The strike by nurses at the university hospitals in North Rhine-Westphalia is of great political importance. They struggle with intolerable working conditions, which have been further exacerbated by the ruthless “profit before life” policy during the pandemic. Instead of easing the burden on working people and compensating them for terrible inflation, federal and state governments are handing out billions of dollars to the super-rich and spending $100 billion on lethal weapons.
Under these conditions, nurses can only assert their basic rights to a reprieve from intolerable working conditions and adequate remuneration by broad mobilization of all staff. Nursery workers who are also on strike for relief and higher wages, the many factory workers who face wage theft and mass layoffs, must support hospital workers and lead a common struggle.
This requires a break with the Verdi civil service union, which is doing everything to isolate and sell out the nurses’ strike, as has already happened in Berlin. In the United States and many other countries, nurses have organized themselves into grassroots independent action committees that are taking the fight into their own hands. We call on all employees of the university hospitals in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) to set up their own action committees and join forces with their international brothers and sisters.
Hospitals and care facilities are where all the ills facing workers around the world are concentrated. This is why the NRW strike enjoys wide support among workers, even as establishment politicians and the media try to block and denounce it.
Even before the pandemic, the privatization of hospitals and the orgy of cuts that accompanied it led to untenable working conditions. “It’s not the strike, but the normal state of things that puts patients at risk,” a nurse told WDR. A nurse from a pediatric intensive care unit illustrated this in Essen by saying that emergency personnel during the strike currently needed more nurses than the hospital management usually provides during normal operations. “Emergency staffing has been set by our employer at four nurses,” the nurse said. “Last month we worked 12 shifts with a staff of three.”
With the pandemic, these conditions have become simply intolerable. Nurses have been hardest hit by policies that put profits before lives and never limited the pandemic enough to prevent hospitals from completely collapsing. As a result, staff have had to work to their limits for two and a half years now, and many have fallen seriously ill or even died. Due to poor working conditions and totally insufficient remuneration, the shortage of personnel is glaring everywhere. And it’s deliberate. With every understaffed shift, with every employee who physically collapses afterwards, companies are making a profit.
After all this, workers now face severe real wage cuts. Far from being rewarded for their superhuman efforts during the pandemic, caregivers face de facto pay cuts. The billions given to banks and corporations during the pandemic have fueled inflation, which is getting even fiercer with the economic warfare measures against Russia. The official inflation rate of 7.9% is a serious underestimate as food prices have risen by 20-50%.
While the wages of the workers are thus reduced, the government spends 100 billion euros more on weapons and armaments. Workers, on the other hand, are constantly being told that there is no money.
In this frontal assault on the working class, in which hospital workers are doubly and trebly hit, the unions and above all Verdi are siding with government and business. Unions are doing all they can to isolate emerging struggles and let them fail. Verdi has just sold off the struggle of social and educational service workers.
In the NRW nurses’ strike, Verdi concentrates everything on the demand for a “suspended collective agreement”, as already exists in a similar form in Berlin in the Vivantes and Charité hospitals. This means that the clearance sale is already pre-scheduled: in Berlin, the hospital management and the Senate (state executive) always find new loopholes to circumvent the collective agreement. A few days ago, nursing staff in Berlin pointed out that conditions on the wards had not improved in any way with their “Walk of Care” and by organizing new warning strikes.
At the same time, by emphasizing the “suspended” deal, Verdi is seeking to deflect attention from the pay cuts he staged last year in hospitals. In the last collective agreement, the union imposed a zero raise on nurses until December this year, despite hospitals facing collapse and the burdens of the pandemic. From January 2023, wages only increase by 2.8%, which, under conditions of terrible inflation, is equivalent to a substantial drop in real wages.
Every healthcare worker knows that lower wages are the main reason for understaffing, as well as increased workload. To provide real relief, the workforce should at least double and salaries should increase by at least 20% just to compensate for inflation. Under these conditions, the entire “suspended collective agreement” that Verdi is negotiating today is not worth the paper on which it is written. It only serves to repress the anger of the workers and to continue the policy of cuts.
To lead a fight for real improvements in care, for higher wages and better working conditions, nurses must take the bargaining mandate away from Verdi and create independent grassroots action committees that take the fight into their own hands. . They should liaise with rank-and-file committees of health care workers in the United States and other action committees and coordinate the fight internationally. To this end, the International Alliance of Rank and File Committee Workers (IWA-RFC) was formed a year ago.
Hospital workers must orient themselves to the many other working class struggles that are erupting everywhere. Industrial workers resist mass layoffs and wage theft, educators resist despicable working conditions and starvation wages. These struggles must be united and organized independently.
Such a fight inevitably raises political questions. The fight for higher wages and better working conditions cannot be separated from the fight against rearmament and war, against the politics of “profit before life” in the pandemic and against the handing over of billions to banks and corporations. companies. This inevitably raises the question of whether the needs of workers should take precedence over the profit interests of the wealthy. In order to build a health care system oriented to the needs of patients and workers, a socialist perspective is needed. This is what the Sozialistische Gleichheitspartei (SGP, Socialist Equality Party) is fighting for with its sister parties of the Fourth International throughout the world.
Contact the SGP! It supports the building of independent action committees and helps to establish contacts between workers at the international level.
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