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Vol.2 No.6
November 14, 2010

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"We give them so much, and they give us so little back"

by Susan Rosenthal - Canada

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“Wages are important, but that’s not why we’re on strike. It’s about being treated like a human being, with dignity and respect.”
                             - Amarjeet Kaur Chhabra, organizer, UNITE-HERE Local 75

On October 27, 500 workers at the Delta Chelsea hotel in Toronto went on strike to demand safe workloads, fair wages, job security and workplace dignity.

On November 5, I invited union organizer, Amarjeet Kaur Chhabra, and two striking workers, Medhin Ghebre and Otis Anderson, to speak to mental health professionals about the physical pain and emotional trauma caused by their work.

Ghebre and Anderson, who have both worked in the housekeeping department for over 20 years, recounted how many workers suffered miscarriages because of overwork and the use of toxic cleaning chemicals.

Management refused to provide modified work during pregnancy, despite doctor’s notes prescribing it. Ghebre was told, "You signed up for 16 rooms a day and that’s what you’ll do." She miscarried at 4½ months. Afterwards, she and the other room attendants physically confronted the manager to insist on modified work during pregnancy. They won that demand, but the loss of Ghebre’s child still pains her, every day.

Management resents having to provide modified work and treats pregnancy as a shameful demotion, constantly commenting on how much less pregnant workers do for the company.

Anderson recalled coming to Canada from Jamaica, full of hope for her future. Two decades working at the Delta Chelsea have taught her that, "Hard work is not rewarded."

Anderson is on the union’s negotiating committee, and when she saw management’s first offer, she just cried. "We give them so much, and they give us so little back."

Work shouldn't hurt

"I take pain killers on a regular basis just to do my job," said Anderson. "So many of us do. I'm a strong person, but the pain follows me home and it's affecting my whole life. Work shouldn't hurt this much."

While the hotel is consistently full, staffing levels remain low, with lower-seniority workers getting insufficient hours and higher seniority workers being forced to do the jobs of 2 or 3 people.

The audience learned a valuable lesson that day. Some people don’t blame themselves for their problems; they blame the greedy corporations that make millions by exploiting them.

The members of UNITE-HERE Local 75 know that nothing is won without a fight and that class solidarity is the best medicine. They inspire us all.



Creating Luxury, Enduring Pain: How Hotel Work is Hurting Housekeepers

On Nov 9th, 3,500 Hyatt housekeepers in 12 Hyatt hotels in 8 American cities filed injury complaints with OSHA - the first multi-city OSHA filing in the private sector


Watch the video

Susan Rosenthal is a Toronto-area physician and the author of SICK and SICKER: Essays on Class, Health and Health Care (2010).



     Why French workers are outraged

             by Stuart Jeanne Bramhall - New Zealand

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It’s extremely hard to get good information about the labor protests in France.

US media coverage is full of half-truths and distortions, most likely because the strikes oppose plans by the French government to increase the retirement age. These efforts parallel efforts by the Obama administration to increase the age at which Americans qualify for Social Security.

The US media fails to make clear that French President Nicholas Sarcozy is a conservative. Sarcozy, a dyed in the wool neoliberal like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and the Bush family, has always supported tax cuts for the wealthy and social service cuts for everyone else.

Below are some of the fallacies being promoted by the US media about the reason French workers are in the streets:

Fallacy: People are living longer, and French workers who object to increasing the retirement age from age 60-62 are just slackers.

Fact: The proposed law would increase the age, from age 60 to 62, at which workers can retire early and receive a reduced (lifetime) benefit. It also sets a minimum of 41 years of full time employment before French workers can retire with a full pension. That means students who don’t begin full-time work till they complete university and tradespeople required to do an apprenticeship – who often start full-time work in their mid to late twenties – may not qualify for a pension work until age 68 or 69.

Fact: Working past age 60 may suit professionals. However, one in three workers age 55 and over perform physically demanding jobs: lifting, stooping, kneeling, crouching and extended standing. Close to half of them suffer from arthritis. And nearly 30 percent of all workers between 55-60 suffer chronic pain. The New York Times recently reviewed an important study of the medical problems of older manual laborers.

Ironically, manual workers pay more into social security because they start work at age 18, while professionals begin later (between 25 and 30 years of age).

Fallacy: Retirement benefits must be scaled back to reduce government debt

Fact: Governments can raise taxes to reduce deficits. France’s graduated income tax rate is capped at 40 percent for annual incomes of 70,000 Euros.

