St. Vincent Nurses’ Strike is a Fight for the Soul of Worcester’s Future

By Bryant William Sculos, Ph.D.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science, Worcester State University
MSCA Worcester and Independent Socialist Group (ISG) member
(writing in his personal capacity)

Op-ed written for publication in the Worcester T&G as one of the solidarity actions requested by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) & striking nurses.

Having spent hours on the picket line on a half dozen or so different days, I can say without a doubt that the St. Vincent nurses’ strike is a testament to the strength of Worcester and, of course, the hardworking, truly essential MNA nurses.

Tenet’s approach to this labor dispute on the other hand is dividing the Worcester community. Better staffing levels and working conditions for nurses is an unqualified good for the city. The St. Vincent nurses and the MNA are making huge personal and professional sacrifices for the long-term health of the city by going on strike, fighting for safer staffing limits—but not by choice. Improving the quality of life in Worcester shouldn’t demand that workers have to make these kinds of sacrifices. Tenet has forced them into this situation, and the nurses are courageously holding their ground. And having been raised mainly by a single mom who was a nurse, I’m not at all surprised by the St. Vincent nurses’ brave determination to protect their community.

Tenet only cares about their bottom line, but even though this strike is costing them millions—paying for out-of-town “replacement workers” (i.e., scabs) and entirely unnecessary and excessive security and police details (further pitting members of the Worcester community against each other)—it is apparent that this Texas-based multinational corporation would rather tear the city apart than contribute to its well-being.

Tenet isn’t solely to blame though. What we’re witnessing is a symptom of for-profit health care. As the striking nurses have repeatedly asserted, it is unconscionable that anyone would be allowed to profit off providing life-saving and life-sustaining health care. The labor dispute between the MNA nurses and St. Vincent’s corporate owners is just one front in the fight against a health care model where profits for companies increase in exact proportion to the degree that care and coverage are denied.

As Worcester continues to change over the coming years, we need to ask ourselves: who are these changes going to benefit and on whose terms will these changes be happening? Will it be the people who already work and live in Worcester who primarily benefit and who determine the conditions under which Worcester moves through the twenty-first century? Or, will it be millionaire and billionaire developers and corporations who will turn Worcester into another soulless gentrified post-industrial city that will be great only for those at the very top.

The St. Vincent nurse’s strike is a microcosm of a much bigger struggle, a struggle between the workers and residents of Worcester in all their great diversity, and profit-hungry corporations. Progress in Worcester shouldn’t mean gutting public education, further promoting privatized health care, or building more expensive apartments; it should mean affordable housing, high-quality public education, well-paying union jobs, and high-quality health care for everyone that lives, learns, or works in Worcester.

Other unions, activists, and community members of Worcester should get organized and continue to support the St. Vincent nurses’ strike, as long as it takes. I proposed a solidarity statement to my union local MSCA Worcester that was passed unanimously by our members and inspired the adoption of a similar statement by the statewide union. I encourage other union members to pass resolutions and join the picket line too. Politicians and community leaders need to meet their words of support with action, putting whatever pressure they can on Tenet and support the nurses more aggressively—and if they don’t, the people of Worcester should not forget that.