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Issue #5
February 12, 2009

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WE are the Union

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by Eileen Prendiville - USA

On January 27, the Service Employees International (SEIU), headed by Andy Stern, put its United Healthcare Workers-West local (UHW) into trusteeship. This means that the local's assets are seized, its constitution and bylaws are suspended, its elected officers are removed, and Stern-appointed 'trustees' replace the local’s elected leadership.

The hostile takeover followed UHWs refusal to comply with SEIU’s order to split the 150,000-member local in two. UHW refused on the basis that its members had a right to vote on the matter.

Over the past few years, SEIU and the UHW have locked horns over healthcare reform, internal union democracy, how to organize non-union workers and the consolidation of smaller locals into mega-locals.

Sal Roselli, head of UHW, has been a vocal critic of Stern’s top-down, anti-democratic leadership style, while Stern has accused UHW of being in collusion with the California Nurses Association (CNA), one of SEIU’s most vocal critics.

While the SEIU leadership preaches unity with UHW, it is trying to divide and conquer CNA.

The same day UHW was placed under trusteeship, nurses represented by CNA were contacted by SEIU staff using a front group - RNs for Change. It seems that SEIU is trying to undermine upcoming CNA elections for Board of Directors and delegates to our fall convention.

CNA has long been at odds with Andy Stern and his appointees over his leadership style and his cozy relationship with management. His willingness to cut deals with employers to secure contracts has hurt health workers and patients.

In California, SEIU backed legislation that would bar the union from reporting healthcare code violations in nursing homes and make it more difficult for patients to sue nursing homes for abuse and neglect. In other states, SEIU joined the hospital industry to lobby against laws mandating minimum nurse-to-patient staffing ratios.

New Union - New Hope?

Refusing to roll over and die, UHW has formed a breakaway union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) and plans to disaffiliate from SEIU - a long and difficult process.

At the hospital where I work, contracts for UHW members as well as CNA nurses are currently open for renegotiation.

As the newly-formed NUHW begins organizing, SEIU staff sent in by Andy Stern, are already meeting with employers. They will likely push for quick contract settlements, but UHW members, at least at my facility, are organized and informed and will likely vote to decertify SEIU. However, with the current economic uncertainty the average worker may be unwilling to strike.

Reactions to the split inside SEIU are mixed. Some see only the destruction of unions and the glee of employers who will move to take full advantage of the situation. At one hospital a negotiator from management said, "Why would we negotiate with you [UHW] when we could negotiate with Andy Stern?" There is also the fear that a weakened labor movement will undermine passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

Others are more hopeful. It is inspiring to see thousands of rank-and-file workers fighting to defend their union. Chanting “WE are the union! The mighty, mighty union!” they remind us that the power of unions lies in the collective strength of the workers. This message is sorely needed by a labor movement reeling from years of defeat.

Their Fight is Our Fight - Support NUHW!

SEIU is spending millions of dollars on its campaign to squelch the new union. Because UHW's assets were seized, NUHW staff are working long hours without pay or benefits. They urgently need our financial support.

Please donate online or mail your check to:

The Fund For Union Democracy
465 California Street, Ste. 1600
San Francisco, California 94104

Video - Rank-and-file UHW members explain why they want to keep control of their union 

Eileen Prendiville works as an RN and is on the CNA bargaining team at an acute care hospital in San Francisco.


The Fight to Save Ontario Hospitals


by Susan Rosenthal - Canada
As the fight for a single-payer medical system heats up in the United States, Canada’s single-payer system is being dismantled to support corporate profits.

On January 30-31, two-hundred representatives meet in Toronto for a “Strategy Summit on Ontario’s Planned Hospital Cuts, Downsizing and Restructuring” convened by the Ontario Health Coalition. The OHC includes more than 400 labor and community groups that are committed to defending and improving the publicly-funded, publicly-administered health-care system.

The Strategy Summit was called in response to planned funding cuts that will affect every hospital in the province. If the cuts go through, Emergency Departments will close, local birthing services will be eliminated, hospital departments and beds will be lost, paramedical and support services will be privatized and fees for hospital patients and visitors will increase.

The goal of the meeting was to organize a province-wide campaign to stop the loss of these  services, and the first order of business was to counter the lies that justify the cuts.

The Cuts are Not a Response to the Recession

Back in 1994, the Ontario government presented its plan to transform the medical system into a cash-cow for the private sector.

"To have the effective launching pad it needs, the health industries sector must expand its share of its own home market. Steps must be taken to ensure that, as in other countries, the domestic market supports the development of globally competitive companies."(1)

One of these steps was to scrap regulations that ensured a minimum level of daily care for nursing home patients. Major cuts to funding and services followed.

The cuts were so unpopular that the Conservative Party was voted out of office in favor of the Liberal Party. In turn, the Liberal Party has betrayed its election mandate and planned  this round of even deeper cuts.

In 2006, before the recession began, the Liberals passed the Local Health System Integration Act to dismantle the public hospital system under the guise of “integration.” The province was divided into 14 geographic areas, each of which was assigned a Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) with the power to reorganize and cut regional medical services.