In the United States, the tax rate was increased during World War I by one to two percent every $10,000-$25,000 to the point that people making over $1 million paid 77 percent income tax. In World War II, the upper tax rate was 75 percent on people earning over $5 million and in 1954 (under a Republican president just after the Korean War), the upper tax rate was 91 percent on people earning over $700,000.

Stuart Jeanne Bramhall is a retired psychiatrist and the author of A most revolutionary act: Memoir of an American refugee (2010).


Los trabajadores en Europa se movilizan por la defensa de los derechos sociales

                  por Sergi Raventós - Catalunya (Reino España)

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Las huelgas se suceden en Europa este año 2010 contra los planes de ajuste de los gobiernos. Unos planes de ajuste que quieren hacer recaer la crisis a los trabajadores. Una crisis provocada por la especulación financiera que quiere también de paso acabar con derechos de los trabajadores.

Esto es solo el comienzo de una lucha por defender las conquistas del Estado del bienestar europeo. Aqui va un pequeño resumen de las principales luchas más significativas de algunos países de Europa:

Grecia: Las protestas las iniciaron los empleados públicos el pasado 4 de mayo contra los recortes de salarios y plantillas y llegaron a causar tres muertos. En julio las protestas se centraron en la reforma de las pensiones El 11 de septiembre, 20.000 personas protestaron en Tesalónica contra medidas de austeridad como subir la edad de jubilación a los 63,5 años de edad y 65 para la pensión máxima con 40 años de cotización.

Francia: La propuesta del Gobierno francés de aumentar la edad mínima de jubilación es la que ha llenado las calles de manifestantes en junio, septiembre y Octubre . Con manifestaciones multitudinarias y huelgas de varios dias y sectores han sido una demostración de fuerza que ha colapsado los transportes, las refinerías, la enseñanza y los servicios. Hay una huelga convocada para el 6 de noviembre.

Reino de España: El pasado 7 de Junio se realizó una huelga general de los trabajadores del sector público para defender el sector y luchar contra los recortes de servicios y de salarios (un 5% de recorte). El 29 de Septiembre se realizó una huelga general contra la reforma del mercado de trabajo aprobada por el gobierno que facilita el despido. La huelga tuvo un seguimiento muy considerable teniendo en cuenta que hay un 20% de la población activa en paro y más de un 30% con trabajos eventuales.

Alemania: El anuncio del Gobierno de Angela Merkel de subir impuestos y recortar 80.000 millones de euros de sus gastos, sacó a miles de alemanes a la calle el pasado 12 de junio. Fueron seguidos el 20 de septiembre por los trabajadores del metal. También Merkel quiere subir la edad de jubilación a los 63 años y hasta los 67 para obtener la pensión máxima tras 45 años de cotización.

Italia: Las medidas de austeridad de Silvio Berlusconi se aprobaron en mayo. También sacaron a miles de personas a las calles de Roma el 12 de junio. A ellos se unieron el 25 de junio cientos de miles de italianos que respondieron a la llamada a la huelga general organizada por el CGIL, principal sindicato del país.

Portugal: El 29 de mayo, miles de manifestantes recorrieron Lisboa en contra de las medidas propuestas por su Gobierno, que incluyen subidas de impuestos y recortes salariales. En Noviembre está convocada una huelga general.

Eslovenia: En Septiembre  fue el turno de los trabajadores públicos eslovenos, que respondieron masivamente a la llamada a la huelga, 80.000 de los 155.000 que hay en el país, según los sindicatos.

La ofensiva de los gobiernos de la Unión Europea juntamente con el Fondo Monetario Internacional para liquidar el Estado del Bienestar de momento está teniendo resistencias que aún no han acabado. La lucha y la resistencia tienen que perdurar pues lo que se juega es importante. Sería conveniente poder organizar una huelga en toda Europa y también por que no empezar a pensar en organizar una escala mundial, acaso ¿la crisis no lo es?

Información en

Sergi Raventós - Trabaja en una Fundación sociosanitaria de salud mental y realiza el doctorando de Sociología por la UAB. Es miembro de la plataforma en defensa de la salud pública Dempeus y de International Health Workers for People Over Profit.


Our 2nd year - pushing forward

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by Susan Rosenthal - editor

It’s been a difficult year.

