Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
May 9, 2011

Nursing Us Back To Health
Whether through our own medical needs or those of friends and loved ones, most of us come to recognize the indispensable role of nurses in nurturing physical, mental and emotional health. Over the past three decades or so many more of nurse professional associations came to devote major resources to collective bargaining as well. They were motivated not only by the same goals as blue and white collar workers–securing fair wages, benefits, and working conditions–but also to defend their ability to adequately deliver patient care in an industry increasingly emphasizing profits over people.

Being on the front lines of care giving, nurses recognized before most in the labor movement that while the technology and practice of American medicine is second to none its affordable delivery to all who need it is undermined by a fundamentally flawed system. Insurance companies ration our care while making us pay dearly. Drug companies, and equipment manufacturers charge outrageous prices that have little relation to the actual costs of production.

This systemic crisis cannot be resolved through collective bargaining. Nurse advocates such as the California Nurses Association, in addition to adopting ambitious organizing and bargaining goals, also became the foremost champions of structural reform of American health care that is known by the curious designation of “single-payer.” Inspired by the system called Medicare in Canada, along with some significant improvements to that model, single-payer would guarantee all needed health services, drugs, and devices to everyone, and would allow individual choice of doctors--all at no patient out-of-pocket cost. It would be financed by a single payer–the Federal government–similar to the way American Medicare for seniors has long been done. There would be no more for-profit insurance standing between us and the care we need. Drug and equipment manufacturers would have to negotiate more reasonable prices with this enormous single-payer. The share of GDP being spent on health costs–presently more than seventeen percent–could be substantially reduced while expanding delivery of actual health care.

When a promising single-payer movement in the early Nineties got hijacked by the doomed Clinton health care “reform,” the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers union, prodded by the late Tony Mazzocchi, soon launched an initiative called Labor Party Advocates. Along with opposition to NAFTA, it called for a new working class party to fight for what was called Just Health Care–a detailed plan, including a realistic budget, for implementing single-payer. CNA signed on early and remained active supporters of the Labor Party project until dwindling support from unions after the 2000 election rendered it dormant on the national level.

CNA has pursued the single-payer fight on many fronts, promoting Michael Moore’s SiCKO film, and winning a pro-single-payer resolution by the national AFL-CIO. Even after adoption of Obama’s sham health care reform, they support projects such as Labor Campaign for Single Payer.

CNA also launched a National Nurse Organizing Committee to start taking their style of professional development combined with militant unionism to unorganized nurses in other states. In December, 2009, CNA joined with several other organizations to form a “nurse super-union,” now known as National Nurses United.

NNU has won numerous organizing victories and has been involved in a number of high profile strike and lockout battles for patient care and against take-backs. We have noted many of their inspiring actions in this column.

But they have not only been leading the good fight for nurses. They have not just been keeping the fight for single-payer going. Though they have little organized presence in Wisconsin, they mobilized major solidarity with the recent big battles there. While others tried to say “it’s not about the money,” the nurses said it should be and called for holding the line against concessions. They also exposed President Obama’s betrayal of his explicit campaign promise to support workers under attack.

Now the NNU has taken another initiative, what they call a “Main Street Contract.” Here is how they introduce it on their website,

Join our fight to raise standards for America’s working people!

With the erosion of living standards for many, and new attacks almost daily from Wall Street-funded politicians, all Americans need a new contract, a binding relationship for their security, for their families, and for future generations. To achieve these goals, National Nurses United is launching a new campaign, for all:

Jobs at living wages to reinvest in America.
Equal access to quality, public education.
Guaranteed healthcare with a single standard of care.
A secure retirement with the ability to retire in dignity.
Good housing, and protection from hunger.
A safe and healthy environment.
The right to collectively organize and bargain.
A just taxation system where corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share.
Restoring the promise — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.

Of course, these worthy concepts need to be fleshed out but this is precisely the way discourse should be framed during this period of crisis. It is not only nurses promoting solidarity with other unionists. It is also a move toward returning to the perspective of the unions being a social movement taking up the issues of the entire working class–the great majority of whom are, of course, unorganized. The historic gains of industrial unions during the Great Depression could not have been won without such an approach. Existing unions don’t stand much of a chance for survival during a jobless recovery without reviving it.

