TEN THOUSAND nurses began strikes this week, in the states of Minnesota, California and Massachusetts.
The strikes were called by National Nurses United (NNU) over concerns with patient safety and the commitment of the corporate healthcare privateers to the safety of their patients. The strikes in Minnesota affect hospitals run by privateer Allina Health. Angie Becchetti, a Minnesotan nurse on the strike, said: ‘We’re asking Allina, come back and actually negotiate with us.
‘We’re asking for health insurance (for employees of the hospitals and their families) to keep intact and we’re asking for better staffing and workplace violence prevention.’ In California, a strike has begun which will impact hospitals run by the privateer Kaiser.
At Watsonville’s Community Hospital, a strike was due to begin but the management of the hospital gave way to demands on healthcare coverage and other issues. Jennifer Holm, a nurse at the hospital, said: ‘This victory is about nurses being able to provide care to patients in our community. As a nurse, it is necessary that we continue the fight to make sure patients are the number one priority in these national for-profit hospitals.’
Nurses are due to strike for one day on June 27th at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. Nurses there complain of short staffing on the hospital’s Tertiary Care centre, for critically ill children and not enough staff for nurses to take rest and meal breaks.
In a statement, Massachusetts NNU said: ‘Unfortunately, the hospital and Partners HealthCare still refuse to value patients and nurses over profits. BWH/Partners refuses to provide safe nurse staffing levels for some of the hospital’s sickest patients and refuses to provide equal benefits for every nurse.’
The situation clearly points for the need to establish a public, free at the point of use health service in America through a revolutionary struggle of the working class. Only a nationalised health service will be able to provide adequate care and staff to ensure the health and wellbeing of American workers.
The complaints of American nurses echo the attack on nurses in Britain, where the government is driving standards down and moving towards an American-style private system. Meanwhile, employees in Seattle are pushing for secure hours as part of their employment contracts.
Led by the organisation Working Washington, which led the successful campaign for a $15 minimum wage across the state, workers complained of wildly fluctuating hours which left them unable to plan essential appointments and childcare. It is common for workers to work one shift and then have only two or three hours before their next shift, leading to working days of sixteen to eighteen hours.
Particularly galling is the practice of ‘clopening’, where workers have to close up their workplace after a late shift and come back for the first shift the next morning. The demands of the rapidly forming movement for secure schedules are as follows:
• Two weeks notice of schedules
• ‘Predictability pay’ for last-minute changes
• 11 hours between shifts
• Offer additional hours to existing workers.
Emboldened by the success of the $15 campaign, workers in Washington State believe this is a fight they can win. At a ‘Secure Schedule Storytelling Slam’ in which workers read out stories and poems they had written about some of their experiences – one speaker told of living in an understaffed cafe for two and a half days, sleeping under tables for breaks of not longer than a few hours – Working Washington leader Sage Wilson said that this movement was the ‘second half’ of the $15 struggle.
‘The minimum wage was about money, this is about power,’ they said. The struggle for a secure schedule in America has its twin in the fight in Britain and across Europe to smash zero hours contracts, which also see workers left completely unsure of what hours they will be working and whether they will even have any work at all.
In New York, a court has awarded a group of 18 car washers a large payout of $1.65 million in stolen wages, the largest ever for their line of work. The workers, all Latino immigrants to the States, will be awarded between $91,000 and $200,000 each.
At the car washes, all owned by José Vázquez, workers received as little as $20 for a whole day’s work, were not allowed any breaks and had to stand outside for long hours in freezing conditions in the winter.
One of the workers lost his job when his manager discovered that he had sought legal advice about obtaining a fair wage. In Southern California, 47,000 grocery workers in the United Food and Commercial Workers Union have voted to go on strike if negotiations with the bosses fail.
The union accuses supermarkets of seeking to cut costs in anticipation of the introduction of a $15 minimum wage across California in 2020. Amongst other money-saving measures from the management are cuts in holiday pay, increasing the pension contributions made by workers, and less career progression.
California grocery workers were involved in a historic 141-day strike in 2003-4. On Thursday, members of the United Auto Workers union at Sakthi Auto Group in Detroit announced they would strike on Monday.
After a year of union representation at the Sakthi plant, which specialises in iron and aluminium parts for vehicles, Sakthi workers still feel that management at the plant is not amenable to union presence.
The union alleges that Sakthi has fired 52 bargaining unit employees since negotiations with UAW began, and has also filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging unauthorised layoffs and refusal to hire, coercive actions and statements, and denial of access.
Finally, in Chicago, teacher members of the Chicago Teachers Union occupied City Hall to protest about education cuts and poor leadership from the authorities. They arrived with a skeleton dressed in cap and gown with a bullethole-marked sign saying ‘Stop killing education.’
Speaking of the poor management of the city’s schools, teacher Mark Nelson said: ‘They just don’t get it, they’re not in the trenches with us. It’s like a cadet fresh out of West Point attempting to lead a group of battle hardened troops in the field.’
After the protest at City Hall, teachers marched to the offices of Ken Griffin, the richest man in Chicago, and chanted: ‘We need teachers, we need books, we need money Ken Griffin took!’
If a new budget is not approved by legislators, Chicago schools will struggle to reopen in the autumn. Teachers have also announced the possibility of holding a strike when they return to work after the summer break, which has just begun.
This step up in the struggle of Chicago’s teachers coincides with the escalation of the fight of teachers in England, who will be on strike against the Tory education regime on July 5th.