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Report of the workshop “The transnational chains of care”

organized by: Worker’s Initiative (Poland), Plan C (UK)

Summary

The workshop (Organized by Worker’s initiative and Plan C) is presented in two parts: one first part where problems in care sector, paid and unpaid labor and different struggles are set, and a second part where we discuss how to link these struggles. Starting with the sharing of strike experiences of nurses and kindergartens workers, at the beginning of the discussion we tried to imagine which practices can succeed. In Poland, in the years big workers’ marches substituted the practice of “leaving the beds” of the patients in the hospitals, which forced the doctors to take on the work of the nurses.
The question was: how to go on strike where at stake there is the health of the patients or the safety of the children? There is a problem between the reproductive situation, precarious working conditions and the high costs of the services. For example, we have the paradox of the care workers (e.g. nurses, kindergartens workers) who earn such a little amount of money that they need to get a second job, and at the end of the day the care worker can’t take care of his/her own family.
There emerged the issue of how to create alliances locally, i.e. nurses and social workers together with parents or doctors. In these cases, some key points enter in the game, such as the power roles and the sexual division of labor. Alliances should also be built with other workers who support the strike. For example, in Poland the bus drivers went on strike together with the nurses and in Germany care workers supported the strike of Amazon workers. There is also the necessity of continuing organizing in the already existing networks, for instance the federation of trade unions in Poland.
We had clear that the transnational chains of care are about work: waged work, not emotional, lovely work or a women’s task. These chains are transnational because they call into question the national dimension of welfare. In fact, many careworkers are migrants. Moreover, welfare is in turn used as a blackmail for migrants, both internal and extra EU migrants, i.e. as a means to create hierarchies between national citizens and those who are not entitled to receive any welfare measures (housing benefits, unemployment benefits) and therefore forced to work under any condition and for whatever wage in order to survive.
Networking is important and can be achieved thanks to research and comparisons, comparing wages and working conditions of different workplaces, different branches of care sector, and even different working sectors. This should be done not just locally but also in a wider transnational perspective, taking the process toward a transnational social strike as the place where to start building the above mentioned alliances and networks between different figures of labour. It is also important to point out the responsible authorities who manage the care sectors. The local work of organizing should be connected with national and transnational one, trying eventually to centralize the struggles and to determine which institutions to address.
Two strategies were put on the table: carrying on particular/concrete struggles, or demanding more general common claims. As an attempt to bring together the very different situations of carework, we discussed about the proposal of reclaiming higher wages and a minimum level of welfare; the two things should go hand in hand and should be claimed on a European level. The demand of EU minimum welfare for everyone was proposed as a tool to escape the new regionalization of welfare aiming at creating hierarchies between those who are entitled to housing, child-care, unemployment benefits and those, internal EU and external migrants, who have to accept whatever wage and working conditions in order to survive.
Minimum welfare is also about the ratio of patients/care workers; pupils/teachers; patients/doctors. This ratio is very different around Europe (for example in Switzerland there are 16 doctors for 1000 patients, while in Poland just 6) and should be taken into account inside the struggles. More specific demands around carework and welfare – against privatization, externalization and outsourcing, reorganization of the social sector, for better working conditions and higher wages, better ratio patients/careworkers, social recognition of care work – can be used to structure the claim for a EU minimum welfare.

Minutes

The workshop is presented in two parts: one first part where problems in care sector, paid and unpaid labor and different struggles are set, and a second part where we discuss how to link these struggles.

Intervention of Liliana (health care)

  1. Liliana is a member of Worker’s initiative, a collective with more than 70 000 people. Inside this collective, there is Women’s initiative, who participated in struggles with Kindergartens, workers with disabled people and nurses.
  2. She works as a nurse, and the struggles started in the ’88 for the conditions of workers. There were some changes, but after the ’89 they were in a similar situation.
  3. The difference between this group, struggling in the health care sector, and others (as for example miners) is that they are mainly women. They don’t riot in protests, they just march and make actions as the “leave the bed” (the bed of the patient) protest, where they stop working.
  4. The 10.09.2015 there was a big demonstration (around 12.000 people marching) because the government didn’t want to improve the situation, but since the elections were close (end of October) there was an agreement with the health minister, who promised a raise of the 50% of the salary.
  5. In May, they tried to organize a general strike in Poland, something that is virtually impossible (the legal process to call for strike is complicated in Poland, and can’t be done in a general way). In 2002 they did the “leave the bed” protest, and doctors, instead of the nurses, had to take care of the patients. At the end, they decided to occupy the Ministry. They had already occupied the prime minister’s office and the Parliament for 7 days. They were able to do this kind of actions because they made a research about the surroundings, how the government works, etc.
  6. They have protested in different ways.

Intervention of Justyna (Kindergarten)

  1. The organization of the Kindergarten sector started in December of 2011. They were asking for a higher salary and better conditions: wages are low and they are decreasing, and they have 40 children per group.
  2. At the beginning it was impossible to negotiate, so they created a labor union.
  3. The Kindergartens are dependent of local authorities. The city council encouraged the workers to go to the owner of the Kindergarten, but directors of Kindergartens don’t choose the wages, this depends only on the city council.
  4. They started a public information campaign to make the problem public. They obtained a 20% increase on their salaries and they have more influence.
  5. They can’t make strikes (it is a very difficult process because Kindergartens are dependent of the local authorities). They do actions as wearing a sad-smiley sticker, protesting in front of the city council, putting placards and signs, etc.
  6. They also have the following problem: if they strike, who takes care of the babies? They talked with the parents in order to distribute care labors, but the situation in Poznan is not so easy for parents, a lot of them they can’t even have a free day. In any case, parents are interested and informed.

