As we wrote in our long-form article leading up to ‘International Nurses Day’ on the 12th of May
“The health and social care crisis is a symptom of a capitalist system in crisis which in its search for profit is destroying everything that stands in its way. The system makes people ill but once they are ill, it does not help.”
At the same time, over the last several years especially, workers in health and social care have been amongst those at the vanguard in the upturn in the class struggle globally, bringing in not just demands for higher wages and improved conditions but often connecting their struggle to systemic exploitation of our health by capitalism.
Several sections of ISA in different countries around the world took part in a day of action on International Nurses Day to talk to health and social care workers and other working-class people about capitalism’s drive for profits over our health and the need for a democratic socialist society that puts people above profits. Below are some reports.
As part of an international campaign of ROSA — International Socialist Feminists and International Socialist Alternative, Internationale Socialistische Alternative (ISA in Austria) organized actions in Vienna and Linz and also participated together with the rank and file Initiative Sozial aber nicht blöd in the actions of the unions on 11th and 12th of May in Linz and distributed flyers in front of hospitals and care facilities. The health, education and social sectors are on the verge of collapse, the government remains inactive and the unions limit themselves to symbolic protests. That is why we have to organize ourselves in grassroots network initiatives of workers and all those affected.
In Vienna, activists from Change for the Youth (an Initiative of youth for more resources for mental health services) and Sozial aber nicht blöd reported on their campaigns. In the next weeks there will be protests by Change for the Youth and the employees of Fond Soziales Wien and an educational action day on the 15th of June. At our meeting on 16 May we discussed why these protests are so important for socialist feminists and how we can support them. ISA and ROSA intervened in the trade union activities and organized our own outdoor action in a busy shopping street on the 12th of May which was attended by a good number of younger people, some of whom were drawn into the fight for youth mental health resources and clearly understood the need for more and better paid staff. Many people who passed by responded with “I work myself in the health sector/know someone working there and I’m aware of the bad situation”. The Austrian health sector is at the brink of collapsing, a situation new for most of us — while the big companies make huge profits. A group of activists also visited workplaces of social and healthcare workers and received a good response.
In Hamburg and Bremen, Sozialistiche Alternativ (SAV — the ISA in Germany) organized small but well received actions on International Nurses Day. In Hamburg, the small demonstration was accompanied by what we dubbed a ‘Nursing Parkour’ course to illustrate the immense amount of stressful tasks and brutal environment that nurses face everyday. People were asked to complete a series of typical nursing activities in the few minutes normally expected for nurses to complete them and were disturbed by the difficulty.
There were speeches from several health workers. SAV member and nursing student Fiona spoke of the grueling situation faced by nursing trainees and a local nurse activist in an alliance fighting for more hospital staff combatively linked the disastrous conditions in health services to the capitalist system, arguing for the need to build a movement that fights both. These demos are being followed by a meeting of Sozialistiche Alternativ and ROSA International Socialist Feminists next week titled “How we would organize care work under socialism”.
ROSA campaigned outside one of the main hospitals in Belfast calling for safe staffing and fair pay for health and social care staff. Health workers in Northern Ireland are continuing their struggle for fair pay and as ROSA highlighted with placards and other material, this is also a fight to defend the NHS.
Health staff were very appreciative of the action as they stopped to talk while members of the public showed their support with many leaving solidarity messages. ROSA also held a discussion group on Tuesday 16th May on capitalism’s care crisis and how health workers are fighting back here and around the world.
In the south of Ireland for International Nurses Day there were actions by the Socialist Party (ISA in Ireland) and ROSA in Dublin and Limerick in particular. Dublin has seen less industrial struggle by health care workers recently so we held aROSA meeting on the 10th of May titled: “International Day of the Nurse: capitalism’s care crisis & nurses in struggle around the world.” 20 attended!
Katia, a care sector worker, Socialist Party member and ROSA activist gave the main speech on capitalism’s care crisis. Several nurses who are supportive of ROSA and originally hoped to speak sent their solidarity in spirit as the very real capitalist health crisis meant they were unable to leave work. However, several people who participated in the discussion either worked in other parts of the care sector themselves, or had nurses or care workers in their families whose experience they drew from. One teenager was planning on going to college to train to be a psychiatric nurse. All attendees seemed enthused by the discussion and the overwhelming majority sought out the Socialist Party and ROSA political material available at the meeting.
