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National heroes, disposable workers. How collective action in the health and social care sector during the pandemic negotiated with the self-sacrificing worker ideal

During the pandemic, the ideal of the self-sacrificing health and social care worker became both more powerful and more unsustainable than ever. This article explores the manner and extent to which health and social care workers collectively challenged this ideal. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Italy, this paper discusses mobilizations organized within three occupations: doctors in training, nurses, and social care workers. The study finds that collective action partially rejected and partially reproduced the self-sacrificing worker ideal. Moreover, it shows how inequality regimes, imposing this ideal through classist, gendered, ageist, and racist-nationalist processes in a pattern specific to each occupation, fundamentally shape the ways in which the ideal is challenged, as does the political culture of the groups organizing the mobilizations.

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