(The following has been written for adaptation as an agitational flyer at a South Australian protest rally for Firefighters and Paramedics on 1 April 2021)
While the South Australian Marshall government announces the building of a new $700 million indoor stadium and just recently provided an additional $93.2 million in funding for the police whose prime role is to defend property, the people who put their lives on the line to defend and save the lives of others – firefighters, paramedics, nurses, doctors, and other workers in the health and medical field – continue to face funding cuts. These under-resourced conditions have forced women to give birth on the side of the road, made people need to catch taxis to the hospital during medical emergencies, and in short, have been killing people. These funding choices take place during a decades long global capitalist crisis which sees the business owning class scrounging for profits and their repressive state making concessions in their favour and cuts that harm workers. New mobile phone detection cameras bring in money, new fire engines and ambulances do not. Here we see that the issue runs much deeper than the failures of the Liberal government.
There are simply not enough health and medical workers. There are not enough hospital beds, fire engines or ambulances on hand, and the ones that are available are typically old, lack adequate safety systems, and are well past the state’s own recommended replacement date. The practice of ramping (where paramedics continue to care for a patient due to a lack of hospital resources, rather than hand over clinical responsibility to the emergency department) further exacerbates the situation by tying up ambulances and preventing their dispatch to the next patient, while denying the current one full medical care. In response to these deplorable conditions, paramedics have now begun refusing to charge any patient who is ramped at the hospital.
Among health and medical workers anxiety disorders, depression, general mental distress and post-traumatic stress (PTSD) are all much higher than in the general population. Adding to this, paramedics are twice as likely to have PTSD than other health and medical workers. This comes as a result of both violent assaults and being first on the scene to traumatic injuries and deaths. The continued exposure to traumatic stress causes headaches, gastrointestinal distress, sleep disruption, and fatigue, while the physical nature of the job poses the constant risk of back problems and other injuries. There is also the danger of needlestick injuries and bloodborne diseases.
What applies here to paramedics in many cases also applies to firefighters, with both being around twice as likely to suffer from suicidal thoughts, and three times more likely to have a suicide plan than the general population. Several decades ago it was asbestos that posed the highest physical health threat to firefighters, today exposure to the sun, smoke, toxic gases, fumes and compounds formed due to high temperatures see that it is cancers of the skin, blood, lymphatic system, plasma cells, prostate, testicles, and thyroid that pose a significant risk and are suffered through at a higher rate.
Firefighters, paramedics and other health and medical workers deal with these increased mental and physical health risks and many of them still need to navigate the same under-resourced public health system as the rest of us when they need treatment.
The Need For A Real Working Class Fight Back
Although cops are deemed as part of the same emergency services as paramedics and firefighters, they are not on the same side as them and the rest of the working class. Sure, there are examples in recent history of police joining in on public sector rallies in Australia (such as in 2010 when it was the Rann SA Labor government making cuts). But that does not mean that they would not just as quickly bust up such an action if it started to spill outside of the confines of what the state will allow. A good example of this is last year in France where police tear gassed protesting firefighters and attacked them with their batons.
We extend our solidarity and support to workers’ taking to the streets to demand long-term sustainable funding and the eradication of the practice of ramping at SA hospitals. However, in order to truly guarantee the necessary resources for human needs and increased health and safety of firefighters, paramedics and health and medical workers, we must take control of production and tear down the present system which is based on the exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few. The unity of the entire working class is essential in this fight – which must be fought by us workers ourselves, with our own revolutionary organisations, outside of the confines of the unions, parliamentary parties and the capitalist state.
Internationalist Communists Oceania
Monday, 29 March 2021