My partner, a Registered Nurse at the regional hospital, has been put under an increasing amount of stress, due both to the prudent push to “flatten the curve” and the never-ceasing demands of the capitalist system.
Not only are the medical staff now required to donn masks for the entirety of their 12-13 hour shifts, but, in addition, they are now required to fill in additional shift-work – having laid off or retired a sizeable chunk of their travel-nursing staff about a month ago.
Working extra hours and doing tasks that typically fall outside of your job description is of course stressful in and of itself. However, the class character of the pandemic’s effects have really shined in the fact that virtually nothing has changed in terms of additional requirements for middle and upper management staff. Outside of extra board meetings to “monitor the situation” by upper level managers and the inevitable fall in profits that are expected due to the laughably brief shutdowns, the vast majority of extra work and extra stress has been laid on the shoulders of the nursing staff.
My partner is understandably frustrated. With the increasing pressure to work more for less, I have urged her to consider establishing a nurses union. As history has demonstrated, unions are one of the few vehicles outside of the law that can guarantee progressive change. The power of people (people power) finds one of its most potent expressions in workplace democracy – the union being the practical application of said democracy.
Unfortunately, the State of South Dakota is a “right to work” state (which explains its abysmal national wage-to-cost-of-living rating). This, of course, means unionization has to be done the “old fashioned” way – through a super-majority of workforce participation.
This is not necessarily a bad thing at all. Some of the strongest and most militant unions grew out of such conditions and made their mark on US history. That era spawned an entire political subcategory of liberalism that has been coined “progressivism”, and US workers certainly owe their due to such “progressives” for having helped usher in the relative boom of workers rights, civil rights, and health and safety protections that were unheard of in the prior era.
Though some hope can be gleaned by looking at the history of US workplace activism, the reality is considerably different today. I will continue to urge my partner to unionize and whisper into the ears of her coworkers. But, the political imagination of too many is still rather lacking, my generation having grown up on a healthy overdose of the revisionism of “American victory” and “American progress” over the now (mostly) defunct “Communist threat”.