This Main Street Contract can be a useful point of departure for needed discussion not only in our union halls but in workplace break rooms, public meetings, barber shops and beauty parlors–wherever working people gather. The nurses offer us some good medicine. If we’re smart, we’ll take it.

Please Sign the Petition
Last week we reported on the far-right attacks, utilizing doctored video, on the Labor Studies program at the University of Missouri St Louis and Kansas City campuses. (All of our past columns are available through a link near the bottom of this page.) While UMKC officials have so far rejected the bogus video and have taken no action against Judy Ancel, UMSL is sticking with their dismissal of Don Giljum. The United Association of Labor Education has posted an on-line petition to UMSL Chancellor Thomas George asking that he defend academic freedom and labor education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. You can find the petition

A Benefit Concert For Our Union Maid
As if battling cancer wasn’t enough, our favorite labor singer, Anne Feeney recently lost a confrontation with an eighteen-wheeler--leaving her with a broken right wrist and a totaled-out car. Even this additional adversity was not enough to dampen her spirits or sour her sense of humor. Anne’s tireless devotion to working class causes has won her many friends and some of them are getting together for a
benefit concert on her behalf in New York this Friday the 13. Headlining the event at the Local 1199 Auditorium will be Pete Seeger and Peter Yarrow. If you can’t make the New York gig you can send a donation to Anne through her PayPal account on her website.

After the Peak It’s All Down Hill
defines Peak Oil as, “the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline.” In other words, it’s when oil can’t keep up with demand and shortages can only grow. The media frequently cites the optimistic view the peak will come around 2020. Last week Faith Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, reminded news agencies that the IEA believes Peak was actually reached five years ago.

Mel Gibson’s Mad Max films were an early projection of one possible scenario in a world of oil scarcity. The popular BBC MI5 show frequently works Peak Oil in to the adventures of the secret police saving Queen and Country. Beyond anything the fiction writers could come up with are the very real wars currently in progress in Iraq and Libya, and constant threats against Iran and Venezuela, largely motivated by the drive of Big Business to secure access to dwindling oil reserves.

Even leaving aside wide-screen mayhem, without conversion to alternative energy oil scarcity will inevitably lead to a collapse of the global capitalist economy. There is a way out, if not for global capitalism at least for us. Fiona Harvey writing in the Guardian about a just published report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says,

“Renewable energy could account for almost 80% of the world's energy supply within four decades - but only if governments pursue the policies needed to promote green power.”

That would not only lessen the present dependence on oil; even more importantly it would give the world a shot at slowing climate change before we reach irreversible and catastrophic levels. But so far the needed conversion is not making nearly enough progress. A report published last month by the IEA says surging demand for fossil fuels is “outstripping deployment of clean energy technologies.”

Once again, the market–nurtured and defended by politicians and the armed forces–is shown to ignore science as they destroy both our living standards and biosphere.

In Brief...
¶ About 11,000 Saskatchewan teachers carried out a one-day strike last Thursday and 2,000 of them marched in protest to the provincial capitol in Regina. They have been working without a contract since last August and are far apart on wages in school board negotiations.
¶ A record number of 76 women were elected to Canadian Federal Parliament–nearly all NDP.
¶ Our Canadian cousins also launched a new form of mass action now being imitated elsewhere–the “Slut Walk.” This was inspired by remarks of a Toronto cop to a high school assembly about personal safety, “I've been told I'm not supposed to say this – however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Marchers adorned in stereotypical “slutwear” advanced such slogans as “Sluts Say Yes–But No Means No,” mixing sardonic ridicule with their serious, just complaints.
¶ Don’t tell fast food giant McDonalds we’re in a jobless recovery. In highly publicized job fairs across the USA on April 19 they collected more than one mln job applications. They had projected hiring 50,000 but got so caught up in community spirit they actually accepted 62,000 for full-and part-time positions (no figures on the ratio.) The average pay will be 8.50 per hour and most will receive no benefits. Too late for the April jobs report this spurt in hiring will show up in May.

That’s all for this week.

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

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