Barcelona's hospital occupations

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Health workers in Barcelona have occupied their hospital in protest against cuts.
Jonathan Collier reports

Health workers at the Sant Pau Hospital in Barcelona have been in occupation since 28 November.

The action at Sant Pau has been the catalyst for developing anti-cuts movements, involving neighbourhood and other activist groups, at hospitals throughout Catalunya. Occupations have sprung up at the region's biggest hospital, Vall d'Hebrón, and the Clínic Hospital.

In the words of one prominent health activist, it's about creating "a white Catalan tide similar to that which exists in Madrid". The beginnings of such a tidal movement have literally covered Barcelona in the white of doctors' and nurses' gowns during marches organised by the various occupation committees.

Assemblies
The entrance to Sant Pau is a veritable hive of activity. Assemblies attract dozens of doctors, nurses and technicians, alongside representatives of community groups and other sympathisers. The occupation has combined various elements, often organised from outside by social movements and neighbourhood associations, including children's activities, talks, and even the odd opera performance.

The message is clear - "No to cuts, no to privatisation." The demands of the workers are both economic and social. At heart it is a fight to defend the right to access to good quality public healthcare. That right is jeopardised by the draconian cuts being meted out by central government as part of its vicious austerity drive.At Sant Pau 84 beds have been axed, while radiology and operating theatres have been severely affected. Waiting times have skyrocketed as a result.

In addition to this, workers have been hit with a 5 percent pay cut, along with the elimination of various benefits. "Adjustment" strategies announced recently indicate an increasing tendency towards the casualisation of work, while the festive period has been soured somewhat by the cutting of the Christmas bonus.

Future of healthcare
But for the workers the battle is ultimately about the very future of healthcare in Spain. Even if management were to offer a 60 percent increase in salaries for hospital personnel, argues one activist, the struggle would not cease. "The public wouldn't understand it", he adds. After all, this is a struggle involving the entire community. As another member of the occupation points out, "as soon as you tell hospital patients that we've already lost two wards, their support is instantly given".

On day 14 of the occupation at Sant Pau, 400 workers and hospital patients protested outside the main entrance of the building. A banner was hung from scaffolding covering the facade. The message was simple: "Basta ya de recortes!" - ("Enough with the cuts!").

Many of those involved in the occupations are new to all of this. But as one consultant involved in the protest observed, fighting for something you really care about is not as complicated as it might at first appear. In struggle, "you realise that you win more than you lose".