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Issue #9
August 1, 2009

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Alberta Muzzles Healthcare Workers

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by Jane Edgett - Canada

In the old days, power-holders who were threatened by people speaking out would silence them by:

- burning them at the stake
- stretching them on the rack
- chopping off their heads

A particularly nasty instrument for silencing people, especially women, was called the 'Brank' or the 'Scold's Bridle'. The device consisted of a locking iron muzzle and metal head cage with an iron bar, studded with spikes, that forced the tongue down and prevented the victim from speaking.

While methods of repression have changed, dissidents continue to be silenced. The Alberta government is looking to cut $1 billion from the provincial health service, and it wants to muzzle healthcare workers from criticizing this or any other government policy.

Alberta is not burning these healthcare workers, stretching them, chopping off their heads or spiking their tongues - it is threatening their jobs.

The province has introduced a new code of conduct for health workers that states, "Public statements on behalf of Alberta Health Service are only to be made by a designated spokesperson."

Under this code, a health worker could be disciplined or fired for speaking out about deficient care or commenting on problems within the healthcare system. The code covers all government employees, including doctors, dieticians, pharmacists and nurses.

Obligation to report coworkers

Like the witch hunts of old, the code demands that workers spy on one another and report each other to management.

"If you have any reasonable suspicions that a fellow employee's conduct violates the code of conduct, you also have an obligation to report this to your supervisor.”

The United Nurses of Alberta has filed a grievance against the code. According to David Harrigan, director of labour relations for UNA.

"If the government, or Alberta Health Services, announces that they are going to close a facility or they are going to close some operating theatres, should nurses not be allowed to speak out about that?"

Recently, Alberta closed the regional health boards and created a new 'super-board' that centralizes decision-making inside the provincial government. This and other changes will make it easier for the government to  privatize the health service, and the new code of conduct is designed to silence any opposition.

The Alberta Legislative building is very old. If the new code doesn’t work, perhaps they can find a trunk full of 'Scold's Bridles' to use.

Jane Edgett is an injured healthcare worker who was denied benefits by the Alberta Workers' Compensation Board. She manages a website for the Canadian Injured Workers' Society.

SustiNet: A Step in the Right Direction, or a Sellout?

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by Lucy Rosenblatt - USA

The Connecticut healthcare system is in crisis, just like every other state in America. We have over 350,000 uninsured citizens. As unemployment grows, the number of uninsured grows.

Hospital Emergency Departments are over-loaded because of the growing number of people who do not have a primary care physician. Those who have health insurance are seeing their premiums rise as much as 25-30 percent this year alone.

In 1997 a coalition of labor organizations and advocacy groups sued the for-profit Anthem Insurance Company over its merger with the non-profit Blue-Cross/Blue Shield of Connecticut. Part of the settlement was the creation of an organization called the Anthem Foundation of Connecticut, which received $40 million dollars to work toward quality, affordable health care.

The Foundation has contributed more than $7 million dollars to grass roots organizations working for health care reform. Last year it sponsored a series of free Plays In The Parks put on by a local political theater company, Hartbeat Ensemble. These plays were all based on interviews with real working people who have been affected by the crisis in health care.

Health care for all?

In 2006 the Foundation launched a “healthcare4every1” campaign to promote statewide health care reform. The motto of this campaign is “universal, continuous, affordable, sustainable and high quality health care for everyone.”

The Foundation built a broad based coalition of labor organizations, healthcare providers, consumers, small business owners and religious groups that held numerous town meetings and organized several well-attended demonstrations at the Capitol, the Governor’s Mansion and the headquarters of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, which actively opposes the plan.

This spring the Foundation released its proposal called “SustiNet” which is far from the single-payer plan many of us want. In fact, this plan looks much like the one that President Obama is promoting at the federal level, which leaves the current private for-profit insurance system intact. SustiNet echoes Obama’s statement that “If people are satisfied with their existing coverage they can keep it.”

