One hundred days of ultimatum, 31 days of strike, accompanied by the accusation of neglecting the patient’s well-being: the term “heroic” should be used sparingly, but what the Berlin hospital movement has achieved since May deserves this award. For a long time there was no such solidarity-based industrial action in this area, and despite the loss of wages during the strike days and despite all the threats, employees were so little put off.
With moral rights on their side, they have now asserted themselves on important issues with one of the Berlin employers, the Charité. The long-awaited relief collective agreement is coming, the situation in the hospital wards will noticeably improve once the contract is signed, and 700 new employees are to be recruited over the next three years. It’s not that unlikely, because when working conditions improve, many who have dropped out will be ready to return. Freelance midwives have already announced this.
The successful strike should have a signal effect far beyond Berlin. It heralds a new sense of self in an area where the scourge of service and the idea of love service have long suppressed union movements, whether they are old, sick or young children. When the corona pandemic has shed light on the systemic relevance of health care, actions like the one now in Berlin underline that employees are no longer satisfied with symbolic recognition. They show solidarity with those whom the mania for privatization has sidelined economically.
The second Berlin clinic association, Vivantes, has now surprisingly turned in and pinned down key points for the relief tariff for employees. Whether the outsourced companies – from cleaning to the laboratories – can be brought back under the more secure roof of the public service will be further negotiated in the near future. That was actually agreed in the coalition agreement of the red-green-red Senate, but was never implemented.
The strike was also successful because it was not organized from above, but the active people tried from the beginning to democratically involve the majority of the workers instead of just luring them to the ballot box. Seldom have representatives of so many different professional groups – from cleaners earning below the poverty line to highly qualified intensive care workers – continuously exposed themselves to the media public. An empowerment whose energy came from the grassroots. That, too, earned the strikers a lot of sympathy.
In the end, however, the dispute is also a declaration of war addressed to politicians. Because it was the attitude of the Senate – lip service of solidarity and tough line on the matter – that demanded so much from the employees. The federal states have contributed a lot to the plight of the hospitals and those who work and recover there in the past decades by not making the necessary investments and instead having to finance them from the current budget. “We will save you – who will save us?” Was the motto of the demonstration last Saturday. Those who speak here do not ask questions as victims and supplicants.