Thursday, March 8, 2012

Women Working as Health Providers

Today is International Women’s Day

I received greetings from women comrades and friends and today for the first time in decades I do not feel inspired and capable.

International Women’s Day has become in many ways like Mother’s Day – a token day to pretend that if we just talk about women’s oppression on this day we have done something to change things.
It seems sometimes that my anger at the manner in which women are mistreated, raped, beaten , marginalized and our bodies objectified and used has been internalized to a degree that today that I cannot summon forth the necessary anger to comment or write about it.

Women’s anger has always been a threat to patriarchal societies and the men who participate wholeheartedly and shamefully in the perverted privileges granted to them through the structures of male domination.
Yet it is this anger that keeps me going and it worries me when it is not there.

One of the strengths of the “Women’s Movement” is a firm commitment to the correct notion that the "personal is political." We have all been kicked around for that when we insist that this is so.
There are literally thousands of examples, no matter where we live in the world, of women’s oppression and exploitation. We can pick anyone of these examples any minute of the day and we can write about it, speak about it and share with each other. The previous author posted an article on the effects of globalization on women. I could write every day about this as could many of us. Today I would like to mention briefly an issue that illustrates one example of this. It is only one issue, one example among thousands that I could talk about but for some reasons it is circling around in my mind and that informs me it is the issue I should comment on today on IWD.

I am a Registered Nurse, a socialist and an activist. I cannot imagine my life without activism.
The current round of attacks on public sector workers worldwide is vicious. Publicly funded education, welfare, child care and health care in Canada are slated to be attacked in an unprecedented manner.

Because I am a health care provider it sickens me literally to witness the myriad of ways our publicly funded health care has been deliberately underfunded for decades to pave the way for privatization.
The majority of health care providers are women. Some of us have been unionized for decades and have seen our wages and benefits and pensions rise, not to a level that represents what we are worth but substantially.

Using the lie that our health care system is no longer “sustainable” within the bigger lie that there are limited resources for public infrastructure and services - nurses and teachers in Canada and Ontario are being told bluntly – we cannot afford you. We are being told that the only answers are layoffs, wage freezes, increased contributions on our part to our pension plans (which are in a very precarious position long term.)

To make matter worse older workers are being told that the aging population is one of the reasons health care costs have increased. Being an “older “ worker, forced to work past 65 , a worker who has contributed 4 decades of my life to shift work and incredibly stressful work , an activist in my union, I take very serious offense to this lie but never mind .

One of their answers to this manufactured crisis is Home Care. Very briefly this means closing hospital beds, pushing nursing care out into the home. The vast majority of Home Care workers are women.

This work is gendered and to a large degree racialized. Small numbers are unionized. The majority work for the private sector. There are limited if any health and safety regulations to protect them in their work. They suffer occupational injuries, assault and are exposed to second hand smoke. They hurt their backs as they most often work alone. Because these workers are almost all women they are caretakers in their personal lives. They care for their children, their partners, their extended families. Their work never ends . The proverbial 24 hr shift.

But here is the clincher-they are cheap. Their incredibly hard work is paid often only 25 to 30 percent of the wages and if you include benefits and pensions maybe even less of the wages of a unionized Registered Nurse or Registered Practical Nurse in hospitals and long term care facilities.
They will grow old and they will suffer because their labour is cheap and in most cases their workplace cannot be regulated. Their work is often dangerous.

But their plight is mostly hidden. It is always the role of feminists and socialists to render the invisible visible and to make the links. Many of these women are unable to obtain subsidized child care as attacks on all public services escalate. Many are riddled with worry as they see cuts to education and class sizes increase- they worry about their children and their nieces and nephews and their grandchildren. Many love their work and aspire to become RPNs and RNs,but fat chance for that – as tuition costs increase.

I know many of these women and have stood side by side with them in protests and a strike.
I have witnessed and been the beneficiary of their incredible spirit, strength and warmth.
The answer is to resist. As a unionized nurse my role is not to protect my turf. It is to work in solidarity with all health care providers to help them organize in unions, to fight for decent wages and benefits and safe workplace conditions. To demand not just an end to cuts to health care but an expanded public universally accessible health care system that has room for all providers in hospitals and in the home. So on IWD this year I merely want to say Hats Off to all these remarkable women. And to stand in solidarity – in the fight against the ravages of globalization – the attacks on our public services. We are not in completion as women and we are not in competition as workers . There are plenty of resources to provide for all workers and to expand our public services.

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