Strikes at Huntington, West Virginia Hospital and Metal Production Plant
A thousand support staff at the hospital system in Huntington, West Virginia, voted on Oct. 21 to allow a 10-day strike when their current contract expires on Nov. 2. and Saint Mary’s Medical Center organized under the auspices of the Service Employees International Union.
Staff have come under intense pressure to manage both the COVID-19 pandemic, with West Virginia currently one of the worst states in the country for infections, and the ongoing opioid epidemic, centered long time in Huntington. The city’s two hospitals had record hospitalizations for COVID-19 in September and intensive care units at full capacity.
The vote takes place against the backdrop of widespread strikes and protests by nurses, industrial workers and educators who have been pushed to the brink by deadly conditions and full steam ahead politics to ‘reopen’ the economy in order to increase corporate profits. In the past month, strikes at John Deere, Kellogg and hospitals across the country have involved thousands of workers.
A CHH employee, calling for community support on social media, wrote that the hospital was trying to set pay caps that would punish long-tenured workers by “freezing any pay increases after a certain number of years “. The worker also explained “They want to withdraw insurance from our retirees.” At the same time, the CHH system has brought in $ 65 million in profit (income greater than expenses) and the board pays millions.
Just a few miles away, 450 workers at Special Metals Corporation in Huntington are on strike against pay cuts and the company’s attacks on health insurance and seniority rights. The steelworkers, organized as part of the United Steelworkers Local 40, have been picketing around the clock since October 1 to block the entrances to the sprawling 100-acre plant.
Special Metals is the world’s largest nickel alloy plant. The facility is owned by Berkshire Hathaway and its billionaire CEO Warren Buffett, and operated by subsidiary Precision Castparts (PCC). The facility produces alloys essential for military jet engines and commercial aircraft, offshore oil rigs and other equipment intended to operate in high temperature and pressure environments.
Since workers cut down tools, the company has been adamant about its demands. In addition to pay cuts and increases in deductibles, CCP was trying to increase penalties for lack of work and erode job protections.
A Special Metals worker said, “Greed is the only word you can use to describe their actions. They want to take time off but are not responsible for keeping track of it. They take no responsibility. We break the rules, we are threatened with dismissal. They break the rules and say to do with it. In the company’s press releases, widely reported by local media in the limited coverage available, no mention is made of the “dozens of jobs that they have cut and combined with other jobs over the years. years simply to employ fewer people and force us to choose to take over without incentives or assistance.
The worker added: “What about the fact that we have been considered ‘essential’ throughout this pandemic but have not been treated as such? The owner of PCC has not made himself rich as he is by treating his employees fairly.
Another employee said, “They dropped the equipment and treated the employees like dirt. It is a horrible business. Don’t believe anything they post.
“Combining the tasks of work with the same amount of salary, and you have no life because of forced occupational therapy [overtime], said another. “Working more for less is their raison d’être. They don’t care about the well-being and mental state of their workforce. “
Although the nature of their workplaces differs, the employees of Special Metals and Cabell Huntington Hospital face the same powerful class interests and the same economic forces that are pushing billions of workers around the world into a confrontation with the capitalist system. The pandemic has had an accelerating effect on all the underlying conflicts between the needs of the working class and the profitability of corporations and the rich.
United Steelworkers have been silent on the month-long strike at Special Metals. On its website, the USW makes no appeal for solidarity to support workers in Huntington. Special Metals workers are left isolated, starving with meager strike pay, just as the USW has gone on strike after strike under its rule. Special Metals workers should revisit lessons from their northern counterparts at Allegheny Technologies, who have been sold by the union and left behind by the company.
To wage an effective struggle, workers must organize in all workplaces and regardless of the narrow nationalist and industrial boundaries of trade unions. These organizations are geared towards business and the Democratic Party, a section of the political establishment that, just as much as Republicans, is primarily concerned with suppressing the class struggle and maintaining corporate profits at all costs. In the midst of a global pandemic, “at all costs” includes the lives of millions of people, including three quarters of a million Americans since early 2020.
The World Socialist Website and parties for socialist equality urge workers to contact the socialist movement to build a network of grassroots committees that will spearhead an independent counteroffensive against attacks by the ruling class. To get involved, contact us.