that will literally leave some of us dying in the streets. Meanwhile, “our” unions will have spent much of the year’s time and dues creating propaganda that will find its only home in New York City’s dumps, while workers go on needing strikes, work slow-downs, and takeovers to make the changes that are needed.
It would be easy to let this knowledge make us feel helpless, but Florence Johnston Collective and most of the other workers and patients we are meeting find a great deal of strength in recognizing that not all of our hope rests on elected representatives. Although hospitals are being cut, the reality is that they contain an enormous amount of material resources (beds, equipment, buildings, sheets, tables…) and a high quality of worker (nurses, CNAs, PCTs, custodians, kitchen workers). The problem is, hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes don’t currently run just to take care of people. Instead they need to make a higher and higher profit, by making workers work harder for less, and by refusing treatment to people who aren’t rich. While politicians may be able to “save” a hospital for a week, or even a year, they do not know how to run the hospitals, and they are definitely not using the much needed services that low income people use. We are the ones who use the hospitals, and we are the ones who make them function, so we need to be the ones to reclaim them.
This election day, we want to leave you with a few examples of communities that have overcome their politicians and even their official union leadership to cut across job descriptions, legal barriers, and patient/worker relationships to fight back and win!
- In April of 2012, neo-natal nurses in Toronto went on a spontaneous strike over extended hours and under-staffing.
- In 1988, British nurses went on strike against their union bosses and won!
- In 2007, healthcare workers in Cameroon struck and won over 16 months of lost wages
- Workers and patients occupied hospitals that were facing privatization all over Madrid in 2012, forcing care to be provided, and fighting against diminishing services for working class people.
- Finally, in 1970 members of the Young Lords Organization, along with doctors, nurses, and other hospital workers occupied Lincoln Hospital in East Harlem, providing free care the neighborhoods’ residents, and organizing the work themselves in a cooperative, non-exploited way–only possible with worker and community power!
These are really only a few of thousands of revolts of workers and communities, who have been fighting for our lives for hundreds of years. This election day, make sure you talk to your co-workers about these struggles and think about what we can do to replicate them all over the city and the world! And of course, FJC is still out on the streets and in care clinics, hospitals, and neighborhoods every day.. Hit us up if you want to get involved!