This May Day, here is a brief note about how the division of healthcare benefits according to standards of productive and non-productive work exacerbates certain types of discrimination. This discrimination even exists within the contemporary labor movement - although the rise in teachers' and nurses' strikes suggests a turning point.
This time last year, I presented a short speech at a worker's May Day rally in DC on the ways in which our healthcare system punishes working class women, especially immigrants and women of color. Our current economic system categorizes work that is regularly performed by women - what is often called feminized labor - as a type of work that is freely given out of a feeling of duty. Whether it is mothering (uncompensated) or nursing (undercompensated), creating and caring for life is systematically undervalued.
Starting in the late 20th century, activists fighting for the emancipation of mothers and sex workers began to collaborate more closely. In the last few years, there has been a revival of these connections in feminist activism in cities across the globe. The passage of SESTA has escalated the criminalization of sex work, a profession that many mothers and carers turn to in order to support their families.
Last night, at a meeting of local activists in preparation for the Poor People's Campaign, an organizer for the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) pointed out that sex workers are often excluded from mobilizations for worker's rights. And this made me think - how is the connection between healthcare and (certain types of) employment part of the categorization of some workers as more deserving of benefits than others? Why is it that "good union jobs" are still tied to the idea of the nuclear family, so that they are more frequently attached to masculinized, "provider" professions?
Our current healthcare system ties healthcare plans to employers, furthering the idea that certain types of workers are not productive enough to receive coverage. Whether they are women, trans, nonbinary or even men, these workers are almost always performing feminized (or ethnicized) types of labor. We are living in a society where trans women first sell sex in order to cover the costs of hormones that are not covered under many Medicaid MCO plans, and then find themselves criminalized for doing so.
Ableism and Work
For many people in the United States, living with a disability is also work. Current government, whether at the state, local, or national level, is inadequate in creating desperately needed infrastructure. This year's budget in Baltimore allocates no money towards accessibility funding. None. How is that acceptable? We have to consider discriminatory policymaking like this as an assault on worker's rights as well as disability rights.
To make things worse, Medicaid is often not accepted by local providers. Without accessible transport options, planning a trip to see a doctor can be a full day's work. Disabled Americans are often in paid work and/or are involved in caring for family members at home. Earned sick leave will help some, but there is more work to be done. This is why in addition to HR-676, which allows people to receive in-home care, Healthcare is a Human Right Maryland supports the Disability Integration Act, which lays out a strong plan for in-home care options that would significantly reduce the burden of labor on disabled Americans who receive healthcare.
If you perform labor, whether it is compensated or uncompensated, you are still a worker. Whether it's the labor of caring for yourself or others, or paid work, it's work. And everyone is entitled to health care regardless of their profession or employment status.
"Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses."
Happy May Day!