J. Hoberman’s essay on the passing of Jean-Luc Godard [“In Memoriam,” October 17/24] is a token of my personal history of attachment to the avant-garde, beginning in my teens, when reading Hoberman and watching Godard were an essential part of the discovery. Now we are facing the death of so many key figures of the generation; my own field, postwar art, is filled with loss. So I write in a sentimental vein. My favorite anecdote about Godard concerns Breathless: He thought he was making Scarface, but instead he made Alice in Wonderland. I think it was a fairly careful formulation for the interview circuit, because he said it multiple times. Yet it has always struck me as a key to the idea that, from start to finish, intentions are important but secondary to a work. The closed system of the work is its own world, and if the conditions are right, things can change in the most productive way. Godard was remarkable for following the unfolding logic of his work, even when it had its own life.
The Pain of Others
Elie Mystal rightfully calls out the cruelty at the heart of the case National Pork Producers Council v. Ross in his survey of the Supreme Court’s current term [“Welcome to the Juristocracy,” October 17/24]. He refers to the gestation crates used to confine pregnant hogs, but readers may not be familiar with the widespread use of farrowing pens. Years ago, I visited “total confinement” hog-raising facilities in Iowa as part of my graduate research. The farrowing pens used to contain nursing hogs were constructed of heavy-duty steel pipes spaced a few inches apart and cast into a concrete floor. While held in the pen, a sow could move neither forward nor back, neither left nor right. Neither could she roll over or jump up. As with her four months in a gestation crate, she was confined to standing or lying on her belly. Farmers pointed out to me that this prevents the 500-pound sow from rolling onto her piglets and possibly killing them while they suckled. But I saw that the pens’ thick, sturdy pipes had all been bent out several inches, away from the sow’s sides. If you can imagine bending a single two-inch-outer-diameter steel pipe, try to imagine bending five or more; this will give you an indication of the sow’s pain without letup for 140 days, only for the cycle to begin again each time she is re-impregnanted. The animal scientist Temple Grandin pointed out over 30 years ago that animal farming does not require cruelty.
Let the Voters Decide
Re “Progressives Split” [September 19/26], in which Joan Walsh asks whether centrist Daniel Goldman’s victory over a crowded field of progressive candidates could have been avoided in New York’s 2022 congressional primary: Rather than have some kingmaker pull people aside, use a ranked-choice system and let the voters decide.
Building Power to Win
Jane McAlevey’s piece “Rail Workers, Nurses, Teachers Are Fighting From the Bottom Up” [online, September 15] made a number of claims about organizing and actions by our union, the Minnesota Nurses Association, which require a response and clarification.
This past September, 15,000 nurses in Minnesota walked off the job in our fight against the corporate health care policies devastating our hospitals. Hospital CEOs with multimillion dollar salaries have created a public health crisis in our hospitals, and nurses have had enough.
That is why we have been building power to win. Before contract negotiations began, hundreds of nurses organized and turned out to town hall meetings with state lawmakers and the governor. Because of this, legislation to address hospital short staffing went further than ever before, and those elected officials showed up to stand with nurses on the strike lines.
In negotiations, for the first time ever, nurses in the Twin Cities and Twin Ports are bargaining and building power together. Rank-and-file members have served as rotating negotiators in bargaining, and nurse contract action teams are updating and organizing members every day. In June, nurses organized coordinated informational pickets over our contract fight, and in August, nurses at many hospitals signed and released a vote of no confidence in hospital leadership.
This was not a first strike for many of our nurses, some of whom are veterans of the 2016 strike of Allina Health. For other nurses, including those who graduated and began their careers during the pandemic, this is new. It is not just their first strike, but their first job and their first contract. For all of these nurses, who have courageously turned out and organized every step of the way, the strike line this past week was an incredible site of education, organizing, and power.
Yes, we must organize to win, for our patients and our profession. But make no mistake: Minnesota nurses are building that power from the bottom up. Through the efforts of our fellow nurses, we are better organized and more energized than ever to carry this fight forward.
RN, North Memorial Health
RN, Essentia Health–Duluth
Vice President, MNA
It’s almost always great to see workers on strike. Including the thousands in the Minnesota Nurses Association, whose leadership rightly says their historic strike was “an incredible site of education, organizing, and power.” What’s even more educational and powerful for workers is experiencing and watching workers win—and win big. Nurses in the MNA’s ranks reached out to me in the lead-up to and during the strike, frustrated by the lack of preparation and lack of transparency with the norms of democratic trade unionism, such as releasing strike vote participation rates, allowing members to remain in the room for the debriefs of the negotiation sessions, and discussions about how best to respond to their employers.
Of course, everyone supports the nurses’ cause and demands. As I wrote, “conditions for American workers are horrible, period. The pandemic has taken a massive toll on nurses, on educators, on the whole of society…. It is plain for everyone to see that frontline workers who keep ‘the economy’ moving are being badly abused, from nurses to railroad employees to stagehands and millions more.” The urgency of the conditions today means that we don’t have time to not be at our very best, as things are likely to get worse in the short run, demanding even more of working-class organizations who can contest with off-the-leash corporate power. It’s absolutely essential that we as union members and leaders look critically at recent experiences, assess what we did well and what we need to improve on, and carry those lessons forward into battle. Without that honesty and reflection, we stand no chance against the bosses. That is why I also noted that what “unites the nurses who walked picket lines for three days in Minnesota to the railway workers to the stagehands’ national union is a lack of preparation for any of these strikes, real or potential.”
Over a month after the nurses’ strike, the reports I am getting from members firsthand haven’t changed my analysis. The political advocacy that the MNA leadership writes about never produced the staffing legislation it hoped for and ultimately sounds like it distracted from strike prep. Every action needs to have a credible plan to win and to be treated as a serious dress rehearsal for January 6, 2025. I genuinely am rooting for the nurses to win big here.
New York City