BULGARIA – Continued Struggle of the Medical Workers!

In Bulgaria, shortly after the transition to a market economy began, a series of hyperinflation and economic crises followed. After the resignation of Jean Videnov's center left-wing government, Ivan Kostov's neo-liberal government came to power. This marks the start of the so-called "shock therapy", which represents a mass privatization of all sectors of society and the state. In addition to all economic and industrial sectors, all public services have gone into private hands - public transport, electricity, water and health care. In the health care sector, the reforms that are still valid to this day, were implemented in 1999. Hospitals and all health facilities became corporate companies and began to operate on a profit basis. This has led to a decline in health care quality, bankruptcy of unprofitable hospitals, social exclusion, emergency first aid crisis, underfunding and bankruptcy of public hospitals, and massive subsidies to the private ones. The common medical staff became a large object of exploitation, working for poverty wages and heavy overtime shifts. The directors of hospitals and senior doctoral ranks got enormously wealthy.

In the last few years, this has generated bigger and bigger discontent in this branch, culminating in organized struggle and protests. Mass protests began on March 1, 2019. (we reported about the protests: Exemplary purposeful struggle of the nurses) The main demands of health care workers are better working conditions, a living wage, and removal of commercial trade companies from the health care system. Repression against the most active organizers, such as layoffs and threats, followed. The face of the protests - Maya Ilieva was betrayed by the corrupt trade union in which she participated (CITUB). This triggered a new wave of discontent and protests in solidarity with her and the struggle. This is a proof, that health care professionals need their own independent union, and therefore they started taking action to create it. At the same time, the CITUB tried to contain the discontent and staged a fake protest, which turned out to be a complete failure and was boycotted by the entire medical profession and patient organization. Meanwhile, national protests by health care workers became more intense, and a tent camp was established in front of the ministry of health care. It also resulted in mass resignations of medical workers at hospitals, which led to panic among the authorities and hospital directors. This forced them to raise their salaries dramatically to a living wage at some of these hospitals.

On October 16, the Ministry of Health was occupied by medical workers, after meeting with the Minister of Health. The occupation was with outside support from Autonomous Workers' Confederation (AWC) activists, medical professionals, postgraduate students, etc. On social networks, they published the following message:

Our meeting at the Ministry of Health has ended, but we, medical workers, refuse to leave this institution, because it is them, that are responsible for the current catastrophic situation with the health care sector. We declare, that we will remain here, until the real resolution of the problems begin, no matter long it may be!

The occupation lasted over 4 hours, and the minister was forced to listen to their demands. He was given a one-month ultimatum to fulfill almost all of them. In the meantime, a new independent health care workers union is in the process of being formed. Protests, tent camp demonstrations at the Ministry of Health care continue every day. It is expected that if the Minister does not fulfill their demands, this will lead to an active strike action.

From the start of these protests, the Autonomous Workers' Confederation made a stand in support of the demands and struggles of health care workers, subsequently becoming actively involved. In Sofia, the AWC actively supports the protests and the tent camp at the Ministry of Health, and in Varna they also participate as a co-organizer of the protests, and issue a joint three-month medical newsletter.

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