BRUSSELS, BE—For over two years now, IWW Brussels in Belgium has been organizing in the healthcare sector. Workers are uniting and fighting to improve their working conditions and wages.
The methods of the IWW have enabled a small group of nurses to grow to more than thirty caregivers who have organized themselves to face the difficulties caused by shortages, lack of resources, and work overload.
After a number of modest wins, which helped them to get out of the doldrums by reducing their workload, the group of workers recently achieved a major victory! After several actions, 200 nurses won a wage increase of up to €600!
This victory was achieved amidst a severe shortage of nursing staff, which gives organized nurses considerable strength! However, they won’t win automatically. To do so, we need to fight in a coordinated manner and, we are convinced, with technique.
This technique is that of solidarity and collective direct action, as taught during the training courses given by the IWW Brussels. So, methodically, we tried to apply the tools we had learned. We started out as a trio, discreetly training each other, gathering information, mapping our workplace and socializing more widely with our colleagues. Then we started going one-on-one, to expand our knowledge, our connections and recruit for the committee. After a year, there were ten of us on the committee, and we all went back to train with the IWW Brussels. We then drew up demands and a crescendo action plan based on the agitation of our colleagues. We started to mobilize our colleagues more widely, organizing a march on the boss, etc. etc.
It was a long-term, behind-the-scenes, patient and disciplined effort. For the rest, unfortunately, few details can be given as to the context, actions, and locations in order to guarantee the safety of the workers who organized. Please know that the balance of power was created by grassroots organizing without intermediaries, and without professional negotiators (union officials, etc.), and enabled us to put collective pressure directly on the hospital’s managers and directors. We wanted this pressure to be constant and growing, so as not to give our hierarchy any breathing space. We also kept in mind the need to bring together a majority of the colleagues concerned in the action campaign. Finally, and in tandem with everything else, the workers’ committee worked to develop social ties and solidarity within the work teams, through more informal moments that strengthened the bonds uniting the workers among themselves. In short, it’s this unity of solidarity and action that is our weapon, and it’s a formidable one!
Far from the media, megaphones and large-scale mobilizations, this was a discreet struggle, in keeping with IWW unionism. There’s no point in mobilizing beyond our workplaces if we can’t organize within them. That’s what we did, and we won.
This victory is the result of a year’s effort, with doubts and setbacks. Indeed, management’s first answer was repression and intimidation. They will be against you, scorn you, sabotage you, until one day, without you even realizing it, they will accede to your request. So hang in there! It’s your determination, and the wear-and-tear it causes in your hierarchy, that will make you strong.
Today, we have all emerged from this battle unscathed and, better still, strengthened in our determination to build our power as workers and help others to do the same. It’s true that, despite the shortage of personnel, the sector remains undervalued. The years of Covid-19 have not changed this; on the contrary, there has been a marked increase in budgetary austerity. So, this first success brings hope and is already inspiring others who are starting to organize elsewhere in the health sector.
Soon, we hope, we’ll be in a position to open a health sector branch at the IWW Brussels, and thereby improve coordination of the various committees organized in the sector, strengthen training, develop interprofessional cooperation and much more.
— Max V. IWW Brussels member
Photo is by M.S./ActuSoins and is from the 2020 healthcare sector strike in Marseille.
This article was originally published on IWW Brussels’ website and has been translated into English and published here with permission.
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