Bushís disaster plan: how to create them
by Htun Lin
A recent cover of BUSINESS WEEK featured the iconic image of World War IIís "Rosie the Riveter" donning a nurseís cap to signify that, while manufacturing has added zero jobs since 2001, health care has added 1.7 million. The untold part of the story is the struggle between workers and business in this growing sector.
As we have reported over the years, nurses in the California Nurses Association (CNA) have engaged in a protracted battle against health care restructuring (read commodification) and for quality care. Most recently, the nurses said they have learned from the experience of the governmentís total failure to respond to Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.
Nurses who went to help in the Gulf region were appalled by the government agenciesí inability to coordinate the delivery of urgent care (many were turned away, even as people were dying). But they were also appalled that much of the care needed was for chronic conditions neglected over the years such as diabetes and kidney failure.
Health care workers have started volunteer organizations such as Remote Area Medical, which conducts free health fairs in rural areas. They say they are overwhelmed by similar chronic problems all over the country, which they see as an indictment of the whole health care industry.
On Aug. 28, CNA launched a new initiative to organize nurses nationwide to respond, on the model of Doctors Without Borders, any time a disaster strikes. Taking the initiative through their own voluntary association, nurses announced the creation of Registered Nurses Response Network.
In effect they were saying "Letís get real" about providing health care in emergencies. The nursesí effort is a moment in the crucial opposition singled out by Karl Marx in CAPITAL, the irreconcilable contradiction between the "despotic plan of capital" and the plan of freely associated workers.
PITTING WORKER AGAINST WORKER
Not only canít the government be counted on to respond in a disaster, but, especially under Bush, it is much more actively intervening to enforce that "despotic plan of capital." They are going after strong unions, like the one the nurses have created, trying to undercut workersí collective power. Under a ruling expected from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), many workers could now be labeled supervisors and thus ineligible for union membership.
Until now, the definition of a supervisor, under the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, meant one who has the power to hire or fire. The new interpretation would classify as a supervisor anyone who delegates tasks.
The new ruling could affect an estimated 843,000 registered nurses and 123,000 licensed practical nurses, for whom advising, directing, training and delegating are routine. It could affect 180,700 cooks, 167,000 secretaries, and tens of thousands of cashiers, electricians, bank tellers, repairmen and pharmacists who are currently in unions.
It is we as workers who actually manage the workplace, get the job done, keep things moving, even as the capitalist controls the money and personifies capitalís need for accumulation at our expense.
Every worker knows firsthand what Marx was talking about in CAPITAL, in the section on "Cooperation": that workers guide and direct themselves in a cooperative fashion. In fact, thatís what really happens when the capitalist brings many workers into one shop and into one cooperative social workforce.
WORKERS' OWN COOPERATION
The point is that, while capital brings them together, the cooperation is inherent in labor. It is that natural cooperation which capital usurps and expropriates towards its purpose of extracting more surplus value.
Many unions play managementís game and promote an active co-operation. In my shop they initiated a Labor-Management-Partnership, whose obsession is "teamwork," cooperation that promotes corporate bottom-line goals. With the expected NLRB ruling, any team leader may no longer be part of the union.
We workers already knew what Marx wrote in CAPITAL, that it is the workers who can manage themselves in direct social cooperation. This direct social cooperation inevitably comes into an irreconcilable conflict with capitalís "despotic plan."
Overcoming this opposition depends on the reality of value production being totally replaced by the reality of concrete labor that shapes workersí own freely associated initiatives. Registered Nurses Response Network provides a glimpse of an aspect what that reality may look like.
Published by News and Letters Committees