Category: History

Caliban 101: Interview on PhilosophyofHealth.org

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!

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Uninformed Consent: Die for the Advancement of Medicine?

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University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has been conducting a study in treating severely-wounded patients who are brought in for critical care. The study is called “EPRCAT: Emergency Preservation and Resuscitation for Cardiac Arrest from Trauma”. Part of the study involves bringing the patient’s body temperature down to 50F by draining the blood of the patient, whose heart stopped beating, and replacing it with cold salt-water to cause artificial blood loss. Once the patient’s body is cold enough, researchers expect that they can “buy time”,  gaining surgeons an extra two hours to treat the patient for their wounds. Once the surgery is complete, surgeons will return blood to the patient, causing the body to warm up gradually and eventually catch up with oxygen.

This “dramatic approach”, as the research team call it, began in or around 2011 and recently the NY Times published an updated story.

Both articles specifically mentions that the study is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Unsurprisingly, this study has been unable to get participants upon consent. Any medical studies that involve human bodies need to obtain informed consent from study subjects (patients). When patients are under a very specific condition – cardiac arrest – how will they sign consent forms? Will the surgical team force-sign a consent form by holding pen for the critically-injured, since that person might die anyway? Undaunted, these researchers have simply begun enlisting patients who come to the hospital with serious trauma injuries, without their explicit consent, to be test subjects.

NY Times reports:

“Black males are disproportionately victims of homicide, especially gun violence, and most of the patients likely to fit the study criteria in Pittsburgh are African-American males, according to officials at the medical center.”

This is no coincidence. Since the earliest days of slavery, black Americans have been victimized by nonconsensual medical testing. The notorious Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment  is perhaps the most famous example, and only a single episode in a long horrific history recently captured by historian Harriet Washington in the book Medical Apartheid. When the researchers in Pittsburgh selected a disproportionately black demographic for their testing, they did so with the confidence that comes from centuries of unaccountable medical experimentation on black Americans.

In the early stage of the research, the team began a campaign required by the Food and Drug Administration to educate area residents about the study. One of this is a Youtube video which has only been viewed 49,239 times at the time of writing. The video explains the course of the study using dummies and prompts people to spend time to contact the reseach team in order to opt out from the study: “Community members who do not wish to participate in these research studies can obtain a bracelet to opt out by going to acutecareresearch.org or contacting Tina Vita at 412-647-9652.” This perverts the notion of “consent” even more than a forced signing of consent forms, as ignorance of the program itself can be construed as consent. Even those aware of the program must navigate the bureaucratic process of obtaining a bracelet, to be worn at all times, presumably, to simply avoid becoming a test subject.

The Florence Johnston Collective is horrified by the nature of the study as well as the method of implementing the uninformed consent from the community members, and, perhaps especially, its targeting a particular ethnic group.

We are also looking further into seemingly cozy relations between hospitals (especially university-affiliated hospitals) and the Department of Defense, which we encourage others to investigate as well. We expect to find more of the same compromise of medical ethics, coupled with the increasingly obvious signs of a US state no longer concerned with even the appearance of human rights and the rule of law.

In the meantime we urge all health care officials to boycott this program, which violates not only good standards of professional ethics and human compassion, but also the Hippocratic Oath itself. Medical professionals who participate in this study willfully should not expect history to regard them as favorably as the current racist state does. And their work should be made as difficult as possible.

May Day 2014 Statement

NOTE:  Due to a change in the march route and timing, we will be meeting at 4:30 on the southeast corner of Union Square.

FJC will be in the streets for May Day in New York City! We will be marching from the southeast corner of Union Square at 4:30. Look for our snazzy new banner. This is a statement we prepared for the occasion. (Click here for the full flyer.)

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Long before the Haymarket Massacre, the worldwide workers’ movement, and the very existence of a worldwide working class, May Day was a celebration of what we hold in common. Before modern capitalism, vast stretches of the world were held by communities, not individuals. Everyday people with no conception of wage labor shared expansive tracts of land for farming, grazing, hunting, fishing, and coming together to celebrate their communal bonds. May Day originated as a celebration of the fertility of the harvest season, which would provide the food necessary to subsist for the entire year, and of the commonly held land and communal social ties that made survival, merriment, and love possible.

From the fifteenth century continuing through the present day, the development of capitalism has violently enclosed the commons, placed the planet’s resources in private hands, and compelled most people to live in isolation from their neighbors, working for wages in jobs unrelated to their daily lives. This was and is a brutal process involving the theft of land, the massacre and torture of untold millions, and the institutionalization of racism, sexism, and homophobia on a worldwide scale, as capitalism has divided and hierarchized the worldwide working class it has created. This process of enclosure continues to the present day, and will never end so long as there is a free breath of air for the worldwide working class to take.

