Newsletter not displaying correctly? Click to view in a browser

International Health Workers for People Over Profit
In This Issue

Click on the titles below to read the associated reports:

23,000 nurses strike 34 California hospitals
We should all fight like American nurses
How can we build class solidarity?
“I got sick of being treated like crap”
We’re not sick, we’re oppressed


This issue is dedicated to Troy Davis


Subscribe to PEOPLE FIRST! (free), and view our newsletter archives

If this newsletter does not display correctly, click to view online

Vol.3 No.6
September 26, 2011

Send to a Friend

23,000 nurses strike 34 California hospitals

by Eileen Prendiville - USA

Strike Photo 3





Concern over budget shortfalls in state and local communities is as rampant as the mistaken notion that our financial problems are due to public sector employees receiving overly generous pensions and healthcare benefits.

In fact, the reckless greed of large banks and Wall Street firms has caused millions of workers to lose their jobs, their homes and their pensions and thrown the entire country into a recession.

Adding insult to injury, these same financial institutions did nothing to improve the lives of most Americans after receiving billions of dollars in bailout money from US taxpayers. Instead of investing in jobs and restoring the economy, they spent their windfall on lavish executive salaries, compensation and bonuses.

Corporate profits for the third quarter of 2010 were the highest on record, yet corporate taxes are the lowest they’ve ever been.

The National Nurses United/California Nurses Association (NNU/CNA) has launched a ‘Main Street Not Wall Street Campaign,’ proposing a Wall Street Financial Transaction Tax.

Instead of taxing mega-profits, many states are gutting public sector workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively. And all unions are under attack.

Jumping on the anti-worker bandwagon, healthcare corporations want to dismantle the benefits of their unionized workers. Non-unionized workers have already suffered huge cuts if not outright elimination of their benefits.

NNU has stated that it would not accept any concessions in bargaining. However, when contract talks began earlier this summer, Sutter Health proposed draconian cuts to nursing staff, and not because it can’t afford them.

American hospitals reported $34 billion in profits in 2009, the second highest ever. In 2010, Sutter Health posted profits of $878 million, and Kaiser Permanente posted profits of $2 billion.

Sutter Health has made such high profits by cutting less profitable services, such as psychiatry and skilled nursing, and closing hospitals in low-income communities. Now it’s proposing over 180 takeaways in contract negotiations, including proposals that would restrict nurses’ ability to advocate for their patients, sharply reduce their healthcare and pension benefits and force nurses to work when sick.

As proposed, wages at some Sutter facilities would be frozen for four years while new nurses would be hired at five percent lower pay. In other words, union contracts would be gutted.

Kaiser settled its contract with nurses without any takeaways, granting one of the best contracts for nurses in the country. However, in a classic case of divide-and-rule, Kaiser proposed deep cuts in pension and healthcare benefits to employees represented by the small but growing National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

In response, 21,000 Kaiser workers, including 4,000 NUHW members walked off the job on September 22. Seventeen thousand members of the California Nurses Association struck in solidarity, and picket lines went up at 24 major California medical centers. It was the largest labor action ever involving healthcare workers.

Sadly, SEIU-UHW, which is embroiled in a bitter dispute with NUHW, encouraged its members to cross the picket lines and to also accept the inferior healthcare package that was rejected by Children’s Hospital nurses. The proposed cuts to these nurses’ health coverage would make it too expensive for them to obtain medical care for their own children at the hospital where they work.

Kaiser welcomed its nurses back after the strike, but Sutter punitively locked out its nurses for five days.

Sutter had hoped that its nurses would cross the picket lines, but at most of Sutter’s larger facilities, picket lines were strong and lively and the majority of nurses honored the strike.

A patient has already died at a Sutter Hospital due to a medical error by a replacement (scab) nurse.

Our one-day strike was a magnificent example of solidarity. Especially powerful was seeing Kaiser nurses walk out in solidarity with their fellow nurses and co workers in NUHW.

We all need to stick together to fight for decent wages, guaranteed healthcare, education and affordable housing for everyone.

Without our collective effort, corporations will dismantle workers’ benefits, and wages will continue to fall, creating an even greater disparity between the very wealthy and the rest of us.

“First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.”   
                                     – Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

Watch this Inspiring 2-minute video of the strike

Eileen Prendiville works as a staff nurse in a San Francisco hospital. She belongs to the California Nurses Association, a member union of National Nurses United.

