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
Preterm is an abortion and gynecology clinic in Brookline, just outside Boston. Lucy Matson’s article tells the story of the Preterm workers’ struggle to unionize for better working conditions and better health care for their patients. When it first opened, Preterm had a reputation for pioneering birth control and abortion services in the Boston area. It has become clear, however, that Preterm’s interests an~ in doing “good business” rather than providing health care for women.
Poor working conditions—overworking of counselors, lack of flexibility in the kind of counseling individual workers are assigned to. no regular work schedule—hurt both patients and workers. The strikers have received tremendous support from the community and from patients who have refused to cross the picket line. Fifty workers have been able to keep their picket line going for five months, cutting the clinic’s business by 50 percent. There is still no indication that Preterm is willing to sign a contract. While it is questionable whether such a clinic, run by a businessman for profit, can ever really satisfy the needs of women workers and patients, a strong union contract is a crucial step toward decent care and working conditions.
Michael Freemark’s “Brown Lung Blues” is a study of one of the most widespread occupational dis-eases in the United States. Much of what Freemark writes could be applied to other issues of occupational health and safety. He points out that reasonable use of modern technology to clean the air in textile mills could significantly reduce the incidence of brown lung. But most employers resist spending money for workers’ health; the government often helps employers by setting inadequate standards for safety. Freemark’s explanation of why so little has been done to treat or prevent brown lung is widely applicable: medical institutions, run by successful businessmen, find brown lung an uninteresting disease; government and corporate power are combined to hinder union organizing; competition for a limited number of factories gives rewards to the region that demands least of employers.
Good health care for all people does not depend on more altruistic and more enlightened doctors, but on political change. Employers desire to maximize profit while minimizing costs; workers’ health and safety is a cost, and so will be resisted by employers. Only when workers gain control of their own workplaces will they be able to consciously determine the conditions under which they work.
In this issue we present another article critical of the so-called science of sociobiology. This reflects our continuing struggle to emphasize the fact that scientists are not disembodied spirits whose thinking on social issues is in any way dispassionate, objective, or neutral. Their thinking is as much subject to the social context of their lives as is anyone else’s.
Throughout modern history, “scientific” theories of “human nature” have been developed in attempts to demonstrate the inevitability of a particular social and economic order. Whatever the intentions of the theorizer. these theories inevitably serve to legitimate those orders. to absolve individuals responsible for social injustice, and to undermine the will of those who seek a better world. Sociobiology carries with it all the trappings of another such theory, and accordingly, we will continue our attempts to point out its inherent political implications.
The Editorial Committee asked Pat Brennan to· write a brief history of her experience in Science for the People and to give her perspective as a long-term (six years) member of the organization. We see this as a step toward connecting people’s experience with political analysis in the magazine. In her article, Pat shows how she became slowly politicized through her involvement in SftP and how she learned most strongly from working collectively in action-oriented groups.
She sees, as we do, that problems remain in the organization: to the degree that people still use “right-wrong” rhetoric at meetings and in writing. such language will have an alienating effect on both women members and on people that we are trying to reach outside the organization.
It is clear that SftP’s ability to speak to women members and to communicate effectively with people outside SftP depends not only on analysis hut also on direct, nonalienating language and supportive group interaction.
We hope that other SftP members will send us similar articles which integrate the personal and the political.