BROOKLYN, June 28 — “This is my hospital! They can’t close it!” a patient declared to hundreds of picketing SUNY Downstate Medical Center workers. Workers flooded out of the hospital to join patients and community people for a lunchtime rally against threatened massive layoffs and the possible closing of this central Brooklyn hospital.
Speakers addressed the racist nature of these cuts in a mostly black community where people already lack access to care, and spoke of the damage that the layoffs would do to the community’s economic health. It’s no coincidence that the cops’ racist murder on June 14 of 23-year-old Shantel Davis occurred only blocks from here. Inadequate health care, massive unemployment, and police killings all reflect the capitalists’ racist outlook that the lives of black and Latino workers have little or no value.
The Downstate rally was organized by Occupy Wall Street’s Healthcare for the 99%, the First Unitarian Church and workers from three unions inside the hospital: United University Professions (UUP), Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), and Public Employees Federation (PEF). These workers mobilized friends and coworkers to get the word out. The three unions’ leaders refused to endorse the rally, but all showed up when it was clear that many workers would be there. These misleaders defend the system and work to contain workers’ anger. They refuse to mobilize mass action.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to use Brooklyn as a guinea pig to show his bosses in the finance and insurance industries that he can strip healthcare to the bone while shedding workers from the state payroll. One proposal on the table is to move all inpatient care to downtown Brooklyn’s Long Island College Hospital (LICH), an institution that has been driven into the ground by its wealthy and powerful Manhattan parent network, Continuum Health Partners. After LICH was acquired by Downstate at fire sale prices in 2010, its workers came under control of a newly created private entity. If Cuomo can prove to the big bosses that he can successfully force these cuts on workers, it could boost his possible bid for the U.S. presidency in 2016.
According to one disturbing idea pushed by state politicians and union officials like Phil Smith, UUP’s president, the way to save Downstate is to close LICH. Under capitalism, hospitals are moneymaking entities that compete with each other for insurance dollars. In the face of continual state funding cuts, the heads of various other Brooklyn hospitals would certainly like to see Downstate fold, and to have workers and patients fight with each other. But advocating that workers and patients of other hospitals be left out in the cold is a losing strategy! All hospital workers and patients must unite against all the hospital bosses and their bought-and-paid-for politicians.
Some workers who helped organize the Downstate action were disappointed by the worker turnout. Even so, this was possibly the largest action at Downstate in recent history. It also had the most inter-union, multiracial, and worker-patient-community unity.
Speakers from Progressive Labor Party tied the fight against school cutbacks, racist police murders, and imperialist wars to the struggle at Downstate. They pointed out that while we must fight each attack against us, our victories will be small and temporary as long as the capitalist ruling class controls the media, the government and the purse strings. Become a regular reader of CHALLENGE to learn how we are aiming to win the ultimate fight against these bloodsuckers!