The communal resources we have lost are not simply land, food, and potable water. We have also forfeited our common knowledges of the body, and our abilities to care for each other regardless of income status. With the establishment of capitalist medicine, women especially were forced out positions of power, knowledge, and authority in matters of health. The power of women over their own reproductive lives, never mind communities’ control of their own social reproduction, has never been fully recaptured, despite many important battles.

Indeed, the relationship of our society to health and to the body itself has increasingly become one fitting the capitalist mode of production — compartmentalization, alienation, and commodification have taken the place of holism, communitarianism, and care based on need. Today, all the “progressive” politicians can talk about is making alienated health care more “affordable”, while still leaving room for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries to make a fortune, and not addressing the social causes of our society’s deadliest ailments: overwork, undernourishment, pollution, stress, and self-medication.

This May Day the ghosts of our lost past continue to haunt us. As hospitals servicing the poorest New Yorkers close their doors, care workers find their labor ever devalued, women’s reproductive rights are threatened all over the US, and low income people of the world are shut out of basic health services, we must remember the past, and recall that this does not have to be the fate of humanity. Another way of caring for each other is possible. We cannot return to the past, nor should we desire to, but we can fight for a future inspired by humanity’s greatest achievement: the commons.

May Day is not a day for politicians to give speeches about reforms and compromises. It is not about searching for a kinder gentler capitalism, or a more diverse ruling class. In a world without commons it is a day of loss. And this loss calls not for mourning, but for action. It is only through struggling together as a class that this loss can be redeemed, towards a future of the commons reborn.

The Florence Johnston Collective

The Rise of Hospitals, the Decline of Healthcare

In addition to flyering, surveying, holding actions, events and other on the ground workplace and community organizing, members of Florence Johnston Collective (Flo Jo) read articles about health care and organizing every week.  Recently, thanks to a tip from Seattle-based Black Orchid Collective, a member of whom maintains a great blog, Diary of a Disparaged CNA (which is also full of great writing), we read the article “The Proletarianization of Nursing” by David Wagner.

The “Proletarianization of Nursing” covers the era of transformation of the practice of nursing from private duty to hospital nursing.  “Proletarianization” is a word that refers to the process of people changing from producers who make things, take care of people, and interact for use, to producers who produce for someone else, and only receive a wage in return. Someone who works for a wage is a “proletarian”.   It is another word for worker, and specifically for a worker who does not have control over their own time at work but instead is compelled to do whatever their boss tells them or else not make a wage.  Today, most of us are “proletarians”, but it was not always this way. Even those of us who work on contracts or work for ourselves are proletarians because the primary reason we are working is to make money to survive, not to fulfill ourselves and other humans.

The article discusses the process by which nurses went from being people who produced for themselves and their patients, to people who work for a wage for someone else.  It also shows that the development of hospitals, the exploitation of hospital workers, the division of labor by race and gender in the hospital, and the poor treatment of hospital patients are all rooted in the history of hospitals themselves.  This history is even more proof that any struggle for health and reproduction must be a workers’ struggle, and must seek overhaul the entire system since all abuses are intimately connected to the form of capitalist health care itself.  Despite the fact that Flo Jo believes we need to struggle to save closing hospitals, we also recognize the hospitals are often terrible places for both workers and patients.

As hospitals were organized more and more like factories, nurses organized like militant factory workers.

As hospitals were organized more and more like factories, nurses organized like militant factory workers.

The article is important because it shows that the capitalist mode of production, where workers produce not for use but so their work can be exchanged for money, is inseparable from the kind of care people receive.  It proves that there is no “ideal” that we can return to in hospital work; hospital work itself emerged as a way to both exploit workers (especially women) and to manage poor peoples bodies without giving much thought to how they would feel.  Although there is a lot of important information in the article, Flo Jo wants to emphasize a few main questions in order to relate the history of hospital nursing to the struggles in hospitals today against short staffing, internal fighting, and poor patient care. Continue reading

Reportback from “Body & Soul” and Thank You!

We wanted to say thank you to Cleo Silvers and to everyone who came out last Saturday, as well as to the workers at Morningside Heights NYPL for being so supportive.

Cleo’s talk was incredibly inspiring, and everyone there raised crucial questions about organizing, healthcare, and what we do to move forward.  We  focused on a mix of discussion of strategy and tactics–such as worker inquiries, occupations, and the importance of building long term relationships that are rooted in struggle–and broader political question—such as the role of unions and non-profits in holding struggle back and managing the decline of the working class, moving beyond “identity” to think about the material class positions that we need to struggle from as workers, and the relationship. between the medical system and the rest of capitalism.

Also, in case you missed it in our newsletter, below is the text of the interview with Cleo about the Think Lincoln organizing.  Enjoy and hit us up if you want to get invovled!  We are currently doing the kind of surveying Cleo mentioned and it is a great experience.

