TCDSA Health Justice Working Group Reboots in the Time of COVID

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This spring, the Health Justice Working Group of TCDSA underwent a change. Past efforts ranged from fighting for single-payer to broader Health Justice projects, and fall through winter culminated with Medicare for All canvassing alongside DSA for Bernie. With the end of Sanders’ campaign and the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Health Justice restarted in April as a ‘Covid reboot’.

Through online meetings we heard from healthcare workers (HCW) on the frontlines:

  • Nursing home staff without any PPE
  • Nurses at local hospitals being fired for using hospital-issued scrubs (to reduce bringing home infectious material)
  • Hospitals rationing and reusing PPE, with nurses’ concerns going unheard
  • Miscommunication from hospital administration about disease protection and workplace safety

We asked why there was a shortage of PPE and other materials. In our research we found a list of pandemic profiteers – local, established business interests.  These profiteers included companies like 3M and UnitedHealthcare, which have deep ties to the US Chamber of Commerce. The US Chamber of Commerce is the most powerful business lobbying group in Washington, and stands in firm opposition to Medicare for All.  We identified the massive healthcare systems in Minnesota that continue to rake in large CEO and administrative salaries, while laying off and furloughing workers and failing to provide adequate protections for frontline workers. Finally we looked at the Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA), which protects the business interests of the healthcare systems by lobbying the Minnesota state legislature to protect profits over workers and patients. Through MHA’s national association, the American Hospital Association (AHA), hospitals lobbied to have liability waived for Covid-related, workplace-contracted illness. (Currently, over 6,000 Minnesotan healthcare workers have been diagnosed with Covid19.)

In May, the HJ working group took this research and developed scripts for a phone zap demanding adequate PPE and an immediate end to retaliation against frontline workers. In response, the MHA released a press release denying culpability.

HJ highlighted how essential workers were being sacrificed for capitalism by holding a press conference outside the old Bix Produce Warehouse in St. Paul’s North End. The old Bix warehouse was chosen as the location because it was a make-shift morgue newly purchased by the state of Minnesota for millions to hold human remains during the pandemic.  

When the uprising in response to the murder of George Floyd began, members of the HJ group worked as street medics alongside the Northstar collective. As protests continued, we educated comrades about protesting safely in the time of COVID. Amidst the response to George Floyd’s murder, we saw many Black, Brown, and Indigenous members of our communities being disproportionately impacted by this pandemic because they lacked healthcare and/or housing due to the state’s continued inaction. 

We are just getting started. As this pandemic continues and new case numbers and hospitalizations rise, frontline workers still do not have adequate PPE. Essential workers, many of whom make the lowest wages, are at the highest risk of exposure. HJ’s PPE fundraiser raised $3,755.00 which afforded 800 N95 masks — but that is nowhere near enough support for frontline workers who have been left behind by employers and government alike. As socialists, we know that in a profound crisis of capitalism, we cannot rely on our flawed institutions and neoliberal leaders to care for us. We support each other because we are in the struggle together.

Our work in the HJ working group continues, and we want you to join us. Now is the time to build solidarity and fight for real health justice. The forces allied against real change are powerful so we must be deliberate in how we unify as a class.  Who does the health care system serve? Not the interests of working people. It is an oppressive system, one that offers freedom for businesses and the market – not patients.  Our next steps are to envision what health justice looks like, from justice for frontline workers to Medicare for All and beyond. We invite you to get connected with us and attend our future meetings where we will collectively envision the better world we know is possible.

–Jena M.

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