Women: International Women’s day – US

An indication of coming struggles recently manifested itself in a strike at two nursing homes in Massachusetts. Significantly, as a result of it, wages were increased more than ever before. (There was a stipulation that further union organising should be limited to one nursing home per year, but this shows how much the management fears the strength of organised labour!) Even more extraordinary was that low-paid women from a variety of nationalities – and their children – came together in solidarity to courageously fight for better conditions and wages.

International Women’s Day. Report from US.

Striking Sunrise. Low wages, children and international solidarity

When the bosses of Sunrise Corporation, which owns 600-some nursing homes world-wide, decided to only offer a 30 cent wage rise, workers took their labour onto the picket lines for a total of 10 weeks. The bosses paid millions of dollars to a thuggish private security firm, as well as the local police, to protect the scab labour who were entering the homes in rented vans.

The average wage of the workers – mostly nursing assistants – was $7-8 per hour. If registered nurses’ wages were included, the average would increase to $9 an hour. Conditions, safety and respect had deteriorated over the past few years. Women workers struggled with 2-3 jobs and with families to look after and feed.

At Oakwood Care Centre (re-named ’Sunrise’ during the strike) 74% of the staff were Haitian. The rest of the nationalities divided between Pakistani, Jamaican, Barbadan, Irish and African.

From day one of the strike, children were always present on the line. The frustrated thugs were relentlessly taunted by the children. Several times they accused the women of neglecting their children and reported them to the state child protection agency in order to scare them into keeping them away. The union brothers and sisters at these agencies delayed the paperwork!

The women stood strong and continued to bring their children with them. Many of them were together so often that new and wonderful friendships were formed. Overhearing a derogatory remark one day, an 8 year old child angrily said to his mother, "That’s racist!" Solidarity may have been a tough word to roll off a young child’s tongue, but then actions speak louder than words.

At the other nursing home involved in the action – Glenwood, before the strike happened, the staff had been as divided as night and day. The earlier shift workers were American women while the evening shift were African. Tensions had often been noted in the everyday running of the workplace. One worker had referred to "those people" during a labour/management meeting.

Suddenly, when the strike began, tensions melted away when everyone realised that, in order to win, they would need to stand together – AS ONE! Again, strong relationships were formed in the struggle against the bosses.

If this strike is an indication of events to come, then the bosses have tough adversaries to face. Internationally, women workers will stand tall and fight back. And their children will benefit from the sense of justice they learned early on in life.

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March 1999