In Limerick, Socialist Party and ROSA socialist feminist activists joined the Mid-West Hospital Campaign in a demonstration outside St John’s Hospital in Limerick city on May 12th to mark International Day for Nurses. Socialist Party members have been central to the campaign to reopen three emergency departments in the region — at Ennis, Nenagh and St John’s hospitals — which were downgraded in 2009. The argument for this so-called ‘reconfiguration’ of the region’s emergency services was that it was clinically necessary, but in reality it was the culmination of three decades of public health policy of refusing to properly invest in public health services.
It is fitting that intensive care nurses in UHL announced that they were starting industrial action on International Nurses Day this year. Ireland lags behind nearly every developed country when it comes to intensive care capacity, meaning that ICU nurses have barely had a break since the start of the pandemic over three years ago. Demonstrators outside St John’s Hospital on Friday 12th May for International Nurses day chanted for safe staffing in support of ICU nurses, in addition to demanding the reopening of Ennis, Nenagh and St John’s emergency departments.
In the weeks before Mick Barry, Socialist Party TD (Member of Irish Parliament) alongside other SP and ROSA activists had been assisting migrant nurses in their struggle against their unequal and disgraceful treatment in the healthcare system, exposing the link between oppression and exploitation that’s rife in the sector. Below you can hear Mick’s speech in a parliamentary committee.
Workers and Socialist Party (ISA in South Africa) in Cape Town took 12 May to table outside the Delft hospital to speak to health and social care workers there including WASP supporters. We got into lots of discussions about the decaying health system. The awful state of healthcare was borne out in the fact that because of the severe levels of understaffing many nurses weren’t actually able to come out off their shifts for lunch as they normally would — what an irony on International Nurses Day!
Even still we spoke to many locals going to the hospital to visit people, going to the shops etc. Many took our 12 May leaflet, as well as ones on loadshedding (SA’s energy crisis), CHWs and the need for a mass workers party. Discussions were really good, and people actively approached the table. There was a clear understanding that there needs to be a fight for a better healthcare system and that communities should play a major role in it alongside the workers.
In Pretoria/Tshwane WASP members tabled outside Tshwane District Hospital. Since the beginning of May we’ve made two visits to the hospital to talk to workers. We are in touch with some of the security guards who we have had good discussions with. The security workers are outsourced and work with no contracts and their company is not registered with the department of labor. Their struggle is not an easy one and they have been fighting under a union with limited success. The University of Pretoria’s medical campus is right next to the hospital and some students have to go into the hospital as well. We set up the table opposite the hospital by a bus stop for University of Pretoria medical students. We spoke to several students and there was interest from some of them about our youth initiative Socialist Youth Movement.
We spoke with UP security and landscape workers as well. They said that there are serious problems with their working conditions. The unions APSA and NEHAWU have a strong presence and the memory of last year’s strike is still strong. There was genuine interest in what we had to say, especially from the workers. The strikes by nurses and UP workers in the last year have not been forgotten and there is a willingness to act. The students we spoke to understood that they were going into a field of exploitation after graduating. A couple of the students said that they want to leave the country. Overall it was a successful day of action linking the struggle for an end to the health crisis to a struggle by workers and youth for a socialist future.
Socialistiskt Alternativ, the ISA in Sweden, organized public activities in Stockholm and Luleå, with stalls, banners and speeches in each one of them. In Stockholm we organized three such gatherings, one at the central transport hub Slussen, one outside Södersjukhuset, one of the biggest hospitals, and one in Handen, a local center in the south.
In total, we were 16 taking part, with passers-by also stopping to listen to the speeches that three Socialistiskt Alternativ members gave in Handen and in Luleå respectively. We sold a total of 51 copies of ‘Offensiv’ — our party newspaper and got 11 paper subscriptions (of which six longer-term), for a total of 222 euros! There were also a few who took part who are now interested in getting involved with ISA in Sweden.
We haven’t seen any other protests to mark the day in Sweden unfortunately — one trade union went as far as offering their nurse members cake on the day. Other than that, the day was marked by “appreciation” messages cabled out by various health care employers, and a speech by the queen of Sweden. It’s clear that to resolve the health crisis in Sweden, as globally, it will take not nice words from the top but a determined mass struggle from below.