In 2010, we saw more wealth transferred from social services to corporate coffers and more misery for workers in the form of rising costs, falling incomes, less job security and diminished access to social supports.  

In the United States, the hopeful enthusiasm generated by Obama’s election shrivelled as every promise was broken.

Instead of ending the Middle East wars, Obama expanded them. Instead of supporting workers, he bailed out Wall Street. Instead of promoting single-payer health care, he backed the for-profit medical insurance industry and attacked women’s right to abortion.

These betrayals caused widespread demoralization. Almost half of our members live in the United States, and our organization was strongly impacted. Fewer members wrote for our newsletter, forcing us to fall back to a bi-monthly publishing schedule.

It's also true that attacks, defeats and betrayals generate anger and fuel the determination to fight back.

The 2010 US Social Forum was the largest ever and so was the Labor Notes Convention.
Hotel workers and healthcare workers moved to the front of the class struggle, winning victories and allies.

Our members who continued to fight also continued to write for our newsletter, reporting on their efforts to support Palestinestop the erosion of public health services, and build anti-austerity protests (see this issue).

We continued to analyze the social forces that shape our world.

Our members exposed how assembly-line medicine hurts workers and compromises patient care. And we explained how computers in the medical industry are used the same way they are used in every other industry - to extract more work out of fewer people in the least amount of time.

We reported on how profit-taking corrupts mental health services, and challenged the profit-driven push to prescribe a pill for every ill.

Our patience and persistence have paid off. Over the past month, we have enjoyed an influx of new members.

We begin our third year facing States that are determined to drive our living standards into the ground. Only by linking together can we hope to counter them.

We remain committed to building a global movement that can win better services for our patients, better working conditions for ourselves and a much healthier world for all.


  NEWS...  Rubber gloves meet the road

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A group of “Mad as Hell” doctors recently concluded a three-week tour through California to promote single-payer health care. The tour, dubbed 'when the rubber gloves meet the road,' follows on last year’s tour which wound through the American heartland and ended in Washington DC. Along the way, the group spoke at single-payer rallies and held meetings in town halls, churches, union halls, universities, public parks and arts centers in 30 towns and cities in 15 states.


US spreads syphilis in Guatemala

Between 1946 and 1948, US government researchers intentionally infected hundreds of Guatemalans with gonorrhea and syphilis without their knowledge or permission. At first, researchers paid infected prostitutes to have sex with prisoners. When transmission rates were not sufficiently high, researchers lacerated the men’s penises and applied syphilis-infected cotton to the wounds or directly injected syphilis into their spines. The project was co-sponsored by the US Public Health Service, the National Institutes of Health and the Guatemalan government. Susan Reverby, a professor at Wellesley College, unearthed the story while researching the infamous Tuskegee "experiment" in which hundreds of African-American men in Alabama were denied treatment for syphilis between 1932 and 1972.

Government under your skin

US Homeland Security has purchased 500 mobil X-ray vans that can scan cars, trucks and homes. Z Backscatter Vans (ZBV) are used at major sporting events like the Superbowl and are being installed at border crossings. The US military has used similar X-ray scanners on the streets of New York. The manufacturer admits that mechanical failure could result in the target being “fried” with massive radiation. According to Peter Rez, a physicist who specializes in X-ray technology, “I was assured by the government that the machines have a fail-safe system, so they shut down instantly if the moving parts fail. But BP had a fail-safe system too, and we saw how well that worked.”

They don’t like it, so they won’t pay

New health-care reforms do not allow American insurance companies to reject children with pre-existing medical conditions. Instead of sucking it up and doing the right thing, WellPoint, CoventryOne, Anthem, Aetna, Cigna, Humana and other insurance giants have chosen to end insurance coverage for all children. An estimated 500,000 children will be affected.

C-sections more profitable

A California Watch study of 253 hospitals found that women are 17 percent more likely to be given a Cesarian section in a for-profit hospital. At nonprofit Redwood City Medical Center, the C-section rate was 9 percent. At for-profit Los Angeles Community Hospital, it was 47 percent. Hospitals can increase their revenue an average of 82 percent by performing a C-section over a vaginal birth. It may be no coincidence that the state’s maternal death rate has nearly tripled over the past decade.


Healthy can be fun

Here’s a fun way to promote more exercise. At the Odenplan subway entrance in Stockholm, workers implanted sensors on the stairs, then painted them to look like a piano. The result? Swedes dancing up the steps, each footfall producing a different note.



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.


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