Economists warn that hospital cuts will deepen the effects of the recession, because every lost hospital job will cause a second job loss in the community. Moreover, increasing wait-times for medical services will cost billions more dollars in lost work time and productivity.

The Cuts are Not about Improving Hospital Efficiency

Hospitals are not being cut to make them more efficient, but to support the profitability of the private sector.

Ontario hospitals are the most “efficient” in the country. Between 1981 and 2008, the hospital share of the Ontario health budget fell from 52 percent to 37 percent.

The Ontario government has cut funding for health and social services in order to  support corporate profits. Low corporate tax rates mean that only 15 percent of Ontario’s GDP goes to government funding, compared with 17 percent for the rest of Canada. As a result, Ontario has the lowest per-capita government expenditure: $6,905 in 2007 compared with $8,692 for the rest of Canada.

Hospital cuts also help to move medical services (and money) from the public sector to the private sector. This is accomplished in a two-step process.

First, hospitals are funded below the level required to match the rate of inflation and population growth. Years of under-funding have pushed half of Ontario hospitals into deficit and 70 percent are expected to be in deficit by next year.  Second, hospitals are forced to cut services to balance their budgets.

By Canadian law, medical services provided in hospital must be publicly funded and provided free of charge. Once these services leave hospital, they can be taken over by the private sector and provided for profit..........continue reading The Fight to Save Ontario Hospitals

Susan Rosenthal works as a physician in the Toronto area.


Accidentes de Trabajo: Estadisticas Mentira

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por Sergi Raventós - España

A finales de Enero, en un artículo publicado en el periódico Público, “Los muertos que no se registran,” (publicación del Reino de España) el profesor Vicenç Navarro (conocido asesor en políticas de salud de gobiernos como el cubano, el de Salvador Allende de Chile o el de Clinton en EEUU) ponía el dedo en la llaga en un tema del cual hay muy poca información clara al respecto: las cifras reales de enfermedades y accidentes laborales en el Reino de España.

Según V. Navarro, las cifras oficiales reconocen sólo 30.000 casos anuales de enfermedades profesionales. Las cifras reales, decía el autor, son mucho mayores. Se estima que un 9% de trabajadores y un 13% de trabajadoras (un total de 2 millones de personas) padecen alguna enfermedad o dolencia resultado de su trabajo.

Es difícil encontrar buena información sobre uno de los temas que muestra de forma más evidente la crudeza de las condiciones laborales de determinados sectores del trabajo asalariado. La relación entre un mercado de trabajo precario y con una alta tasa de paro como el español y tener por ejemplo uno de los índices más altos en lesiones traumáticas derivadas de los accidentes de trabajo no es casual1. Tampoco es casual que los jóvenes, las mujeres y los inmigrantes sean colectivos de alto riesgo en accidentes y enfermedades laborales, especialmente si siguen desarrollando buena parte de los trabajos manuales y sin cualificar del mercado de trabajo.

Seguramente, el tema de los accidentes y enfermedades profesionales se trata de un tema en el que ha aumentado considerablemente (gracias en parte al buen trabajo de algunos sindicatos de clase) y desde hace años la percepción entre la población trabajadora que no se ponen los medios de protección suficientes por parte de las empresas, para proteger al trabajador de accidentes y posibles enfermedades derivadas del trabajo. Tal vez por esto, este autor denunciaba que las mutuas laborales estén interesadas en no difundir muchos datos pues

“Las Mutuas no pagan la pensión laboral (que es mayor que la pensión normal de la Seguridad Social) a los familiares, viudas o viudos o dependientes del trabajador muerto y que les corresponde por ley. El hecho de que haya tal subregistro significa un enorme ahorro a las Mutuas Patronales. Tal ahorro es el origen de sus enormes beneficios, que se basan en el sacrificio de los familiares de los muertos…”.

Estamos pues, delante de una de las injusticias flagrantes del capitalismo pero menos conocidas.

En un contexto de crisis como el actual, en el que en el Reino de España las tasas de paro producen ya vértigo, pues se aproximan peligrosamente a un 25% de la población activa, es fundamental poner freno y control a esta lacra por parte de los sindicatos, ya que no figura en los titulares de los periódicos, ni merece la misma atención mediática que por ejemplo los viajes o los nuevos vástagos de la monarquía española.

1. Ver Benavides FG, coordinador. Informe de Salud laboral. España, 2006. Barcelona: Observatorio de Salud laboral; 2007

Sergi Raventós es Diplomado en Trabajo Social y Licenciado en Sociologia. Actualmente realiza el doctorado en Sociología y trabaja en una Fundación sociosanitaria de Salud mental en Barcelona (Catalunya).


Dalal - the only survivor in her family


by Mahmoud Abu Aisha - Palestine

When I used to write about the victims of Israeli crimes, I never imagined that one day I’d be writing about the unbearable misery of my own family.

In the first week of Israel’s war against Gaza, our friends phoned to tell us that my cousin’s house had been bombed. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it. Fifteen minutes later, another phone call came from relatives asking if we had heard the news and if it was true.

