Request for help: health worker unions and health justice movements

After 6 years studying medicine and campaigning for health justice, I’ve concluded that I know virtually nothing about the real drivers and movements that significantly improve people’s health. Nothing. Sweet FA.

Ok, maybe a little bit, but still; there is a long shadow of ignorance behind  me – a giant pyramid of everyday heroes (past and present) holding us up. People who I know nothing about, who are excluded from the history of health passed on by our elders and teachers. Movements outside the comfortable bubble of technological progress and established professionals.

So here’s what I’m going to do: I’ve drafted the questions below, which I’m going to try to answer over the next few years.  At this point I could just head off into the distance like some kind of smartphone-spinning academic lone ranger, but a wise man once told me to “think in public”, which has proven to be excellent advice.

So I’m appealing to you for any pointers, perspectives, histories, evidence, case studies, articles, books, podcasts or contacts that you can throw at me, to make this journey more exciting and enlightening. If you think I’m asking stupid questions, then tell me. If you think I’ve missed something big, then let me know. If you think it’s hilarious that someone can spend 6 years learning about health and accrue an infantile knowledge on these topics – please keep laughing. It’s comically tragic that society has forgotten the people who have served it best. Obviously I do have some knowledge – but only enough to see that I’ve poked my head into a giant bat-cave-of-wonder, without a torch, map or even (shock horror) a lunch box.

So, the overarching question is:

How do health worker unions, patient groups and health-focussed social movements contribute  to social change? In the UK, abroad, past and present. 

But in particular:

  • what have they won/what have they lost – how?
  • how have they altered/maintained power relationships?
  • what tactics, strategy and actions have they used? To what effect?
  • are there particular organisations that redefined our approach to organising/campaigning?
  • what approaches have been used to “organise” these communities? (or for these communities to self-organise)
  • how have they been structured?
  • how does this work across borders?
  • how have they interacted with other unions and social movements, and causes that aren’t immediately linked to health?
  • what have they campaigned for?
  • are there struggles/points of conflict that are common to these groups?
  • who (in terms of profession, demographic, key figures) played what roles in these organisations?
  • what political ideologies motivated and shaped these groups?

If you have any comments or suggestions, then please write below or get in touch.

One Comment on ““Request for help: health worker unions and health justice movements”

  1. Krishna

    these are actually all of the right questions. And i have struggled with the efficacy of organizing a movement around health justice amongst students, amongst professionals, and among patients themselves. And I think I came to the conclusion that our global AIDS movement in the US at least was a very weak one, and it didn’t seem to be responsible for driving most of the change we saw with PEPFAR funding. It could help with particular battles, and potentially be a decisive factor in certain funding debates, but it did not feel as if it was the harbinger of change that I once believed. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important, i think it’s important for students to organize even in the face of sure defeat because it puts people in the mindset that they are agents of change, which is always true, and that is a lot better way to think about the world in general rather than sitting at a nice middle class dinner party talking about what we read in the Guardian and not doing shit about it.

    I’m going to send you a few things by email. The first is an organizing guide written by one of my mentors, Marshall Ganz, whose strategy and framework I found very helpful for organizing activists in college and helps delineate a clear power analysis, encourage broad tactic brainstorming. The second is a book chapter I helped co-write on the global AIDS movement. The third is a suggestion to look into Bury the Chain by Adam Hochschild – an account of the English abolition movement. I look to this as an advocacy movement that was incredibly successful AND involved people organizing ON BEHALF of others, which I think is a very difficult task that we face in global health activism with the distance between “the ground” and Washington DC. The fourth thing is a suggestion to look into the Sanitario movement of Brazil. I can forward you an article about these health workers who work for the state but also push it towards pro-poor reforms, and have organized methods of influencing the state. This Brazil stuff is what I know least about, but might be the most interesting.

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