Nurses’ strike shows need for student-community ties

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A view of Windham Hospital. Last week, nurses at the Windham Hospital went on strike. Courtesy of Wikimedia

Last week, nurses at the Windham Community Memorial Hospital went on strike. 

At the largest hospital near the University of Connecticut, nurses held a 48-hour picket from Thursday to Saturday morning on Mansfield Road. Joined last week by supportive local, state and federal leaders, in addition to organized labor from throughout the state, the Windham Federation of Professional Nurses struck for better pay, better insurance and a cessation in mandatory overtime. Facing these unreasonable conditions, the union also cited record-high executive salaries, company plans to shut down the hospital’s intensive care unit and a refusal to negotiate seriously throughout the past year as grievances against Hartford Healthcare which prompted the strike.  

Fights between organized labor and employers are often victorious based on community support, both for the striking workers and their cause. So on the one hand, the fact that more UConn students were not informed about and involved in supporting such a major nearby action is disappointing because it shows the infancy of any labor movement at our school. On the other hand, events like this so close to home are strong opportunities for us to reflect about our relationship to nearby communities and their political situations. 

In addition to specific problematic employers, Windham County suffers from statewide record levels of poverty and food insecurity, which both contribute to the difficulty of healthcare work and labor organizing. In the other direction from UConn, the state’s capital of Hartford has seen a growing tenant union movement, partly as a result of rental vacancies being the lowest out of all 50 states during a severe national housing shortage. 

While we may struggle to see them in our own community or among the student body at UConn, hundreds of thousands around the state suffer from such forms of abuse on a daily basis. The state of Connecticut is projected to post  a $2.3 billion surplus this fiscal year as it remains the second most unequal state in the country — a country which itself is one of the most unequal in human history regarding wealth and income. As the major public university in the state, many UConn graduates will indeed be employed in organizations tasked with solving these issues.  

Furthermore, UConn students need not wait until after their college careers to make meaningful connections with surrounding communities. Throughout the pandemic, student organizations such as Creating Caring Communities, UConn Collaborative Organizing and more have demonstrated the willingness and the ability to engage in community work and mutual aid on and off campus. Although this work may not belong on a transcript or resume, performing community care and learning to organize and communicate without a doubt enhances the educational experience that we attend UConn for. 

Lack of discussion on issues and the struggles against them nearby our campus indicate informational and cultural bubbles at this university. Because many of our own UConn community members have moved here — either temporarily as students or more permanently as faculty or staff — on behalf of their associations with UConn, many of us lack political and community ties to the surrounding area. But this does not absolve us from the responsibility to inform ourselves and our peers about nearby issues, nor from our duty to solve them afterwards. 

Empathy is a two-way street. The size of whatever community we can enjoy isn’t measured by the boundaries of the campus or town, but by our ability to empathize with and look after those who we don’t see on a daily basis. Looking just one town over might be a great start.

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