PWW:Health workers union: A little bit of history

Charlotte Kates ckates at
Fri May 17 13:24:08 MDT 1996

**Health workers union: A little bit of history**

(Reprinted from the May 18, 1996 issue of the People's
Weekly World. May be reprinted or reposted with PWW credit.
For subscription information see below)

By Julia Barnes

Among many unionists the digits 1-1-9-9 are famous, part of
the title of 1199 National Health and Human Service
Employees Union.

This union, headquartered a few blocks from New York City's
Times Square, is now some 120,000 strong. Its multiracial
members are of many categories in "not for profit" hospitals
and nursing homes, in pharmacies and HMOs. The latest are
aides and nurse practitioners in the homes of patients
requiring short- or long-term care.

>From its founding, 1199 has been noted for its courageous
challenge to greedy drug store chain owners. When 1199 began
to organize hospitals, they became even braver in their
struggle against the reactionary, anti-labor and racist
boards of directors of big hospitals. 1199 has also been
noted for progressive stands such as early opposition to the
Vietnam War and to the blockade of Cuba.

Recently a New York City Health Care Workers' Communist
Party Club formed with mostly members of 1199. Communist
Party health care workers' clubs are not new. Communists
were prime movers in the birth and development of 1199.

The following letter, left by my late husband, Julius
Lawentman (1902-1978), a lifelong Communist, explains why he
joined the Medical Workers' Industrial League. This league
was one of the many, primarily Communist, groups, that
working together, later formed 1199. It was first composed
primarily of pharmacists. With the start of industrial
unions, drug store employees in other categories also

"It was eight months after the 'Wall Street Crash' [October
1929] and two months before my graduation from the College
of Pharmacy, when I found myself, like millions of other
Americans, without a job.

"My unemployment was not caused by my inefficiency, nor by
dissatisfaction of the employer. The economic plague had
reached my corner drug store. The long search for a job
began with offers of just a few. They almost amounted to

"One employer said, 'You will open the store at 8 a.m. I
will bring you lunch. Our busiest time is between 5 and 6
p.m. so you will eat supper at about 4:30. We used to close
at 11:00 p.m. but there is nothing doing after 10, so we'll
close then. Sundays we close at 1:00 p.m. so you still have
your day off.'

"In the employment agency I met other victims of
unemployment who had received similar offers. We started
discussing the need for a union. However, many pharmacists
suffered from professional pride. They thought unions were
for blue collar workers only. But the steady worsening of
employment conditions dictated the organization of the
Medical Workers' Industrial League."
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