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International Health Workers for People Over Profit
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Issue #13
December 8, 2009

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  Celebrating 75 Years of Organizing

                by Eileen Prendiville - USA

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 On November 16, the Fund for Union Democracy held a multi-union fund-raiser for the fledgling National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) in San Francisco.

The event was billed as a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the first healthcare workers’ union. In 1934, porters working at the San Francisco General Hospital were inspired to unionize by the San Francisco General Strike.

On May 9 of that year, longshoremen in every West Coast port walked off the job.

On July 5, police shot and killed a striking seaman and a strike sympathizer. The funeral procession was attended by 80,000 working people who marched through the streets of San Francisco.

On July 14, the San Francisco Labor Council called a General Strike.

The General Strike led to the unionization of all of the West Coast ports of the United States. This and other victories, like the 1934 Toledo Auto-Lite Strike and the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934, inspired thousands of workers across America to organize unions.

The San Francisco fund-raiser for NUHW recalled this spirit of class solidarity with activists from different unions attending, including building trades, teachers, nurses, sailors, plumbers, and hotel and restaurant workers. The event was a huge success, despite being picketed by SEIU.

Earlier this year, SEIU International fired the elected leaders of SEIU-UHW (United Healthcare Workers) and placed the local into trusteeship over an alleged misuse of union funds. The real reason was the healthcare workers' insistence on democratic member control. The ousted leaders formed a new union, NUHW, and are slowly building members despite SEIU’s campaign against them.

On November 17, the largest teachers' union in Los Angeles (UTLA) held another fund-raiser for NUHW. Again, SEIU picketed the event, this time throwing eggs and water bottles at attendees.

Picket lines should be reserved for labor management disputes, not inter-union disputes. SEIU’s aggressive tactics are only making it easier for NUHW to gather support and unite organized labor.

Eileen Prendiville is a staff nurse in a San Francisco hospital and member of the California Nurses Association.

 

 Why does the WMA Condemn Iran and not Israel?

                 by Derek Summerfield - England

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The World Medical Association (WMA) has rightly condemned the practice of doctors colluding with the abuse of prisoners in Iran.(1) The British Medical Journal quoted Dr Otmar Kloiber, WMA Secretary General, as saying,

“We were approached by a number of different physicians in Iran. Because the reports come from different sources we thought they were likely to be reliable. We wanted to send a strong signal with this motion.”

Dr Frank Montgomery, vice President of the German Medical Association and a WMA Council member added,

“Physicians serve people not governments. Physicians will not participate in torture or degrading treatment. They are the whistleblowers of such criminal acts committed by governments.”

Condemning physician collusion with torture is exactly what the WMA was mandated to do when it was established after WWII as the official global guardian of medical ethics. The WMA is mandated to ensure that its member associations abide by its codes. However, the WMA’s response to Iran stands in complete contrast to its response to Israel.

In June, the British Medical Journal reported that 725 doctors from 43 countries had written collectively to the WMA Council to urge them to examine whether the Israel Medical Association, a WMA member, had been adhering to the WMA’s own codes, notably the WMA Declaration of Tokyo that prohibits doctors from participating in torture.(2)

The question was especially important, given that longstanding Israel Medical Association  President Yoram Blachar had become WMA President.

The 725 doctors were making the same charge against Israel as the one the WMA is now raising in relation to Iran – the collusion of doctors (and their national Medical Association) with the torture of prisoners.

The evidence for this charge was based on voluminous reports from international and regional human rights organisations. Attached to the letter were two reports from Amnesty International, reports from Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI), the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), the Palestine section of Defence for Children International, and the 2008 report of United Against Torture (a coalition of 14 Israeli and Palestinian human rights organisations) to the UN Committee Against Torture.

Dr Wendy Orr, the South African doctor who blew the whistle on physician collusion with torture during the apartheid era, also pressed the WMA Council to act against the physician-assisted torture of Israeli prisoners. It should be noted that the Medical Association of South Africa was temporarily excluded from the WMA for supporting torture.

blachar 1.jpgAfter 5 months, the WMA Council has not responded to our charge, not even to acknowledge receipt of the original letter, despite polite reminders and additional material submitted in support of the case.

Last week, the lead signatory, Professor Alan Meyers of Boston University, finally reached Dr Edward Hill, WMA Council Chair, only to be told that the WMA would not be responding.

The campaign did prompt a response from WMA President Blachar, who instructed his London lawyers to threaten me personally with proceedings for libel (I am the convenor of the campaign). Blachar alleged that I was conducting a vendetta against him and had "deceived" the other 734 signatories.

So what are we to conclude from the stark difference in the WMA response to charges against Israel in comparison with Iran?

The WMA Council has chosen to disregard an evidence-based appeal by doctors which, arising from 43 countries, is of unprecedented scope and breadth, an appeal framed within the WMA’s own codes and pronouncements on the duties of doctors.

