The Spanish government has been using the economic crisis as an excuse to make healthcare profitable. Against the cuts and privatisation, healthcare workers and communities have been fighting back.
In December a two day strike in Madrid against the privatisation of healthcare saw most hospital services in the capital city closed. 3,000 protestors held hands and surrounded one of the main hospitals, La Princesa, opposing the proposals to turn 6 public hospitals, 27 public healthcare centres and 269 public health assistance centres into business companies.
There have also been a four-day strike of Madrid Health Centres, three demonstrations led by White Tsunami (the healthcare campaign), and an indefinite strike called by a collective of doctors.
November saw an occupation of La Princesa and two other hospitals, Hospital del Henares and Indant a Leonor. Emi, a worker at Hospital del Henares said, “They’ve left us no choice, (we) have to move because if we don’t, we’ll be eaten alive, us and (the) patients.”
The wave of healthcare protests has not been limited to Madrid. In December hospital workers in Barcelona occupied the hall of Sant Pau Hospital to protest against cuts. Their occupation lasted for 36 days. It came to an end because they didn’t manage to mobilise the bulk of hospital employees; but the action helped to catalyse the local developing anti-cuts movement.
The occupation organised regular assemblies, children’s activities, talks, and even the odd opera performance! The occupation was precipitated by the axing of 84 beds and four jobs, a decrease in the quality of the service, huge waiting lists, a 5% pay cut and the ending of the Christmas bonus. The battle was ultimately over the future of healthcare.
The occupation at quickly spread from Sant Pau, and workers from several other big hospitals in Catalonia started work-ins to fight “for the healthcare we need and not just the one we can pay for”.
After 1 February, when Jeremy Hunt makes his final decision, workers and campaigners at Lewisham Hospital will be faced with decisions about what we can do to defend our hospital. Action in the health service isn’t common in the UK’s recent history; it could be useful over the next weeks to talk with workers from Spain who have been involved in these occupations and strikes, to find out how they got the actions going, and to hear their reflections about what worked and what didn’t in mobilising workers and supporters. The actions in Spain show that strikes and occupations are possible and that they require serious planning and support.
As a doctor involved in the Sant Pau hospital occupation said: “Fighting for something you really care about is not as complicated as it might at first appear. In struggle you realise that you win more than you lose.”