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!”
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.
Here is part two of our analysis of SB1391 from a medical worker deeply acquainted with people with addiction and in recovery. This piece further articulates the relationship between medicalization and the history of anti-drug legislation, and lays out a series of mandates/demands for healthcare and society.
Another Care is Possible: Thinking Beyond Criminalizing Substance Using Mothers
Kristen was 19 when she took her first Percocet at a party, and for that moment, all of her depression and anxieties disappeared. But it also set off a decade of addiction to pills and eventually intravenous heroin. She dropped out of college and plunged from one crisis to another. It wasn’t until Kristen realized she was pregnant that she finally reached out for help and enrolled into treatment at a New York City public hospital where doctors provided her with treatment and helped her deliver a healthy baby boy.
Kristen’s story is not a miracle – recent findings have demonstrated the effectiveness of treatment for mothers with illicit substance and alcohol dependence. However the recent passage of Tennessee’s SB 1391 has dealt a blow to women’s rights and the autonomy of healthcare workers to provide quality care. The law mandates healthcare workers to report substance abusing mothers to the police, who face misdemeanor charges if babies are deemed to be harmed by the mother’s substance abuse. Despite evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of substance treatment, cuts in education, public housing, and healthcare services have crippled efforts to support women in recovery and diverted public funds to incarceration.
Such events are not incidental and are linked to dominant historical, ideological, and economic forces that shape how healthcare is provided. We must beyond such events and rethink our autonomy as healthcare workers and how we can collaborate with marginalized communities to launch more lasting alternatives. We must open spaces in and outside the clinic that can launch conversations that allow us to listen and collaborate with marginalized communities in order to launch new modes of reproducing care.
Nixon, Reagan, and ‘Just say no’
In the 1960’s, organizations such as the American Indian Movement, Black Panther Party, Young Lords, and Brown Berets rattled the core of the American establishment. In the wake of the Civil Rights Act and weakening Jim Crow era laws, Nixon’s ‘War on Drugs’ re–escalated the government’s disciplinary apparatus in communities of color. Spaces and social bonds that could produce non–capitalist alternatives were nearly annihilated, including radical organizations, unions, and eventually family and neighborhood networks with the waves of foreclosures, gentrification, and rising incarceration (particularly in communities of color). A new mode of economic production would come to dominate poor communities – the sale and consumption of illicit drugs.
Recently, Flo Jo has been paying attention to Tennessee, where the State now has the authority to criminalize women for potentially harming their newborn children with drugs. Last week, the first woman was arrested under this new law. We have been working on a two-part series on the law, an analysis of what it means, and what we think care workers should do in response. Below is the first article in this series.
Tennessee recently passed a law, S.B. 1391, making it the first state to prosecute women for criminal assault if their fetus or newborn is considered harmed due to illegal drug use during pregnancy. Criminalization of pregnant women and mothers is one side of the various ways the State attempts to control reproduction and discipline womens’ bodies. This is an attack against working class women of color not unlike those we have seen in Texas, California, nationally and globally. All of these measures will impede women’s access to health care and efface women’s reproductive skills and knowledge. But unlike abortion restrictions and forced sterilization, the Tennessee law is an attempt to divide feminized workers under the guise of “protection” of women and children, a strategy we are likely to see more frequently as the economic crisis deepens.
S.B. 1391 and the Crisis.
Today’s crisis is manifested in the inability of the class to take care of itself, or reproduce itself; it is a crisis of reproduction. Wages are so low that the class cannot afford to get everything it needs to go to work every day. Of course, “everything” we need is a relative term based on time and place; workers in America need a smartphone and cable TV after years of changes in living standards. The class has supplemented this crisis of reproduction with personal debt. We get credit cards to buy clothes and pay our cell phone bills and we take out student loans we will never pay back to make an extra $3/hr. This is what life looks like for the working class today.
For the ruling class, there is another type of hustle. It is a general law of capitalism that profits must always increase. So capitalists make changes to the workplace, by introducing more and more machines and pushing workers out of the production process, to ensure an increased profit. However, this catches up to them. Since workers are the only ones capable of creating value (there is always a worker somewhere in the production process!), the more capitalists push workers out of the production process, the more the profit margin weakens. Couple this phenomenon with the working class’s increased dependence on debt and loans and we find ourselves in today’s economic crisis.
On top of this, because so many workers are pushed out of the production process (consider Detroit’s 23% unemployment rate for example), a surplus population of workers makes it possible for capitalism to pit people against each other in competition for jobs. In this sense, the ruling class has an interest in controlling the actual number of workers there are in the world at a given moment, based on the needs of capital.
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 “EPR–CAT: 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.
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.
The recent ban on transgender health coverage from Medicare has been lifted. Though there is more fighting to be done, this is a positive step forward. Here are some quick facts regarding what this means:
Medicare is for folks 65 and older. This ruling does not affect Medicaid, a program which used by low income recipients.
The ban was put in place originally in 1981 when treatment regarding gender identity was seen as experimental. However, now many medical groups see it as safe and effective treatment for gender dysphoria.
Though the blanket ban will be lifted, individuals will not be guaranteed coverage but will be evaluated by their health physicians to justify their need for treatment.
NYSNA has been using the same slogan at Interfaith.
Today is the final day of emergency services for Long Island College Hospital. We have tried our best to stay on top of this developing story, but as in the case of Interfaith Hospital right down Atlantic Ave, the story changes almost daily, and different workers are told different things by the unions and management. Our recent piece on LICH in The Brooklyn Rail was an attempt to piece together this confusing story, and we welcome any comments or corrections.
