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International Health Workers for People Over Profit
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Issue #10
September 10, 2009

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OWU Battles SEIU in Toronto

hosptial workers with fists raised.jpg
Michael Downes, Vice-President and Secretary-Treasurer of the Ontario Workers Union (OWU) is interviewed by Susan Rosenthal, the editor of PEOPLE FIRST!
Michael Downes works as a service assistant at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Canada. He believes that unions have become complacent to the injustices that workers endure, so he helped to organize the Ontario Workers Union, which was constituted on April 19, 2009. 

Rosenthal: I understand that you are waiting for the results of a ratification vote for your first bargaining unit.

Downes: We hope to organize over 800 workers at Humber River Regional Hospital in Toronto who were formerly in SEIU Local 1 Canada. After 40 percent of the bargaining unit signed our cards, we applied to the Ontario Labour Relations Board to hold the vote. Unfortunately, the ballot boxes have been sealed because the employer is contesting the numbers in the bargaining unit, and both SEIU and the employer are questioning our status under the Labour Relations Act.

Rosenthal: Was this a difficult campaign?

Downes: SEIU has waged an outright terror campaign against us. Representatives of OWU were barred from the worksite, while SEIU representatives followed workers on the job, which is a breach of the Labour Relations Act.
Rosenthal: SEIU has employed similar tactics against other unions, like NUHW.

Downes: Yes. SEIU has been pressuring our workers to sign revocation cards. They don’t want to lose this bargaining unit because it would set a precedent.

Rosenthal: What would you say is the main difference between OWU and SEIU?

Downes: Our union aims to service the members and to be a member-driven union as opposed to SEIU which has more of a top-down organizational structure.

Rosenthal: Have you been in contact with NUHW? Do you think it would help to work together?

Downes: Sal Roselli, the president of NUHW, has talked with Tim Oribine, the president of OWU. As much as it would be beneficial to work together, neither group has the means to build a proper coalition at this time. There is an alliance in spirit between us, and we would like to build on that.
Rosenthal: The preamble of your constitution states: "To promote the economic, family and social interests of our membership." Will OWU fight race and sex oppression outside the workplace as well as inside of it? I’m referring to recommendations for the labor movement that were made in the book, Solidarity Divided.

Downes: Yes. As I am a person of colour, I see these social problems inside and outside the workplace. Therefore, it would be OWU’s aim to have the workers we represent be engaged in their workplace and in their communities and therefore be involved in fighting these struggles together with other organizations. How we will formulate this fight is still in the beginning stages, but certainly education and analytical thinking with open and honest discussions are some of the ways to start to take on these issues.

Rosenthal: How can International Health Workers for People Over Profit (IHWPOP) support OWU?

Downes: By telling the accurate story about who we are and what we are doing as well as sharing information that could benefit our members’ working lives.

What We Do Does Matter

by Patricia Campbell - Northern Ireland


I can sometimes identify with the feeling that "what we do doesn't matter," but not today.
Today we collected our mobile phones issued to us by our employer.
Our union fought for the provision of mobile phones, which are vital to assist us in our work in the community. Our employer resisted at all costs.
First they ignored us. When we shouted louder they had to listen, but they tried to fob us off by informing us they were "looking into it." If 'looking into it' provided mobile phones, we'd have received them long ago.
We shouted louder by raising the matter with the Chief Executive of the Trust. They continued to ignore us so we shouted louder by raising the matter with an elected representative and finally an independent statutory body.
They give in, and today we picked up our mobile phones.
Some might say, what's the big deal? It’s only a mobile phone.
The principle is much larger than a simple mobile phone. We WON this. And we will win more, because this victory will instil confidence in our members.
We have learned that WHAT WE DO DOES MATTER.

Patricia Campbell works as a community psychiatric nurse in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She is also president of the Independent Workers Union of Ireland and a co-founder of its affiliate, UNIVERSI, a health workers’ union.


Left Alone

submitted by Mahmoud Abu Aisha - Palestineleft alone2.jpg

After Israel’s most recent war against Gaza, 18-year-old Fathia Iz Al Deen Mussa, from the Al-Sabra area of Gaza City, provided the following testimony to Rafiq Mussalam, Legal Advisor of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme.

