BROOKLYN, NY July 18 — “Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike!” That’s how a rally of two hundred Brookdale Hospital workers ended after a night of picketing, marching and chanting in front of their hospital. Almost every worker carried a copy of CHALLENGE with the story of their struggle on the front page. Militant workers from Downstate, Methodist, Woodhull, Long Island College and other hospitals and unions came out in solidarity, greeting their Brookdale sisters and brothers with warm hugs, handshakes, and plenty of conversation.
One worker said, “The entire hospital would walk out and strike if the union said so, but they keep telling us to wait…” These racist cutbacks are taking place in every city, designed to make workers and patients pay for the trillion-dollar imperialist wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya, and for the bailouts of the bosses and bankers.
Just before the rally, a vice-president from Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) played emcee to a collection of city and state politicians in a town hall meeting. Their aim was to numb the workers into staging a silent “candlelight vigil,” unsurprising, considering that SEIU’s idea of “struggle” is a bus trip to beg Governor Cuomo and other politicians at the state capitol.
These politicians are part of the same city and state government that orchestrated the closures of eight city hospitals in the past five years. They said the same “fighting” words before shutting down St. Vincent’s and North General hospitals. Parts of Brookdale, a 3,500-worker hospital, have already shut down, robbing the mostly black, Latino, Caribbean and women workers and patients of their jobs and health care.
Speaking to a crowd of workers at the town hall, most with CHALLENGEs in their hands, New York City councilman Charles Barron pandered to their anger, but offered no leadership for the class struggle they need. Barron’s divisive black nationalist politics reinforce racist divisions between black and white workers. Workers don’t need division — they need class unity! Barron’s and 1199’s attempts to control the workers failed when the 1199 VP tried to prevent a white worker from another hospital to speak in solidarity with the Brookdale workers, prompting angry shouts from the crowd and chants of “Let him speak!” The VP backed down.
Brookdale is being bled to death by racist Medicaid and Medicare cuts on the one hand and a pack of thieving bosses from MediSys, the hospital’s parent company, on the other. MediSys Chief Financial Officer Doss steals $3 million-a-year in salary, and top MediSys executives (including CEO Flanz and Human Resources Director Sclair) also draw salaries from 22 dummy corporations that bill Brookdale for their “services.” Doss runs a collections agency that bills Brookdale for collecting unpaid medical debts! He draws another salary from Brookdale as a “consultant”!
At the same time, “Brookdale has no toilet paper,” one worker said. “We have to borrow it from other hospitals. Nurses are telling families to bring their own [adult] diapers. We’re borrowing medicine from Jamaica Hospital [a smaller hospital also owned by MediSys] and I’m always on the phone trying to borrow extra envelopes and paper to get my job done.”
Another woman related the racist and sexist abuse, where 80% of the workers are women. “The managers sexually harass the women…making open sexual advances. They suspend anyone who complains. They don’t fear anybody. They think they’re invincible. Recently, fifteen of us women went to one of their offices and put a stop to it. We haven’t heard from him again!” The women leading the struggle have shown incredible bravery and strength, continuing the fight against the bosses even while 1199 tries its best to cool the workers down.
We heard similar stories of fight-backs and job actions from every department, including a three-day sit-in at the hospital last month, after MediSys stopped paying into the 1199 SEIU National Benefits Fund. This “forced” the union to cancel the workers’ health insurance and replace it with a much worse plan with sky-high, unaffordable co-pays. Aside from stripping the workers of their health care, no one knows what steps, if any, the union has taken against the bosses to recoup their losses.
Either way, the union is worth over a billion dollars. It could have paid for the workers’ health insurance while fighting to get its money from MediSys. Instead, it meekly accepted the hospital bosses’ benefit cut. Had George Gresham and the union leadership really wanted to support the struggle, they had every “legal” reason to strike back in January, when MediSys first violated the labor contract. As one worker said, “The bosses treat us like garbage and the union leaders always give us reasons why we can’t fight, but we know we gotta fight!”
Beyond MediSys, we are confronting the whole racist profit system and a U.S. ruling class that is struggling to keep its world empire amid stiffening competition. Today they fight Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, but down the road looms China. With the help of the union misleaders, they are taking back everything that U.S. workers have gained in the past 80 years in order to meet their growing competition.
PLP is fighting for a base among the workers in order to challenge the bosses and union misleaders. The Brookdale workers are fighting on behalf of every worker affected by racist hospital closures. Every worker worldwide can support the Brookdale Hospital workers by raising their fight on the job and in their union, sending messages of support to CHALLENGE. Workers in the New York City area can sign up to sell CHALLENGEs at Brookdale.
While the bosses ultimately control whether or not Brookdale closes, through building CHALLENGE networks within Brookdale, we are injecting our ideas of fighting back with multi-racial working-class unity. Should Brookdale close, in whole or in part, these workers will bring these ideas with them into the looming struggles ahead, wherever they go. Our long-term success will be measured in how many workers understand that only when millions of workers join PLP and the fight for communism, can the international working class destroy capitalism and seize power.
The politicians and union misleaders had their say at the town hall meeting, but the mostly-female Brookdale workers will have their say when they strike against the bosses. We ask every one of these fighters to join us