Since the measures to close the hospital began, workers have mostly been kept out of the process and kept in the dark by management, their unions, and other politicians about what is going on. The only hope being offered is the legal route, which will decide the operator of the hospital, and determine how much of its prime real estate will go to the same greedy developers who are dropping luxury condos all over once-affordable Brooklyn neighborhoods (and speeding up the process of more working class hospitals closing down).
Last Fall Bill de Blasio graced LICH and Interfaith on a regular basis, staging high profile media spectacles in their defense, while running for mayor as the candidate who could save NYC hospitals. When he scored the Democratic Party nomination for mayor, however, he pulled the disappearing act that New Yorkers have come to expect from their politicians.
Upon learning that ER services would close today, we did something de Blasio and pals haven’t done since before the election: walked over there and talked to the workers.
“Some doctors say de Blasio is helping out behind the scenes, but I don’t believe it” one worker told us. Indeed, nobody we met believes that.
“Typical politician,” another told us. “This is all show anyway; this was all decided as soon as SUNY Downstate took over. It’s just a question of who will take over and how much of it will be condos.” She told us that it was the plan all along to sell, and SUNY was “waiting for the real estate prices to go up” while the livelihoods and lives of working class New Yorkers swing in the balance.
Like the northernmost LICH building, we learned that the parking garage across the street is a “floating zone”, meaning that a developer could renegotiate its zoning to build condos upwards of fifty stories. The parking garage, everyone agreed, is going down. But cars are easier to relocate than people on dialysis. “‘Dialysis patients are upset” one worker told us. “They’ve been coming here for years.”
Two different people told us that the deal with Brooklyn Health Partners (BHP), widely thought to be the inheritor of LICH until the deal fell through earlier this month, was never a serious possibility. “They never had the right licenses” one worker told us.
One thing is for sure — the option of LICH remaining a full service hospital is off the table. We heard repeated speculations that a minimal urgent care center will remain, as well as a diminished outpatient facility. This is consistent with the trend in NYC health care, away from full service hospitals and toward urgent care centers for working class New Yorkers and chic private clinics for the wealthy, which we began to document in Issue 1 of Vital Signs.
Now that the political route and the legal process have failed, what can we do to save LICH? And if we can’t save LICH, are we doomed to make the same mistake again? Will we keep relying on the hollow words of politicians, the bosses’ court system, and undemocratic unions? When are we going to stand up, as workers and community members, and fight for ourselves?
We think there’s no time like the present.
No more “calming down”. No more trusting politicians. No more waiting for the courts to decide against us. We need to take action. We need to take the first steps toward health care based not on profit, but on human needs. We need pickets and we need occupations.
We recently wrote an article on the struggle at Long Island College Hospital (LICH) for the “Field Notes” section of the local newspaper, “The Brooklyn Rail.” We are super excited to see this article in both the print version, available around Brooklyn, and the online version, available here. Thanks to Paul Mattick for reaching out to us to write this and editing the article. The text is copied below. It’s worth noting that since this article was published, a newly formed company, Brooklyn Health Partners, won the LICH bid.
On a recent date, one of our members was talking about the Collective’s organizing work around Long Island College Hospital (LICH). “Oh, my friend was just there!” the date said. “He was scared to go there because he heard what a bad hospital it was. And later, when we went to visit him, the people working at the front desk said, ‘Oh, you must be here to visit Joey!’ There were so few beds that they knew exactly whom we were there to visit. It was really creepy.”
This is a common sort of story aboutLICH (and many other hospitals in New York). On the one hand, LICHcontinues to provide much-needed care to Brooklyn residents: it is where people go, no matter how reluctantly, when they are sick, and where ambulances take them when they are in need of urgent medical attention. On the other hand, many locals look on it with apprehension and unease, perhaps well deserved; like most hospitals, it is certainly not a place where people want to go. But just describing the conditions for patients and workers in the hospital wouldn’t be telling the full story. The drama of this hospital has played out on the terrain of broader issues: gentrification, race, social welfare, the limits of electoral politics, and what it means when we talk about struggling around things that matter for “our community.” To get to the heart of an issue so complexly layered, we have spent much of our time flyering, surveying, researching, meeting with contacts, and generally just listening. What we have found is a complicated reality that presents an urgent cause for struggle, and in particular, struggle outside the mechanisms established by the courts and the government.
The story of LICH is pretty grim on the surface. It is the story of an ailing hospital, of dwindling patient numbers, of wasted resources. But it is also much more than that. In many ways, LICH is representative of bigger changes in the healthcare system in New York City and across the country. Specifically, healthcare is decentralizing in an effort to push the cost of social reproduction onto the working class. Concretely, this means fewer sizable healthcare institutions like hospitals and more specialty clinics aimed at turning a profit, alongside increased dependence upon low-waged, homebound healthcare workers.
In early March of this year, the LICH story reached a partial conclusion: The struggle to keep the hospital at full capacity, which for many years meant 1,400 employees and 516 beds, ended. The decision was made that the hospital would remain open with only a few emergency rooms and a few workers, although the details were still under negotiation during the writing of this article.
With a deepening global economic crisis, Greece has been the site of increasing austerity and dramatic budget cuts to essential social services such as welfare benefits, education, and public health care. Public hospital administrators have responded to this situation with layoffs, suspensions, furloughs, hiring freezes, overloading employees and speeding up care, withholding pay and even forcing workers to repay wages they already received. In some cases, patient loads have quadrupled. Additionally, hospitals are running out of supplies and electronics and computers are breaking down and left in a state of disrepair. Many pharmacists have begun only accepting cash, no longer certain that they can expect to be reimbursed by insurance. Most recently, the Greek government has been imposing fees for what used to be free services. Meanwhile, wages among Greece’s most impoverished layers have dropped 30-50% in the last few years, leaving many without any health care options whatsoever. This situation will sound familiar to many of us New York and raise questions about the road the future of the American health care system.