I turned on the radio. The local station confirmed that F16 warplanes had bombed the Abu Aisha home. I fainted.

My brothers roused me, and we rushed to my cousin’s house to help. It was very risky, because the Israelis were targeting all moving vehicles in the darkness.

The house consisted of four floors and a basement. Four families live in this house, and my cousin’s family lived on the first floor. When we arrived, we found the civil defense and ambulances collecting the severed limbs of the children and their parents.

A Scene of Horror

We found the father’s corpse laying on the ground, about 50 meters away from the home, with severe injuries and burns. He had two wives, as the first was childless: Nahil, my cousin with four children, of whom the oldest is Dalal, and Sabah, the first wife, who had a child years later. One of the mothers (we couldn’t distinguish which one) was found with her head and shoulder severed from her body.

The fate of the children was even more heart-wrenching. I wept as I collected their limbs and shredded bodies. The three children were Mohamad, 4 years, Ghaida, 7 years, and Sayed, 10 years. I still feel traumatized by seeing their fingers, flesh and guts spread everywhere.

Only Dalal, 12 years old, survived because she had gone to sleep with her aunt the day before. When she learned that she had lost her entire family, she crumbled in shock. She was inconsolable, crying, “I am an orphan… what is my sin?… Nothing remains for me…”

It was 10:00 am, and we had to bury the bodies according to Islamic rituals. However, we couldn’t find any part of the other mother. We thought that the body we found was Sabah, but we later discovered that Sabah had left her home a few days earlier, seeking a safer place.

When Sabah heard about the catastrophe on the radio she fainted. The host family thought she was simply tired. By the time she revived, her family had already buried what they thought was her body. In fact it was Nahil who was buried, not Sabah.

Dalal is consumed with grief at the loss of her family. She cries constantly. The only things left in her home were her school uniform, her cat and some photos of her brothers and sister.

Has the world abandoned us? Who will stand up for the rights of Palestinian children and their families?      Video of Dalal’s story

Mahmoud Abu Aisha works at the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme and was the coordinator of GCMHP’s 5th International Conference “Siege and Mental Health: Walls vs. Bridges” October 18-26, 2008.


Boycott Apartheid Israel!


by Derek Summerfield - England

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against apartheid Israel has been gathering steam on several continents over the past few years. The campaign seeks to apply the same principled methods of direct action that were so successful against apartheid South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.

One part of this broad front is the academic boycott campaign that was launched in Britain following a call in 2002 from two well-known Jewish professors, Steven and Hilary Rose. This led to the setting up of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP).

The academic boycott campaign was recently taken up in the United States in response to Israel’s barbaric war against Gaza's besieged population.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) announced a week of action against apartheid Israel to begin on February 6. In one action, dock workers belonging to the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) refused to offload a ship bringing Israeli goods to South Africa. 

The Western Australian branch of the Maritime Union of Australia have endorsed the BDS campaign and have called for a boycott of all Israeli vessels and all vessels bearing goods arriving from or going to Israel.

It’s not easy to estimate what impact to date the boycott campaign has had in concrete terms. What is clear is that the campaign is educating people who were unaware of the brutal reality of the Israeli occupation: the relentless settlement-building on Palestinian land, the Separation Wall, and the ruthless disregard for human rights and basic needs.

The university and college lecturers' union in Britain (UCU) has been so successful in promoting the academic boycott that it has provoked an anti-boycott backlash.

A well-funded pro-Israel lobby is trying to discredit and stigmatise individual boycott activists, as was done in the United States (albeit much more blatantly there, with loss of university tenure in some cases).

The growth of the boycott campaign has so rattled the Israeli establishment, that the Israeli Premier has addressed the matter with Britain’s Prime Minister.

 The Corruption of Medicine

As a physician, my role has been to press for an academic boycott of the Israeli Medical Association (IMA) for their longstanding collusion with the practice of torture as state policy in
Israel and the institutionalised involvement of doctors serving in interrogation units where torture is commonplace. These facts have been confirmed repeatedly by international and regional human rights’ organisations.

The IMA has also been silent, over many years, about the systematic violations by Israeli military forces of the Fourth Geneva Convention protocols that guarantee civilians unhindered access to services vital to life, including medical services, and confer immunity from military action on health professionals, clinics, ambulances, etc.

The Boycott the IMA campaign is currently circulating a draft petition, to be signed by doctors worldwide, to the World Medical Association (WMA), the official body overseeing medical ethics worldwide. We are protesting the appointment of Yoram Blachar,  longstanding President of the IMA, as WMA President. This is like appointing ex-Bush Attorney General Gonzales ("the Geneva Convention is quaint") to be the new head of Amnesty International!

We have been driven to take direct action by the manifest failure of so-called normal channels (direct appeals to the IMA, WMA etc, providing a mountain of evidence) to address these issues in any way.

World-wide, Israel's medical friends play a considerable role in corrupting the medical profession. This morally tainted status quo will prevail if we don't support and build the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

More information about the boycott can be found at Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, or email  Derek Summerfield

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


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