Photo: Nurse taking part in the vote to authorize today’s strike. Credit: Minnesota Nurses Association
Fifteen thousand nurses are on strike across 16 hospitals in Minnesota. The action, which will last for three days, is the largest strike by nurses in the private sector to ever take place in the United States. Every worker has a stake in the success of their struggle.
Organized by the Minnesota Nurses Association, the striking nurses are in the middle of intense contract negotiations with hospital owners. The bosses are stonewalling negotiations and refusing to put forward serious offers to address the nurses’ core demands, making the 3-day strike necessary to break the deadlock.
The bulk of the nurses’ demands revolve around working conditions. Staffing levels in private hospitals are routinely dangerously low with MNA members recording 7,857 instances of unsafe staffing last year alone. Not only are hospital bosses refusing to hire enough nurses, there is also a crisis of nurses leaving the profession altogether because of how extremely overworked they are and how they are not given what they need to provide quality patient care.
Another one of the nurses’ demands is a badly-needed raise. With inflation running at a 40-year high, workers’ purchasing power across the board is being wiped out, and a full-blown recession may be on the way. Higher pay would also be a well-deserved reflection of the heroic role played by nurses during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic exposed the decrepit state of the U.S. health care system. Despite the fact that health spending accounts for nearly 20% of the entire U.S. economy, hospitals were still quickly overwhelmed by the disease. This is in large part a result of the trends that the Minnesota nurses are going on strike to combat. Hospital executives constantly seek to reduce costs by cutting corners and intentionally understaffing facilities, forcing nurses and others to stretch themselves so thin that it becomes deeply hazardous. Without the extraordinary and courageous efforts of health care workers, the death toll would have been even higher.
The capitalist vision for the future of health care is bleak — high costs, few nurses and low-quality care. This is a recipe for huge profits, but also for suffering and hardship among those who work and receive care at hospitals. Unions in the health care sector are leading the fight to roll back the corporate destruction of the medical system that we all rely on — and they deserve our full support and solidarity.
The historic nurses’ strike is also an inspiring new chapter in the wave of labor activism sweeping the country. Beginning with last year’s “striketober” phenomenon, there has been a growing trend of workers walking off the job to assert their rights and forming new unions at well-known international brands. There is also the possibility of a huge strike at the end of the week by railroad workers.
More and more workers every day are deciding that they will not stand for the constant prioritization of profit over the lives and well being of the people. The Minnesota nurses’ strike is a powerful expression of this readiness to fight.