Saturday, January 3, 2015


Last month I not only did a lot of travelling on planes but also trains. Sometimes the trains ran smoothly, according to schedules. Other times they stopped altogether, because of strikes, train journeys flashing on boards but never to run. During strikes travellers are reminded of the invisible human work that goes into getting them from A to B, C and D.

There is also of course much invisible human labour that either gets displaced by, or is involved in, the operating of pneumatic tubes. And in times of revolt (just as in times of breakdown), this invisible work also becomes more visible.

Several weeks ago, hospital workers in Malta took action against their working conditions during a strike. The Union Haddiema Maghqudin issued directives to laboratory technicians of the Mater Dei hospital in Malta to refuse to process essential and urgent blood tests. They were to do this by not accepting blood samples through the pneumatic tube system.

This meant that no blood results were issued and nurses and midwives were forced, according to Malta Today, to "abandon their wards" and take the samples physically to the laboratory, where they could "beg" technicians to perform the tests. The hospitals encouraged their staff to counteract the strike by continuing to send samples through the tubes, and if returned, to keep sending them in hope that the technicians accept the blood samples eventually.

It was a battle conducted through the tubes, with blood literally, flying back and forth. The hospital and newspapers both declared this a matter of life and death. The issue not only highlighted how integral the infrastructure is to patient care, but also the kinds of work both entailed in keeping it running, as well as the kind of work it replaced, nurses work on wards for example. In this case an infrastructure of connection become central to, and highlighted the disconnections between hospitals, governments and staff in which it was embedded.

Image my own.

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