Are you a nurse or healthcare worker at Michigan Medicine? Do you want to join the Michigan Medicine Rank-and-File Committee? Contact the WSWS Health Care Workers Newsletter using the form at the end of this article. What are the main problems you face in your workplace? What do you think should be done? All submissions will remain anonymous.
The rally and protest at Thursday’s University of Michigan board meeting – organized by the Michigan Nurses Association (MNA) and its local affiliate, the University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council (UMPNC) – is the latest attempt the union to channel the anger and militancy of Michigan Medicine nurses into unnecessary appeals to corporate health care interests and their political representatives in the Democratic Party who sit on the board of directors.
After three previous protests at regents meetings failed to resolve the dangerous staffing conditions and mandatory overtime facing 6,200 nurses at Michigan Medicine, why more calls to the same board millionaires and billionaires? administration do anything to advance the struggle of nurses? To ask the question, is to answer it.
It’s been 12 weeks since Michigan Medicine’s contract expired and three weeks since nurses voted 96% to approve a strike against the $5 billion health care system run by the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
As the days pass, the hospital administration is authorized by the MNA-UMPNC to continue to exploit nurses in the field amidst the catastrophic shortage of staff. The unions are giving management time to prepare for the hiring of replacement nurses to offset the impact of a possible strike.
The truth is, Michigan Medicine nurses are in a strong position to go on the offensive and win their demands. The overwhelming vote to strike is part of a growing movement by health care workers and workers in the United States and around the world against grueling working hours, eroding living standards through inflation and abuse of management. In any case, these struggles appear as a direct conflict between rank-and-file workers against union bureaucracies, which have facilitated decades of corporate and government attacks on living standards, working conditions and basic rights.
Like mental health nurses on strike at Kaiser Permanente in California, the 15,000 nurses in Minnesota who went on strike for three days earlier this month and health care workers in Kaleida in western New York who voted at 96% for the strike last week, nurses at Michigan Medicine showed their determination to fight.
The nurses’ movement is also taking place alongside a rebellion by railroad workers against the Biden administration and the betrayal of the unions. On September 14, a meeting of 500 railroad workers passed a resolution opposing the sell-out deal between their unions and Biden and pledged to fight for a nationwide railroad strike to win their demands to put down end to impossible working conditions.
Autoworkers are also waging an independent struggle against decades of betrayal by the corporate union bureaucracy through the campaign of Will Lehman, a Pennsylvania Mack Trucks worker and socialist running for UAW international president. Lehman’s campaign to restore grassroots power and abolish the corrupt UAW apparatus is gaining widespread support among UAW members in factories and workplaces across the country.
Since beginning contract negotiations six months ago, Michigan Medicine nurses have been battling not only management but also the MNA-UMPNC apparatus, which worked with hospital management, isolated the struggle from nurses and blocked the mass action needed to win their fight.
At first, the union told the nurses that a strike was illegal because as public sector employees, Michigan state law prohibited them from calling a strike. Then, when it became clear that hospital management would not discuss the issue of staffing ratios, the union knew the nurses would not accept a sell-out deal and were forced to file a charge. of unfair labor practice and to hold the strike authorization vote.
Before the strike vote was held, MNA-UMPNC officials told the nurses that there would be no strike pay in the event of a walkout. Throughout this period, the statewide deputy was concerned about the endorsement of Democratic Party candidates for the upcoming midterm elections and even refused to report on the struggle unfolding in Michigan Medicine.
Once the vote to authorize the strike was held, the MNA-UMPNC quickly announced that it was returning to the bargaining table even though management continued to treat nurses with contempt. A September 8 union report admitted that management had come to the negotiations “empty-handed and stalled the process for two days asking questions about why we want what is in our proposals”.
The next day, at bargaining briefings, the MNA-UMPNC said it had no intention of using the strike vote to stage a walkout. Local president Renee Curtis told nurses the 96% vote to authorize the strike was being used as “leverage” to convince the university to “do the right thing”.
In response to strike demands, Curtis also tried to blame the nurses for the union’s stalling, saying, “You all need to get up. I can’t carry the cross for you guys. She also told members that she had met with “political influencers” in the office of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Meanwhile, the MNA-UMPNC announced another needless rally and protest to Democratic Party millionaires and billionaires at the University of Michigan board meeting on September 22.
Health care workers everywhere want to fight. But the biggest obstacle to unifying workers in a common fight against the for-profit health care system are the corporate unions. This is evident from the following:
- In Northern California, 2,000 Kaiser Permanente mental health workers, including those in Hawaii, have been on strike for five weeks over severe understaffing. The workers are fighting the National Union of Health Workers (NUHW) which is isolating them and trying to starve them by refusing to pay them strike pay. The NUHW instead organized donation-based “hardship funds” and paraded various Democratic Party politicians on the picket line for photo ops.
- In Minnesota, the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) ended a three-day strike by 15,000 uncontracted nurses to address unmanageable staffing ratios and wage increases that do not keep up with inflation. In response to nurses’ demands for an indefinite strike, the MNA gave hospital systems ample time to prepare in advance to hire replacement nurses.
- In Buffalo, New York, 6,300 Kaleida Health employees voted 96% to strike for higher wages and increased staffing to end staff burnout and ensure proper patient care. However, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Communications Workers of America (CWA) have kept the workers on the job for nearly four months since their contract expired, refusing to call a strike.
As the World Socialist Website explained from the start, the path to victory for nurses at Michigan Medicine is to take matters into their own hands through the creation of a grassroots committee. Such a committee empowers nurses to communicate democratically with each other, define their own demands and link their struggle with hundreds of thousands of workers in health care and other industries.
The Michigan Medicine Rank-and-File Committee (MMRFC) was formed to unite all hospital workers and break the isolation and subordination of their struggle to the union’s unfair labor practice rankings and Democratic Party officials. .
The MMRFC has advanced the following demands:
Like their counterparts at Beaumont-Spectrum, Kaiser Permanente, Kaleida and other health giants, Michigan Medicine’s wealthy executives and board members insist they can’t afford demands so completely. justified.
This only underscores the fact that nurses are not simply engaged in a union struggle but a class and political struggle against the subordination of health care to profit. This is why the growing strike movement of health care workers and other sections of the working class must be combined with the struggle to profit from medicine by establishing a socialist health care system, which will guarantee free health care and high quality as a social right for all.