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Think Lincoln!  And Then Occupy It:  The Legacy of the Think Lincoln Committee

Florence Johnston Collective had the opportunity to interview C.S., a former member of the Think Lincoln Committee (TLC). In July of 1970, TLC occupied an abandoned Nurses Residence building at Lincoln Hospital.  Below is an edited version of our conversation.

Could you tells us a bit about the groups you were involved in during 1960s and 70s?

I was in the Black Panther Party (BPP) and the Young Lords Organization (YLO). YLO was the Puerto Rican equivalent to the BPP whose major focus was New York City and between Puerto Rico and New York City. The goal was Puerto Rican freedom and independence, and equality and justice for people of Puerto Rican descent in the U.S. In the 1960s-70s, black people, Puerto Ricans, and people of color couldn’t get jobs that made enough money to survive on. Sometimes it was because you didn’t speak the language, or you didn’t have education, or you didn’t have equality in housing or health care. There was simply no justice. Young people saw the Civil Rights Movement’s strides in fighting for justice and equality and began to see that in order to gain equality, justice, respect, dignity, you had to fight for it. YLO was a very young group. The average age was somewhere between 16-18 years old. We were young, but committed and courageous. The Think Lincoln Committee (TLC) was a coalition of doctors, nurses, community members, hospital workers from Lincoln, and orgs like YLO and BPP. We all came together around a single issue: quality, free health care is a right. We came together because health care conditions were so horrendous we could not ignore it. Lincoln Hospital was (and still is) in South Bronx. In the South Bronx and Harlem, asthma rates were extremely high because of the environmental situation and housing conditions. Infant mortality rates in South Bronx and Harlem were (and are) higher than many third world countries. You could go to the hospital to the ER on Saturday evening and be left waiting for 72 hours. You could go into surgery and have the wrong kidney taken out, easily. We heard stories of people with surgical instruments left inside their bodies. Mental health treatment meant giving out psychotropic drugs and keep just keep people drugged up. 1/4  of the people in South Bronx and Harlem were addicted to heroine. 1/4 of the population! There was no program for drug addiction treatment. There were other environmental issues like lead poisoning and sickle cell anemia. It was an uncaring form of health care delivery; it was essentially racist. The service and treatment at Lincoln Hospital would never have been allowed in a rich community. So it just seemed to us that this was a logical thing to work around.  

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Event on Lincoln Hospital Takeover and Organizing with Florence Johnston Collective

Florence Johnston Collective is teaming up with Cleo Silvers to host an event Saturday, November 16, from 3-5 PM at the Morningside Heights Library in Harlem (2900 Broadway at 113th Street).  Cleo is a former member of the Young Lords Organization, Black Panthers, and the Think Lincoln Committee, the group that took over Lincoln Hospital in 1970 and transformed it from a money machine to a place where working class and poor people in the neighborhood received high quality care.  You can read more here in an interview about the takeover!
Please see the flyer below.  The event is part of an organizing effort at St Luke’s-Roosevelt, which is going through a merger/takeover with the Mt. Sinai Health System, a model which public hospitals are sure to face soon and which has already produced cuts to services and jobs.  You can read more here and here.  The event is open to all interested in healthcare organizing.

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When do we SNAP?: Against Cuts, Low Wages, and Food Stamp Discipline

Introduction

As political campaigns to raise the minimum wage grab headlines, there is a decrease in the federal minimum wage on the horizon that nobody is talking about. The coming reduction in the wage for working class people in the United States, employed and unemployed, will come from a two pronged reduction in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, better known as food stamps. These cuts will affect the 50 million people struggling to feed themselves and their families in the current economic depression. And these nationwide cuts, effecting every recipient, just may provide workers with the broad basis for action against the system that keeps them broke, overworked, and dependent on their boss and the state just to survive.

The state calls food stamps “benefits” and “entitlements”, and tells people they are a privilege, not a right. Some politicians talk about food stamps like they are state sponsored charity. But SNAP benefits are a part of the wage for the lowest strata of the working class. They are the piece of the paycheck necessary to buy food, a piece that the capitalists refuse to pay.

SNAP cuts must be recognized as wage cuts, and fought against by the cooperation of all working class people, no matter whether they receive benefits, and especially by the working class people who work in food stamp and other benefit centers. We need to help build this movement by facilitating these connections, and agitating beyond the reformist lines.

Accordingly we can’t simply defend the program or demand more benefits. The SNAP program itself must be understood as a tool used to discipline the working class. No matter how high they are, these benefits hold a small amount of working class peoples’ wages over their heads to make them dependent, subject them to humiliating privacy violations like drug tests and endless bureaucratic hurdles, and provide a cheap compensation for the loss of real jobs, the ever-diminishing standard of living, and the mass incarceration of tens of millions of Americans. This is why we don’t simply need more food stamps, but the end of the system that makes food stamps necessary to survive.

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