We should all fight like American nurses

by Patricia Campbell - Northern Ireland

patients on trollies2
It was recently revealed that £23 million is spent on annual salaries for 380 Board members of the Health Service here in Northern Ireland.

These administrators, who are based in Belfast’s City Centre, do not provide front-line patient services. Even though they provide only administrative or commissioning services, their department has not been affected by ‘austerity’ measures.

On Aug 31st, the Irish News revealed that three of the Board’s executive members are paid £100,000 per year – five times the average wage of a front-line nurse.

Dr Brian Dunn of the British Medical Association criticized the “lack of proper commissioning” in Northern Ireland’s health service. And the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) expressed concern about such spending on executive salaries.

Warning that front-line nurses are under “increasing pressure and many nurses could potentially lose their jobs,” the RCN called for “particular scrutiny of the £23million spent on board wages to show that it is providing value for money.”

What a a shamefully weak response!

Across the Atlantic Ocean, American nurses are striking because management consistently puts profit before patient care and the rights of health-care workers.

One 24-year-old registered nurse in the California Nurses Association stated, “We staunchly refuse to be silenced on patient care protections.”

Compare this young nurse’s stance with the tepid RCN response to the appalling state of our health service in Northern Ireland.

Patients here are forced to wait on trollies in hospital corridors for life-saving treatment in what could be described as third-world conditions, while millions of tax pounds are squandered on executive salaries.

The challenges experienced by California nurses are global. However, California nurses feel confident to fight for what they and their patients need because they have strong unions.

Nurses here and across the world can take inspiration from the courage and dedication of their fellow nurses in California.

Like all front-line health workers, nurses put patients first. We would prioritize spending on patient services and not waste millions of pounds on exorbitant salaries for management.

Patricia Campbell works as a Registered Mental Health Nurse in Northern Ireland. She is a Trade Union organiser and president of the Independent Workers Union.

How can we build class solidarity?

by Susan Rosenthal - Canada

civil wars book cover 

Book Review: The Civil Wars in US Labor: Birth of a New Workers’ Movement or Death Throes of the Old? by Steve Early (Haymarket, 2011)

Inter-union conflicts have seriously compromised workers’ ability to fight the employers’ offensive. Most recently, SEIU-UHW urged its members to scab on the one-day strike of California health care workers represented by NUHW. (see the first article in this issue)

Working people desperately need the tools to rebuild and re-democratize our unions and to work together, as a class, to defend our rights and living standards.

In the opening chapter of this book, Early states that his goal is:

“to explore, through interviews, what my own New Left generational cohort set out to achieve in unions, what we have and haven’t accomplished, and what useful lessons might be derived from this collective experience by younger activists more recently arrived in the ‘house of labor.’” (p.21)

Early makes a solid case for democratic unions, ending the book with a call for rank-and-file controlled unions as the superior choice over corporate-style, top-down unions.

The vast majority of workers would agree with Early’s prescription, and in a democratic society, it would be a done deal. However, as with most matters under capitalism, the majority get no choice.

The major weakness of Civil Wars is that it does not explain WHY a generation of activists failed to democratize the unions and what the next generation of activists must do differently to avoid repeating that failure...

To read the rest of this book review, go to: “Civil Wars” ignores the political lessons.

Susan Rosenthal is a Toronto-area physician and the author of POWER and Powerlessness (2006), Professional Poison (2009) and Sick and Sicker (2010).

“I got sick of being treated like crap”

by Jane Edgett - Canada 

Jane's book coverBook Review: The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada by Bob Barnetson (2010)

On 21 October, 2009, injured carpenter Patrick Clayton armed himself with a rifle and entered the Alberta Workers’ Compensation Board. Clayton hurt no one. He just wanted to be heard. He later stated, “I just got sick and tired of being treated like a piece of crap by WCB.”

In The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada, Dr. Bob Barnetson says that Clayton’s desperation is “symptomatic of how injury prevention and compensation efforts in Canadian workplaces do little to protect or aid workers.”

Not since Terence Ison’s Workers Compensation in Canada (1989) has such an expose been written about the inner workings of Canada’s corrupt workers compensation system.

Clayton’s case is not an isolated incident. Barnetson states that in most cases, a “disturbing pattern of bias against workers emerges.” Hundreds of thousands of Canadian families have been plunged into poverty by a workers compensation system that denies them support.

