Monday, May 16, 2011

Strikes and Struggles, by blogger of the month Sarah Meyers

I approached the Beer Sheva North train station, and saw two bored security guards standing in front of a locked door.  “Yesh Shvita Hayom”- there is a strike today.  No trains.  I realized I would have to call my friend and reorganize our travel plans according to the bus schedule.  Surprises like these are what happen if you don’t check the train website or the Israeli newspapers quite regularly.  Strikes are pretty frequent as well.

On my way to the bus station, I ran into A, my Arabic teacher outside of a coffee shop.  He told me how his office had wanted to send him up to Haifa that day, and without the train running, had given him the day off.  I later learned that the strike was called late the night before, shortly after my friend and I had checked the schedule, to protest the arrest of their union leader.

A little over a week ago, I came into Arabic class, and saw a classmate placing a bucket and a magev, the oversize squeegee they use for cleaning floors, against the wall.  I asked her what the magev was for, and she informed me that there was a “ma’avak” that evening.  “What does that mean,” I asked? She told me it was a “struggle,” a struggle for the rights of the cleaning workers on campus.  She explained that her student group was supporting the struggle of the campus janitors for better wages and rights, and because they were vulnerable in a strike, students were taking over their shifts that night, cleaning the campus, to educate other students and to show solidarity with the janitors.

A few months ago, as part of our Clinical and Global Medicine class, we were sent to interview geriatric patients at the hospital.  My group was under the supervision of a hospital social worker.  Her perspective was valuable: she critiqued me for not first building a strong enough rapport with a patient before proceeding to the medical history.  

At the end of the session, she told us to feel free to contact her any time we had any questions.  Except, she said as an afterthought, the social workers were all going on strike the next day, and she did not know when they would be back to work.  She told us how low their wages were, and how long it had been since they were given a raise.  For weeks after this, we saw protests across the street from the hospital, and social work students chanting and holding signs in intersection.  One day, everything was back to normal, except the social workers salaries, reported to be 25% higher.

Now it is the doctors’ turn to strike.  Periodically, they will strike for a single day affecting outpatients but not emergency care.  They say they are trying to minimize the disruption third year students rotations, and that the future of medicine is at stake.  - blogger of the month Sarah Meyers