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.
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