by Sarah Beth Gable SEIU Local 509 (Personal Capacity)
“What You Need to Know about the St. Vincent Strike” ran in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette (T&G) on March 31. A more accurate title would have been “Why you should feel bad for Tenet Healthcare.” Tenet, a multibillion-dollar, multistate conglomerate, owns and operates St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, MA. Overall, the short bullet point article represents a lot of what is wrong with corporate media coverage of the now nine-week-long strike of 800 Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) union nurses at St. Vincent Hospital. The MNA nurses and many supporters are walking the picket line in a fight for safe working conditions, better patient care, and a new contract with good pay and benefits. The T&G gives a little over three lines to the MNA’s demands, which include adding floater nurses and setting safe patient limits to address the chronic understaffing that pre-dates and continues through the pandemic. The rest of the T&G article is Tenet Healthcare’s pro-corporate perspective. The T&G also highlights the Tenet corporation’s “generous” counteroffers during contract negotiations and describes the nurses who betrayed their union sisters and brothers by crossing the picket as having “challenged” the MNA. The T&G cites seemingly overwhelming disapproval among Worcester residents, per a phone survey Tenet itself commissioned, and refuses to mention the outpouring of community support on the picket line from unions, organizations like the Independent Socialist Group, the Massachusetts Green-Rainbow Party, Jobs with Justice, and other progressive organizations.
Over the course of nine weeks, T&G has been working hand in hand with the capitalist class to smear the nurses on strike and their union. As the flagship corporate “news” outlet for Central Massachusetts, the T&G may seem to be a local source for “news.” But like the St. Vincent Hospital Corporation, it’s a subsidiary of a global corporate conglomerate operating primarily for profit. Through a dizzying array of media mergers, acquisitions, and ownership transfers, the T&G is now part of a massive platform of media outlets owned by the New Media Investment Group. New Media is itself held by another private equity firm, Fortress Investment Group. And further, Fortress is owned by the Japanese conglomerate Softbank. The T&G really exists to add profits to New Media Investment Group/Softbank and to defend the interests of the capitalist class, like any other corporate-run media.
The T&G provided space for the complaints of the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association (MHHA), a corporate lobbying group whose purpose is to protect the interests (and profits) of hospitals and healthcare corporations. The MHHA dismissed the MNA nurses’ long-standing concerns that St. Vincent Hospital’s staffing lags dangerously behind those of other hospitals in the state. The MHHA was the major opponent to the MNA’s 2017 ballot initiative to achieve legally mandated safe staffing limits throughout Massachusetts. The T&G also put out a story about a St. Vincent patient who was attacked by another patient. The article essentially blamed striking nurses for not being there to prevent this, while ignoring the awful working and patient conditions caused by chronic understaffing that led to the strike in the first place. The T&G failed to mention that the scab nurses brought in by Tenet, or those who crossed the picket line, are being paid $110/hour by Tenet to provide worse patient care and to try and break the strike.
The T&G conducted an interview with St. Vincent CEO Carolyn Jackson where she portrayed the strike as a hostage situation, with striking nurses “victimizing” the greater Worcester community in order to spread the oh-so-scary “agenda” of labor rights and better healthcare across the state. And the T&G has “reported” widely on the praise St. Vincent’s management and Tenet have showered on the St. Vincent scab nurses who have continued working at the hospital during the strike. The corporate bias of the T&G was most disgusting when it spread lies about the striking nurses’ so-called “bullying” of the nurses who crossed the picket line. The reality is that Tenet, a multi-billion dollar corporation, uses the corporate media to bully nurses and buys Worcester cops to herd scabs across the picket line! The T&G has taken the side of the scabs with their coverage and put a “positive” spin on a “fundraiser” selling t-shirts for the “SCAB” (Supporting Colleagues Above Bullying) initiative. That bit of propaganda is one for the record books of corporate media crimes against working people.
Defending the strike is not bullying. Scabs actively work to undermine the strike and therefore the entire fight for safe working conditions, quality patient care and safety, fair wages, and affordable healthcare. The scabs that choose to cross the picket line are betraying this effort, harming not only the nurses on strike, but themselves, as well as their patients who will continue to suffer for Tenet’s profits. While the T&G has allowed a few counterarguments from the MNA and supporters—in order to feign objectivity—the T&G editorial line is to continually portray the strike in a bad light and put the MNA on the defensive. The T&G does not support the strike because their capitalist backers do not support it, and to advocate its failure they’ve consistently elevated the arguments of an out-of-state multi-billion dollar conglomerate at the expense of the vast majority of their readership—working-class people. It’s essential that we call out and oppose what the T&G is up to: protecting corporate profits over the interests of nurses, patients, and decent healthcare.
Unless workers come together to fund and produce our own news and publications, there will be no place for the perspective of the working class to be published. The Independent Socialist Group is producing and publishing regular updates and articles on the struggle of the St. Vincent nurses and other important working-class news and analysis—make sure to read our statements on the strike and follow us on social media to stay up to date with the working-class perspective on news and current events. See how you can support striking nurses here. Subscribe to independent working-class news on our home page.