Learn from Spanish health workers

Submitted by Matthew on 16 January, 2013 - 11:48

In summer 2011 I was on holiday in Barcelona with my partner when I got a stomach bug. Unable to access a doctor, I decided to go into the local hospital.

The area we were staying, Nou Baris, is a working-class suburb of Barcelona with a high number of Latin American migrant workers and a traveller population. Walking up to the hospital we noticed that there were banners draped out of the local flats and shops, all opposing the closure of the hospital. On arrival at the hospital we saw that there were some tents outside and a stall with several people doing a petition, giving out leaflets, chatting to passersby.

Inside, the hospital was equally covered with political propaganda, but not merely anti-cuts posters, there were political economy cartoons on the walls and longer political pamphlets left in the waiting rooms.

The staff had anti-cuts posters pinned on the back of their uniforms and the petition against the closure was at the reception. The atmosphere in the hospital was somehow one of camaraderie. While I was there staff members went outside in their breaks to participate in a sit down in the road. They seemed to do this without fear and in a way that had clearly become routine.

Campaigning to keep the hospital open was something that the staff did at work, it wasn’t a private thing that they had to keep quiet. Their political opposition was open and integrated into their work.

The hospital moved a nurse who spoke some English from another ward to treat me so I was able to discuss what was happening. She told me that the land the hospital was on was owned by a private developer who had been massively increasing the rent of the hospital.

The government could no longer afford to pay the rent on the hospital and so were trying to close it down. She said that all the staff were opposed to it and ready to fight till the end. The local community were totally behind them and very involved.

Several things were remarkable about the hospital in Spain. Firstly, the campaign had communicated the message far and wide, the whole community was clearly informed about the closure. Secondly, the level of political analysis of the situation by the workers was high. Thirdly, the level of care in this workplace, where there was already some amount of workers’ control, was exemplary. As we campaign to stop the closure of the A and E, Maternity and other wards at Lewisham Hospital discussions about occupations might seem far fetched to some.

Looking to Spain, where the occupation movement of hospitals is growing rapidly, planning to occupy seems both obvious and possible.

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