SustiNet does create a public alternative by merging state employees and retirees with HUSKY (for uninsured children under 19) and SAGA (state administered general assistance) participants into a self-insured pool. It then allows individuals without access to employer-sponsored insurance, small businesses, non-profits and municipalities to sign on.

SustiNet eliminates all pre-existing conditions clauses and premiums, and co-pays are on a sliding scale. It covers mental health, prescription drugs, home health care and dental care. And, unlike the Bill that Massachusetts passed a few years ago, it will not force everyone to purchase healthcare or otherwise pay a penalty.

Once the plan was publicly released, healthcare4every1 conducted many days of demonstrations and lobbying at the legislature. The organizing was excellent, and turnout was high. The Bill had good support from more progressive legislators and passed both houses.

Now for the bad news

The Bill already had a 5-year implementation timetable and that timetable was extended by an amendment requiring further study before implementing the bill and another amendment that established a review board to study “best practices,” a term that is often used to justify denying treatment. Moreover, the Governor vetoed the bill.

...and the good news

On July 21, the Connecticut legislature voted to override the Governor's veto, so that the SustiNet plan will go forward on the following timetable

This Bill is both a step in the right direction and a sell-out. The public education and the grass-roots organizing that we did has created the base for building a movement for a truly universal single-payer system, which I believe the majority of Connecticut residents (like the rest of the country) are more than ready for. The fight continues.

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


ADD/ADHD: Mental Illness or Social Oppression?


by Mikkel Marini - Denmark

In the spring of 2004, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD). I was 28 years old.

As a teenager, I suffered from deep depression, agitation, difficulty sleeping, racing thoughts, mental confusion, lack of focus and fatigue. I was the school clown and neglected my homework.

The first two years after being diagnosed I embraced the diagnose in the belief that I had a malfunction in my brain. If anybody told me that ADD did not exist, or resulted from stress or any other environmental influence, I would say they were crazy and didn’t knew what they were talking about. I knew better!

I was caught in the net of the medical system. I was prescribed antidepressants (Efexor) and stimulants (Ritalin/Concerta). Efexor took away my depression, but made me very tired, so I took the Ritalin to wake up.

Sharing sickness

In 2005 I started the first ADD/ADHD community in Denmark, based on the criteria listed in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association). We helped each other, socialized and had parties. We were a group of people with low self esteem who needed something to share, and so we shared our sickness – we convinced each other that we had abnormal brains.

When a friend managed to stop his medicine with good results, I decided to follow him and stopped taking Efexor in the autumn of 2008. I fell directly into depression. I planned to start school the following January, so I phoned my friend and asked for help. That phone call changed my life

We did not talk about ADD/ADHD symptoms or how to cope with them. He made me realize how much I lived in the future and the past, and he taught me how important the present is, the here-and-now.

I began to train myself to pay more attention to the present. When exercising, I focused on how my muscles worked. I focused on how water in the bathroom touched my skin. I focused on my breathing.

I had no idea if this form of meditation would work for me, but it did! My racing thoughts, inner chaos and even my insomnia disappeared. My mood became brighter and my thinking clearer. My impulsivity and inner hyperactivity were replaced by calmness.

I had been told that those symptoms were a part of ADD/ADHD, because my brain was “broken.” How could a biological disorder/malfunction “disappear” so quickly?

Too much stress

I still had problems with attention, so I looked at how much stress was in my life. I wrote a list of all my responsibilities, including the care of my children, and I realized that no one could cope with such a long list. So I reduced my activities, and my memory improved.

I thought about my low self-esteem and my difficulty with relationships.

My parents, who divorced when I was one year old, were always fighting each other, over me and through me. I had to defend my mother when my father and stepmother attacked my mother through me, and I had to defend my father when my mother attacked him the same way. I blamed myself for not being able to solve these problems. I lived with chaos, so it was not surprising that chaos filled my head.