If the weight of evidence we have provided does not constitute a convincing case, then no amount of evidence ever will, and we might as well throw the Declaration of Tokyo in the waste bin.

To speak out about Iran is laudable, but easy. As with comparable concerns about the role of American doctors at Guantanamo and elsewhere, our case is surely the litmus test of whether internationally agreed upon medical ethical codes actually matter and can hold transgressors accountable when they have powerful friends.

1. Wise J.WMA calls on Iran to respect medical ethical code. BMJ 2009;339:4321.
2. Kmietowicz Z. Doctors call on head of WMA to quit as matter of priority. BMJ 2009;338:2556.

Derek Summerfield is a London-based Consultant Psychiatrist. View his address, "Medical Ethics in Conflict Zones."  

 

Lieberman and Aetna - Best Friends

      by Lucy Rosenblatt - USA

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The state of Connecticut is home to both U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman and Aetna, Inc., one of the giants of the health insurance industry and a Hartford based company since its inception in 1850. And believe me, Joe and Aetna are the best of friends.

 

Aetna, whose earnings jumped from $1.1 billion in 2005 to $31 billion in 2008 has contributed  $2 million to Senator Lieberman’s campaigns since 1989 – $100,000 in 2009 alone.

On October 30th, Aetna announced a profit of $326.2 million dollars in the third-quarter of 2009, an increase of 18 percent over the same quarter in 2008. Days later it announced that it was laying off 3.5 percent of its workforce.

But folks in Connecticut refuse to take any of this lying down. This autumn has seen a flurry of activity against both Aetna and Joe Lieberman.

On September 22nd, over 200 people demonstrated in front of Aetna's headquarters, demanding that people come before profits.

On October 29th, a dozen or more people, dressed for Halloween, knocked on the door of Ron Williams, the CEO of Aetna, who lives in the posh development of Devonwood in Farmington. They came bearing “treats”, including cough drops and vitamins, as well as real stories of necessary medical treatments denied them by Aetna.

Williams, who earned $38.12 million in 2008, did not answer his door. So the “Trick or Treaters” knocked on the doors of his neighbors. While they did not get a friendly response, they were pleased that the Farmington police who were cruising through the neighborhood did not bother them.

This was not the case a couple of weeks later, when demonstrators in front of Lieberman’s Hartford office were denied access to the building and decided to sit down in front of it. The building manager called the Hartford police, who arrested 4 of the protesters.

These tactics have not silenced the protest. Various groups supporting health care reform have been seen at Senator Lieberman’s house in Stamford, at his office in Washington (where arrests were also made), at his Hartford office and in various gatherings in towns around Connecticut.

Not all of these groups share the same outlook on what kind of reform is needed but they all want the same thing – PEOPLE OVER PROFITS.  We will not be silenced.

Lucy Rosenblatt is a psychotherapist practicing in Hartford and West Hartford, Connecticut.


   Our First Year - Laying the Foundation

                by Susan Rosenthal - Canada

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The economic crisis has brought more social misery and less funding for health and social services.

Health workers are more stretched than ever. Yet, despite our best efforts, the cuts make it impossible for us to meet the needs of the people we serve.  

This is not acceptable! We need more funding for health and social programs, not less.

International Health Workers for People Over Profit (IHWPOP) was launched to address these concerns.

On December 14, 2008, we constituted ourselves as an activist organization with a dues-based membership. We elected two officers - an editor for the newsletter and a secretary-treasurer.

2009 brought us new members - in the United States, Canada, England, Ireland, Denmark, Spain and Palestine. We launched our first newsletter on November 17, 2008 and have published almost every month since then. Our subscriber base grew to over 1,000.

Our first year has been challenging.

Twelve days after we adopted our constitution, we were contacted by health workers in Gaza who were being bombed by Israeli war planes. Within 2 days, we published an emergency newsletter protesting the war and urging readers to join the public demonstrations.

Across the world, our members have fought to defend their jobs and to expand and improve public health services.

Our members have linked us with other organizations fighting for public health services, in the United States, Canada, Ireland and Catalonia (Spain).

We have struggled to build democratic unions and promote solidarity across our class.

We have shared our successes and setbacks in the pages of our newsletter.

We have learned that we face the same problems, regardless of what part of the globe we inhabit.

We have struggled for clarity, to understand what will be required to change a social system that funds war and not health care, that caters to the super-rich and abandons working families to joblessness, poverty and despair.  

We begin our second year with renewed commitment to building a global on-the-ground movement that will fight for better services for our patients, better working conditions for ourselves and a much healthier world for all.

PLEASE JOIN US!

Susan Rosenthal is a Toronto-area physician and the editor of PEOPLE FIRST!

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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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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

 

 



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