I was sitting in my room talking to my sister-in-law Heba, 24-years old, and my sister Hannen, 17-years old. I stood up and while we were talking, suddenly we heard a huge explosion which rocked the house. Immediately wreckage from walls and windows began falling on us.

I ran to the adjacent room where my nephews, Iz Al Deen, 4-years old and Zain, 4-months old were hiding.  Then I ran out of the house, but I could not see anything because of the heavy smoke that filled the air. My sister Sabreen, 19-years old, and her fiancé were also in the house. I began shouting to them to help extinguish the fire which had engulfed our house.

I ran to the living room and was shocked to find my brother Mahmoud raising his hands and praying to God. His face was totally burnt and he was bleeding heavily. He asked me for help.  I brought a bottle of water and started to douse his face while he was lying on the ground.

One of our neighbors was taking my mother out of the house, and I began helping her. When I put my hands on my mother to help her, she looked at me and smiled. After that she closed her eyes forever.

Then I saw the body of my brother Waheed, 29-years old, lying on the ground beneath the fallen rubble. He was severely burnt, to the extent that smoke was emanating from his body.  I sat beside him as he died, and I touched his face for the last time.

I saw my father, 52-years old, lying on the ground, bleeding heavily from a head trauma. His neck was torn and smoke was emanating from his body.  When I tried to move towards him, I found myself frozen. This tragic scene continued.

The body of my brother Mohammed, 24-years old, was torn into pieces. I extended my hands to help him, and I felt them covered in blood. I felt helpless.

Then I remembered my younger sister Noor, 16-years old, fearing that she was buried under the ruins of the house. I started looking for her among the corpses where I found her body. The flames lashed around her body scorching her long hair. I was in shock.

I waited with my brother Mahmoud’s body until the ambulance came and took him to the hospital. Then I saw my brother, Ahmed 27-years old, lying on the ground near the house entrance. His body was totally burnt, and his right hand and both legs were torn from his body.

I was the only one left in the house. I did not want to leave until my parents, brothers and sisters were evacuated and taken to the hospital, although I knew I was deceiving myself, hoping they were still alive.

In fact, my family members were pronounced dead, and I wished that I had died with them. Instead, I was left alone. We waited for the bodies of my family members to be brought to our house, so I could pay my last respects, but they never came.

Two and a half months later, I am still afraid to be alone, even sometimes when I am by myself in the bathroom. I have problems sleeping, remembering the catastrophe. I will never forget seeing the blood and the body parts of my family members scattered around our home. The bodies were torn apart, beyond recognition. It was too difficult to identify them.

Mahmoud Abu Aisha is the program director for the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP)


Is Smaller Better?

Book Review by Richard Denton - Canada
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How can we make people more important than profit, when greed is such a strong motivator? In Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth, David Korten, President of People-Centred Development forum, chair of YES! Magazine, and board member of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economy offers a solution.
This book is an easy read that explains how Wall Street creates fortunes for a few by taking wealth from the middle class, so that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This book is by an American for Americans, but the problems are global.

The author recommends that we get rid of Wall Street and support Main Street, much like the original colonists freed themselves from British Royal rule with their Declaration of Independence.

Korten thinks we should move from "me" to "we," that we stress building community rather than acquiring material things, and that we measure success not with an increasing Gross Domestic Product but with a "Happy Planet Index" that is measured by the formula: (Life Satisfaction x Life Expectancy) ÷ by Ecological Footprint.

Korten wants to revive anti-monopoly laws, break up large corporations and make banks local lending institutions rather than multinationals, that would promote small, local ownership. He recommends restructuring financial services to serve Main Street by transferring the responsibility for issuing money to the federal government.

