In the News June 15
Health Care Workers in France Organize Strikes and Demonstrations
Urgent Demand to Retain and Attract Workers to Defend Services
On June 7, in response to a call from nine health care unions and collectives, a one-day strike was organized in hospitals and demonstrations in 50 cities across France. Actions took place in large cities such as Paris, Nantes and Strasbourg, as well as in smaller communities, such as in Dieppe and Cherbourg. The public health care system is at a breaking point. Workers demanded drastic improvements in working conditions as well as better wages for health care workers in order to ensure staff retention and attraction.
The state of emergency rooms was at the heart of the June 7 actions. It is estimated that no less than 120 emergency departments country-wide have had to limit their services or are in the process of doing so due to a lack of medical staff. In this regard, participants in the actions strongly denounced the one-month “flash mission” to diagnose medical staff shortages. announced by President Emmanuel Macron. The study would be concluded by July 1, he said while acknowledging that this will not solve the “structural problem.”
The emergency room crisis, the workers point out, is well known, and an immediate measure to resolve it is to increase workers’ wages and staffing levels. They denounced the president’s proposal as crass opportunism aimed at postponing any decision until after the June 12 and 19 legislative elections.
“We’re expecting a particularly difficult July and a horrible August,” said a spokesperson for the Inter-Urgences collective at a June 2 press conference, adding that “this flash mission is a bit of an insult to us.”
During the actions, participants decried the untenable conditions that have been imposed on health care staff in the name of the urgency of dealing with COVID-19. Following the summers of 2020 and 2021, two huge waves of resignations shook the health care system: 60,000 nursing positions are now vacant. The government, as well as health care institution administrations, told workers that in the post-COVID-19 period their situation would improve and their rights would be upheld. This has not happened. Wages are still inadequate to attract and retain personnel, the patient per nurse ratio is still far too high, staff continue to exercise no control over their work hours and anxiety amongst health care workers regarding their inability to provide the services patients need is on the rise, leading to more resignations.
The problem of staff shortages has also been exacerbated by the fact that the Macron government had suspended several thousand health care workers who refused the order to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and has not reinstated them, even though it has decreed that the pandemic has been overcome and it has ended the restrictions.
“More resources, more staff” was the main demand during the actions. The one-day strike and rallies and demonstrations brought to the fore the urgency of an action plan for public hospitals. This includes the demand for an immediate halt to bed closures, an end to emergency room closures, a massive hiring of health care personnel, a significant increase in wages, improved professional training to increase staff knowledge, and no more diverting of public resources towards the private health care network.
During the actions, demonstrators declared that following the victory over Nazism and fascism during the Second World War, under the impetus of the National Council of the Resistance, the French state had ensured social protection measures for all, including through the public health system. All this has been wrecked today by neo-liberal governments in the service of global private interests.
Other strike days and demonstrative actions are being planned throughout France to defeat the wrecking of working conditions in the fields of health care and public services.
Workers’ Forum, posted June 15, 2022.