Italian health services under attack - Italian health workers fight back

This year I spent Christmas in Rome with the intention of visiting my wife’s family and friends. Unfortunately, I spent most of my time at the San Carlo hospital where my wife underwent emergency surgery and received convalescent care. The hospital workers –all 1,500 of them - have received no salary for the last four months; yet still continue their public health service, providing optimum care with fortitude and professional dedication, to which I can fully attest. The hospital is part of the IDI (Institute of Dermatology of the Immaculate Conception) administered - or rather in these case, maladministered - by the Church, whose ex-Head, the far from saintly Fr.Franco Decaminda has gambled away the sum of 800 million Euros on market speculation and misappropriations.

This singular, arcane example of a hospital on the verge of financial collapse is far from unusual in the Lazio region. Deep-rooted, systemic corruption, along with a crazed, competitive internal market; 49 public hospitals sold and then rented back to the Region’s health authorities at the highest of possible rents has been compounded by the current round of massive cuts to the health budget. A deficit of 1 billion, 140 million euros translates into: 2,000 less hospital beds, four hospitals to close, 3,400 precarious contacts not renewed and 1,500 jobs destroyed, but the human cost is inestimable!

How do the health workers of Lazio and Rome respond? Simple, like the workers I saw at San Carlo, they mount roof-top protests involving doctors, nurses and lab technicians; they, along with hundreds of local residents and their families, block the streets and go down into the piazzas and, most importantly, they occupy and they carry on working, morally and financially buoyed-up by contributions from the union movement and the support and solidarity of their patients and their local communities. On the 31 December all the main unions – CGIL, UIL, UGL and CISL – meet to decide a strike, possibly January 18. In the interim, local actions such as symbolic occupations of wards and ecclesiastical spaces serve as mustering stations for the local residents and health workers, helping to maintain momentum and decide at grassroots level the next course of action.

In the words of one of the many flyers I picked up from the occupied chapel at the main entrance to the hospital: “the hospitals are, above all else, yours: hands off our public health!”

Comrades, please send messages of solidarity to: mario.fochi@yahoo.it

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