Korten suggests that we:

•    tax Wall Street for short-term capital gains
•    outlaw selling, insuring or borrowing against assets you don't really own
•    prohibit issuing any security not backed by a real asset.
•    implement full-cost market pricing
•    reclaim the corporate charter to promote society's well being and not shareholders' finances
•    restore national economic sovereignty from multi-international companies
•    rebuild communities with a goal of achieving local self-reliance in meeting basic needs
•    implement policies that favour human-scale businesses owned by local stakeholders
•    facilitate and fund buyouts to democratize ownership (co-ops)
•    use tax and income policies to favour more equitable distribution of wealth and income (reducing the current ratio of managers' to workers' income ratios from 1000:1 to 15:1)
•    revise intellectual property rules to facilitate the free sharing of information and technology
•    decrease military spending and avoid waging wars for economic gain by promoting self reliance, i.e., reviving family farms, promoting the 100 km diet, using our own oil, recycling, using renewable energy, improving insulation, using public transportation, etc.

Much can be done by individuals, but we need the majority to push our politicians to regulate big industry.

Richard Denton is a past-president of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) and led the campaign to stop Toronto from shipping its garbage to the Adam's mine in Kirkland Lake.

Universal Health Care: The Lessons of Chile

by Susan Rosenthal - Canada


Most Americans want a medical system that cares for everyone. So do their doctors. The President warns that some form of national planning is needed to curb escalating medical costs. And the insurance industry is eager to have government fund medical insurance for those who can’t afford it.

Disagreement revolves around how much control government should have. Some want Medicare extended to all, while others want medical insurance extended to all. Only a tiny minority oppose change in any form.

And yet, a rabid opposition is screeching alarms about socialized medicine, raising fears of medical rationing and death panels in which bureaucrats decide who lives and who dies. These people have no problem with America’s current death panels – the for-profit insurance companies that reject up to 40 percent of requests for medical treatment. So what are they really concerned about?

The experience of Chile in the 1970s revealed that right-wing fanatics are given a platform because they safeguard the interests of the ruling class. By condemning any move to socialize anything, they ensure that concessions are kept to a minimum.

In some ways, Chile in the early 1970s bears little resemblance to the US today. In Chile, a mass movement fought to democratize and equalize the health care system. America has no mass parties of the left and no politically active labour movement.

And yet, there are similarities. In 1970, Chile was an urban, industrial society. The top 10 percent of the population controlled 60 percent of the social wealth, while the working-class majority (65 percent of the population) had only 12 percent of the wealth. In the US today, class inequality is even more extreme.

In both Chile and the US, class divisions are replicated in the medical system.

In Chile in the late 1960s, 60 percent of health expenditures went to the private sector and 40 percent to the public sector. In the US today, the proportions are 70 and 30 percent respectively.

Both Chile and the US prioritize hospital-based medicine over community medicine, treatment over prevention, and individual services over social and environmental services. Many people lack access to essential care. These skewed priorities serve the needs of the upper class at the expense of the majority.

And like Chileans in the 1960s, Americans today are increasingly angry with inequality in society and in the medical system.

Vicente Navarro wrote What Happened in Chile: An Analysis of the Health Sector Before, During, and After Allende's Administration ten months after the military coup of 1973 crushed Chile’s democratically-elected government and the mass movement that supported it.  

The rise of this movement marked a high point in the struggles of the 1960s. Navarro's inspiring account of how the movement affected the health-care system is unique and well researched. The lessons of its defeat were written in blood. Some of these lessons are:

•    It is possible to build a mass movement for a universal health care system where workers and communities have a say over the distribution of resources.

•    It's not possible to end class divisions in the medical system without also ending them in society.

•    Gradualism doesn’t work. Postponing democratic policies that will antagonize the ruling class only discourages supporters and gives the opposition more time to organize.

•    The capitalist class believes that medical services should be rationed on the basis of class. They will not accept any restrictions on their access to “Rolls Royce” medicine, and they will defend their privileges with the most brutal force.

•    The capitalists of all nations will support one another to counter any working-class rebellion.

Any movement that hopes to win universal healthcare must learn these lessons and prepare  accordingly.

With society in crisis again, new movements will inevitably arise. The capitalists understand this. They want us to hear the bark of their hounds so we will keep our demands to a minimum.

However, the minimum is no longer acceptable. That is why we must learn the lessons of Chile. We can win an equitable and universal health care system only by ending class inequality.

Susan Rosenthal is a practicing physician and the author of POWER and Powerlessness and "The US and Canada: Different Forms of Medical Rationing"


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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