The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada doesn’t simply tell us that workers compensation doesn’t help workers. It tells us WHY it doesn’t help and, even more important, WHY no one fixes it.

The first four chapters indict federal and provincial governments for allowing more than half a million Canadian workers to be injured and killed each year.

Barnetson exposes how governments allow corporations to create dangerous work environments and then download the cost of production onto injured workers, their families and taxpayers. This process is made easier by the institutionalized stigmatization of injured workers as “lazy, malingering, clumsy, stupid, and careless.”

The workers compensation system has become a substitute for injury prevention.

Barnetson states that the “moral commitment to worker welfare is clearly absent,” as employers design jobs to maximize profit regardless of the harm to workers. Weak legal regulations also indicate “intentionally prioritizing profitability over safety.”

The practice of compensating short-term claims while denying long-term claims and non-visible injuries (such as toxic chemical exposure, chronic stress, repetitive strain injuries, etc.) causes many workplace hazards to go unaddressed.

Government agencies knowingly use erroneous data to claim that workplaces are getting safer, when the opposite is true. Because denied claims do not appear in the injury statistics, the workplace hazards that caused them are simply ignored.

Barnetson highlights the economic power disparity between the worker and a system that allows a worker to go bankrupt while awaiting an appeal decision. He digs into the industry practice of appearing to protect workers while in reality treating them as disposable cost-benefit items.

Over the past five years, 1,585 injured Canadian workers have signed an online petition calling for an inquiry into wrongdoing by workers compensation boards across Canada. Many have left notes outlining how the system has destroyed their lives and their families. One injured worker went on hunger strike to get a hearing.

Links to video interviews with Dr. Barnetson, his blog and a copy of his e-book can be found at:

Jane Edgett is an injured healthcare worker and founding member of the Canadian Injured Workers Society.

We’re not sick, we’re oppressed

by Jane Edgett - Canada

 oppression sand sculpture 2 

I was inspired by a recent radio interview with Dr. Susan Rosenthal speaking on “Oppression and Sickness.”

Rosenthal identified social inequality as the root cause of most health issues.

She also pointed out the blindness of the system to all sociological health research and the refusal of the people in power to acknowledge the economic system itself as the primary cause of sickness.  

This blindness is purposeful. In some people, it arises from lack of compassion and capitalist greed. In others, it is based on fear as people cling to the false belief that society is basically OK so that any problems are only individual.

I appreciated her emphasis on mental and physical health problems in the workplace and the lack of support from Workers’ Compensation and other insurance companies. I especially appreciated how she identified this oppression as 'crazy-making' and how mental distress and anger are used against workers.

Rosenthal explained that capitalism invalidates suffering by pathologizing normal human reactions to oppression – such as anxiety, depression, drug addiction and anger – as ‘mental disorders.’ In this way, individuals are stigmatized to protect the oppressive hierarchical system.

I loved the way she slammed naive prescriptions such as, "be the change you want to see in the world," that redirect responsibility toward the individual, when most people are powerless to change the system on an individual basis.

Rosenthal explained that well-meaning professionals, including researchers, will never change the system because they are embedded IN the system.

I know many Workers’ Compensation researchers who are making a tidy wage investigating how the system is abusing the rest of us. Meanwhile, no change comes despite all the research.

Rosenthal argued for a collective fight against the system because we are too easily put down as individuals.

Her efforts to help people shed their self-blame and reframe their suffering as a legitimate response to social oppression is a breath of fresh air. Our suffering is real, and we need to validate that.

She did a beautiful job speaking for those whose voices are systematically discounted.

Listen to the interview

Jane Edgett is an injured healthcare worker and founding member of the Canadian Injured Workers Society.

International Health Workers for People Over Profit (IHWPOP) has joined the Boycott,
Divestment and Sanctions Campaign against Israel. We oppose Israel’s repression of the Palestinians and support a single state in Israel/Palestine with equal rights for all.


All of the material in this newsletter is made available to the public under the terms of the Creative Commons Code. Readers are welcome to share and use this material for non-
commercial purposes, as long as they acknowledge the author(s) and International Health Workers for People Over Profit


If you no longer wish to receive these emails, please reply to this message with "Opt-Out" in the subject line or simply click on the following link: Opt-Out
245M Mt. Hermon Rd. #307
Scotts Valley, California 95066

Read the VerticalResponse marketing policy.

Try Email Marketing with VerticalResponse!