The nurses at RWJBarnard Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ, have been on strike for 67 days as I write this. Their main issue is to increase the number of nurses, their main slogan being “Safe Staffing Saves Lives.” I visited their picket lines on the first day of the strike and more than a dozen times since. I wrote about this strike before: https://www.tempestmag.org/2023/09/nurses-strike-in-new-brunswick-nj/.
Whenever I join them, I thank them for their efforts to protect my life and health, as do a great many other residents of Central Jersey.
Sixty-seven days on strike is a lot. The nurses miss their patients and miss helping people when they are sick. One nurse said that they had to stay out, though, for each other, for other nurses everywhere, for the next generation of nurses, and for their patients. Safe staffing saves lives.
They see hospital management as holding out for worse care, harder and more grueling work for nurses, low pay, and fatter salaries for themselves. The top manager makes about $16,000,000 a year—almost enough to pay each nurse another $1,000 a year, or to pay the salaries of many additional nurses. And he is only one of a number of overpaid managers.
Many nurses live alone, or with another striking nurse, and many have kids. Sixty-seven days on strike, even with unemployment and strike pay, means they have to skimp and seek part-time work. Savings get depleted. Nurses who can afford it cook meals and bring them to the strike headquarters, and strikers share. They protect each other.
Of course, a strike means that they make a lot of friends and develop strong solidarity. This will prove useful for them–and a nightmare for the bosses–when they return to work.
One picket captain told me that he has been taking courses and getting new certifications when not picketing. He also hangs out with friends and family and keeps busy. This is no surprise to anyone who has been on strike, but is important nonetheless.
The nurses also told me how a judge issued an injunction to limit what they could do. It even prohibits them from yelling at scabs at shift change time and keeps them from picketing across the street from the Emergency Room.
Injunctions are a form of judge-made law. They are justified by laws passed about 75 years ago by a Congress that was elected by a Jim Crow electorate. The US government was deeply racist at the time, regarding workers in general as little more than slaves. (Indeed, the Taft-Hartley Act was widely known as the Slave Labor Law.)
More specifically, their employer, RWJBarnabas Hospital, has deep ties with Johnson & Johnson Corporation and Rutgers University. These are among the wealthiest and largest employers in Central New Jersey. Their boards of directors interlock and wield a lot of political power. Any judge in the area who wants to get ahead will do their bidding. It is no surprise that “the law” supports the employer and not the strikers.
Sixty-seven days on strike—and still holding strong to protect themselves and their patients. We should deeply honor and respect them and their efforts.
Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons; modified by Tempest.
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Samuel R. Friedman is a lifelong social activist and long-time socialist. His writings on social justice topics include about 50 publications on workers’ movements, how we might create socialism, political economy, racism or social movements—including Teamster Rank and File (Columbia University Press, 1982) and “What happened in Ukraine” (2015). He currently is a research professor of Population Health at a leading New York university and previously the Director of the Institute for Infectious Disease Research at National Development and Research Institutes in New York. He has published two books of poetry (most recently A Precious Residue: Poems that ponder efforts to spark a working class socialism in the 1970s and after. October 17, 2022. https://imhojournal.org/wp-content/uploads/Friedman-S.-2022.-A-Precious-Residue.pdf) as well as several chapbooks and many individual poems. He is the author of over 500 publications on HIV, COVID-19, STI and drug use epidemiology, prevention and harm reduction. His is a member of the Tempest Collective, Jewish Voice for Peace, the Central Jersey Coalition against Endless War, and the People’s CDC. He can be reached at email@example.com