Alice (Plan C)

  1. In their struggles, they link them with power relations.
  2. For example, with the Kindergartens, they organized groups of people taking care of the children so the teachers could go and demonstrate.
  3. In UK, care work has been transformed to private sector, rising the prices a lot (60 pounds/day and children). This implies that people need to hire people for little money, in an illegal situation, mainly students and immigrants. In the case of the immigrants, a lot of them they don’t have permission to stay or to work.
  4. This labor situation rises another problem: if you are an illegal worker, you can’t be in a labor union, so who defends your rights? This deepens the differences in power relations.
  5. It is also mentioned that there are some conflicts when, for example, someone babysits the baby of a friend for less money: a human relationship of love takes part in the situation, is this still labor?
  6. This implies a precarization in the care sector. It is mentioned that in Poland, nurses need to take extra jobs because they earn a very low wage.
  7. Plan C organizes in small groups of around 6 people, where they change experience and think how to struggle together. In the problem of how to strike in care sector, they propose for example that everybody stops working to support the people struggling: this is a way to socialize both the strike and the care work.
  8. This intervention motivates different interventions:
  9. Liliana explains that something similar happened in Poland, where bus drivers went on strike in order to support the struggle of the nurses in Silesia). The main reason of this was not just solidarity between workers or that bus drivers could see that a service that they may use was getting destroyed: it was possible mainly because lots of them were husbands of the nurses. There was also a component of “we the men must defend our wifes”.

During this strike, there patients were fully understanding the struggle and they didn’t have anything against the nurses. In 2000, the doctors collaborated with the nurses, taking some of their responsibilities. Now this is harder, because therapeutic teams divide responsibilities: the transition from socialism to neoliberal capitalism benefited the doctors, and there is a huge gap in the salaries: 1 month of work of a nurse costs the same as 20 hours of work of a doctor. The 70% of the personal at the hospital are nurses.

  1. Eleonora talks about the consequences of a precarious welfare: this is not only a problem of workers, but also of the users of the welfare. Today the wage often provides no more than the means of survival; work is no more socially compensated. This provokes inequalities between the people with money who can afford a private system and the people with less patrimony. Even more, some people as immigrants without a job are being excluded from this welfare system, as it happens in Germany (they don’t have right for Hartz IV) or in UK. Therefore, welfare is used as a blackmail for migrants, both internal and extra EU migrants, and as a means to create hierarchies between residents and those who are not entitled to receive any welfare measures (housing benefits, unemployment benefits) and therefore forced to work under any condition and for whatever wage in order to survive.
  2. In Frankfurt, they are working on chains of care in Europe. For a transnational social strike, which spots are important ones to block? Which struggles are going on? What do they have in common?
  3. Someone says a good option could be to ask for a minimum European wage, and also for a minimum European welfare: sometimes the wage is not enough to pay the costs of life.
  4. What common claims can we ask for at a European level?
  5. Ana (15M Berlin) doesn’t see clear the common claims. So far, we have not discussed about the term of social strike, and it is still not clear what do we understand. In general, it is problematic to find a unique common point to struggle, because different situations have different contexts, and priorities are not the same in all the places.
  6. It’s interesting to look at the new alliances that emerge in different struggles: Kindergardens + parents, nurses + doctors. In both cases, some key points enter in the game, such as the power roles and the sexual division of labor.
  7. There is a problem between the reproductive situation, the precarity situation and the high costs of the services. For example, we have the paradox of the care workers (e.g. nurses, kindergartens) who earn such a little amount of money that they need to get a second job, and at the end the care worker can’t take care of his/her own family.
  8. This is also related with the care of the body itself: care workers (need to) work so much that they get tired, they get sick.
  9. Finally, we can’t separate the problems of production from the consumption, and this is something that nobody was mentioning: the different consumption models were not discussed at all.
  10. Sebastian (Interventionistische Linke) asks about the goals of this meeting, and proposes again a European minimum wage. As a possible concrete common claim, he states 15€ per hour. This turns out to be problematic: Liliana asks to whom should we ask this claim, which is something not included in the proposal What is going to follow up from this meeting / workshop that she can bring back to her struggles/comrades? Would it be useful to have a kind of “institutionalization” to bring ourselves into the position of negotiating? She also states that nurses get 4€/hour, so a demand like that doesn’t look plausible.
  11. Julyana says that they had problems while negotiating with the city council. They studied their situation and made a comparison with other countries, and they also noticed that sometimes there is a privatization process dressed as a communalization.
  12. Liliana says that in Brussels, they already protested with two main postulates: (i) against commercialization of health, and (ii) for a universal care system.
  13. Ana (Kindergarten worker in Germany, IL) denounces a reduction in social spending, and they fight against privatization and for a recognition of the social work, apart from better wage and working conditions. Last years they have gained consciousness of their worker condition: care work is an actual work; now they are thinking on their role as social and care workers, beyond the concrete demands. They also noticed that as pensioners, they are in danger of living in poverty.
  14. In Frankfurt, after a meeting on education, they decided to support Amazon strikers, who said that this is important because (i) Amazon workers may send their children to Kindergartens, and (ii) they have been fighting for several years, so they have a long term perspective.
  15. 2 years ago, they had labor union representatives of different care work sectors, and they were making meetings during the working time, in the same day, hour and place, so they could exchange experiences.

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