My point is that I was severely stressed from a very young age, and that stress lead to hyperactivity and all the other problems associated with ADD/ADHD. My family situation was too chaotic for me to learn “normal” behaviors and develop healthy relationships. There was no space for that!

I was a victim of lies and ignorance. I believed that the problem was me and not the world around me.

It makes me angry that psychiatry denies the social origins of ADD/ADHD and similar problems. How many other people are convinced that their brains don’t work right, when they are actually suffering from oppression?

Today I’m off medication, and I never felt better!

Mikkel Marini has three children, is studying to become a healthcare assistant in Denmark and manages an ADD/ADHD web site.

A Welcome Return to Class Politics

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 by Susan Rosenthal - Canada

What is the purpose of a union? How should unions respond to the oppression of Blacks, women, immigrants and gays? How should unions relate to the rest of the working class, the employer, and the State? Should existing unions be reformed, or is more fundamental change required?

In their new book, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path Toward Social Justice, Bill Fletcher, Jr. and Fernando Gapasin insist that we need new answers to these questions if we hope to reverse “the crisis facing organized labor - indeed the crisis facing the entire US working class.” This crisis is marked by declining unionization, inter-union conflict, falling living standards, rising unemployment, growing poverty and deepening oppression.

Solidarity Divided is essential reading. For a summary of the contents, I recommend Immanuel Ness’s thoughtful review. I will address the strategic questions that Fletcher and Gapasin raise because they are so important to our own organizing efforts.

What is the purpose of a union?

Since Samuel Gompers took the Presidency of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1886, the official answer to the question of what is the purpose of a union has been - to promote the economic interests of those fortunate enough to be union members. Fletcher and Gapasin argue that this narrow focus on economic self-interest (economic unionism) has been a colossal failure for unions and for the working class as a whole.

Unions are the most organized section of the working class. They could win mass support if they championed the unity, rights and standard-of-living of the entire class, that is, if they addressed social and political issues.

When unions don’t support the class, they cannot count on the class to support them. And without mass support, unions cannot prevail against an employers’ offensive that pits groups of workers against one another. Here’s a good example.

I recently heard a public radio report on a months’ long civic workers’ strike. The head of the union was interviewed first, followed by the city’s mayor (the employer).

The union leader focused on the fairness of the union’s economic demands compared with what other unionized workers in the city have won.

The mayor talked about how the strike was an attack against seniors and children. He said that everyone was suffering from the recession, and city workers had no right to put their own welfare above that of others. He added that he could not meet the union’s demands without cutting public services.

The mayor presented himself as the guardian of the greater good, when the reverse is true.

The union had rejected a concession contract. It was fighting to maintain a standard of living that serves as a benchmark for other workers in the area – defending senior’s pensions and good jobs for tomorrow’s workers. However, the union did not say that it was fighting for the rights of all workers.

The union did not say that it was fighting against the unreasonable demand that workers should pay for economic problems they did not create. The union did not call on everyone who is suffering from the recession to join its fight and demand that business profits be taxed to provide more good jobs through expanded public services. It said none of these things. Unlike the mayor, it steered clear of “politics.”

So, after hearing both sides, the average person would be inclined to support the mayor against the “greedy unions” who either caused the recession or are demanding more than their share.

How can union supporters convince others that unions fight for everyone, when unions themselves refuse to make this argument?


Polls show that most workers want union jobs, so there is potential for majority support for unions. However, a narrow union focus on economic self-interest does not invite mass support. On the contrary, it can generate resentment among non-union workers.

By refusing to fight the political class war, unions are losing the economic battle.

To reverse this situation, Fletcher and Gapasin argue that the union movement must undergo a political transformation to become a labor movement that champions the economic and social interests of the entire working class: union and non-union, employed and unemployed, all races, genders, sexual orientations, native-born and immigrant.  continue reading....

Susan Rosenthal is a practicing physician and the author of Professional Poison: How Professionals Sabotage Social Movements and Why Workers Should Lead our Fight.



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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