This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email firstname.lastname@example.org
About This Issue
In this issue we are printing two articles that focus on women and health care, one about professionalization of nurses and one about lesbian health issues. Both of these articles raise questions concerning the control of the quality and direction of health care in the US. How much control do workers and patients have in determining the nature of their health care system? As these articles point out, alienation of groups of workers from one another in the health care industry and the economic and personal oppression of patients are fostered by health care under capitalism.
Disunity of workers is facilitated by professionalization of nurses. The requirement for college degrees and graduate training changes the class composition of nurses, causes more stratification, and widens the gulf between nurses and other health maintenance workers. Women who have access to college and graduate train-ing will enter specialty fields in nursing and become practitioners, while working class women will make up a large percentage of aides, LPNs, and laundry, dietary, and cleaning staff.
In their article, the authors tell how organizing efforts have been held back by nurses’ professional organizations, which operate to weaken the ties among hospital workers and enforce elitist and non-union attitudes. Professionalism obscures the basic class relation: that of those who own and control the means of production and those who depend on this group for their jobs. Cutbacks in health care spending cause reductions in staff and overworking of those who remain. Nurses are frustrated by their lack of power and the little room they have to make creative decisions. At the same time, specialization, mobility, and higher salaries tend to make nurses feel closer to the class to which in the last analysis they really do not belong. It is in the interest of nurses to unite with other workers to gain more control in their workplaces.
SftP has always supported people who have been oppressed and are now struggling to take control over their own lives. Our second feature article is “Lesbian Health Care: Issues and Literature” by Mary O’Donnell of the Santa Cruz Women’s Health Collective. While SftP has published several articles on progressive women’s issues, this is the first article we have ever considered that focuses specifically on lesbian rights. We felt that the article was important in two ways: as a consciousness-raising tool for those who have never considered the pressures and problems of being gay and as an informational piece for both gays and heterosexuals. O’Donnell describes the overwhelming discrimination against lesbians in a health care system which has strong male and heterosexual biases. She shows how these biases interfere in several ways with the accessibility of good health care for lesbians, and carefully reviews the information and literature in three specific areas—gynecology, reproduction and mental health.
We feel that lesbians and lesbian issues have been an important part of the Women’s Movement, which has played an instrumental role in building a foundation for progressive social change in this country. We realize that there are different kinds of feminism, some of which do not challenge the roots of social inequality; for example, women moving into corporate executive positions really does not affect the fundamentals of power and sexism. Many issues have been raised by women which do threaten existing social and economic relations under capitalism. Lesbianism challenges traditional notions of sexuality and family structures. Just how threatening these have been is evidenced by the recent rash of repressive actions directed against women—the reactionary legislation concerning abortion, the harassment of feminist health clinics, the outrageous rulings on rape, the increasing backlash against gay rights. Especially now, in the face of the current resurgence of the Right, it is crucial for all liberation struggles, all progressive movements to work together. We feel that it is important for all people committed to social change to support lesbians in their struggle for decent health care and freedom from discrimination in all aspects of their lives.