Week In Review
A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
July 13, 2008
A chronic malady afflicting the labor and progressive movements in the USA erupts in to acute flare-ups every four years. Delusional symptoms of class subservience syndrome include the offer of sacrifices to one of two contending rivals to serve the gods of capital.
Not only treasure is involved in these offerings–though there’s plenty of mammon spread around. Principles are tossed on ritual fires as well. We have recounted in past columns the deference shown to our masters on questions of war and environment. This past week fealty was expressed in an area even more basic to our day to day functioning, affecting every contract negotiation, sometimes posing literally life and death questions.
That issue is, of course, healthcare. It is by far the most contentious factor in collective bargaining in the United States. Unlike the rest of the industrialized world, healthcare in America is a commodity, just like food and fuel. Like their class cousins in Agribusiness and Big Oil, the healthcare robber barons are squeezing us to the last drop. As long as the working class remains dependent on private health insurance tied to their employer both the effectiveness of our actual healthcare and our overall standard of living will continue to sink. The system must be replaced.
Over the past couple of years, we saw a promising revival of the movement for at least a Canadian-style system, known as single-payer. Michael Moore’s excellent film, SiCKO, demonstrated what is possible to a wider audience than ever. HR676, single-payer legislation introduced by Rep John Conyers, got an impressive number of sponsors in the House. Many government bodies and associations, such as the U.S. Conference of Mayors, have passed resolutions supporting HR676, as have groups such as the NAACP. The All Unions Committee For Single Payer Health Care has lined up endorsement of the bill by over 400 union bodies, including the majority of state labor feds and a number of “international” unions.
Leading the charge has been the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA). Single-payer is also the signature campaign of the Labor Party, working for it both in the unions, and in important coalitions in states such as Ohio and Florida. And even 15,000 doctors, organized in Physicians for a National Health Program, are on board for HR676.
But such an uppity movement by workers, healthcare professionals, and community allies is a mortal threat to a powerful section of the ruling class--and thus does not fit in to the electoral plans of our current savior’s “run to the middle.” So enter the new Health Care for America Now! (HCAN), a section 501(c)(4) issue advocacy organization. Its 100+ organizations include ACORN, AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Campaign for America's Future, Citizen Action, Jobs with Justice, Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition, MoveOn, National Council of La Raza, National Education Association, National Women's Law Center, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, SEIU, the United Food and Commercial Workers and USAction. They started with a financial commitment of 500,000 dollars from each of the 13 organizations on their steering committee and a 10 million dollar grant from Atlantic Philanthropies. Their treasurer in charge of this slush fund, and their main “public face,”is Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards–who was the first choice of many labor statesmen.
Being tax-exempt, Health Care for America Now! cannot endorse candidates. But it is a most fortunate coincidence that the healthcare they propose for us jibes with the wind of change in Senator Obama’s sails. It is filled with vacuous platitudes–and it guarantees a continuing role for the robber barons.
In an aptly titled response, Why is Health Care for America Now giving up on real reform?, CNA’s Rose Ann DeMoro writes,
“The groups behind the new coalition are working in concert with the Obama campaign and Democratic leaders in Congress to build ‘consensus’ around a plan that would presumably be introduced in the first days of the next administration, and pushed through to a quick vote before opponents can mount a ‘Harry and Louse’-style counter attack.
“But, in search of a supposedly politically viable plan, the advocates of this approach have surrendered in advance on the only overhaul that will actually cure the disease, a single-payer, expanded and improved Medicare for all reform.
“...They've also missed one of the most important lessons of the failure of the Clinton plan of 1993-94 which collapsed in part due to the absence of a broad, grassroots, activist movement needed to counter the insurance industry. Only single payer engenders such a movement, the very reason the single payer bill now in Congress, HR 676, has more co-sponsors than any other reform bill with tens of thousands around the country already working to enact it.”
Jenny Brown, co-chair of the Alachua County Labor Party in Gainesville, Florida, also takes on HCAN in an excellent article,
“In fact, the plan espoused by the HCAN coalition seems to be very close to what Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton advocated all through the primary -- regulate private insurance companies more, provide a mind-boggling patchwork of income-based subsidies (creating another layer of paperwork, tests and qualifications), and provide a public insurance alternative as a last resort. Worse, it continues to waste the money that could cover everyone. ‘The HCAN proposal forgoes most of the $350 billion annually in administrative savings possible under single payer national health insurance,’ writes David Himmelstein of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP).
“...The HCAN approach toys with, but then discards, the best leverage we have in the health care fight: the popular demand that insurance companies be kicked out of our health care system entirely. Eventually they will be, but it will be despite, not because of, the anemic plans of ‘Health Care for America Now.’”
As with the war and environment, the struggle for genuine healthcare reform will not be won in the November election. We need to carry on the fight now--and be prepared for more of the same no matter who sits in the White House next January. We will not obtain fundamental reforms such as single-payer until we overcome class subservience syndrome. Labor should be the lead–not the tail pinned to the Democrat donkey. The only known treatment for our debilitation is a party of our own. It’s time to revive the project–shamefully neglected by our union leadership–of building the one party that has stayed on message on healthcare and every other vital issue of the day–the Labor Party.
In 1964 the University of California campus at Berkeley was the scene of a tumultuous Free Speech fight that is generally credited as the launching of the youth radicalization of the Sixties that had a profound impact on American society. Tomorrow a test of the right to strike is shaping up at that same campus.
To try to break a deadlock in negotiations with UC, AFSCME has called a five-day strike of 8,500 service workers. The UC bosses had no trouble finding a friend in a black robe--Judge Patrick Mahoney, whining “irreparable injury to the university,”has enjoined the union from “calling, engaging in, continuing, sanctioning, inducing, aiding, enticing, encouraging, abetting or assisting” any kind of strike or slow down. Lakesha Harrison, president of AFSCME Local 3299, says “it's the right of the employees to strike,” and, as of Sunday evening, the strike is still on. We’ll keep an eye on this important story.
Toying At Toyako
When asked if the global warming deal brokered at the G-8 summit was a step forward the head of the UN Environment Program, Achim Steiner, replied, “No way.” He went on to add, “We are wasting time, the consequences are becoming more and more dramatic, the cost of reversing the global warming trend is greater and greater...”
Shortly after President Bush returned from the confab in Japan his EPA announced that, even though under a court order to do so, they would be issuing no greenhouse gas regulations during the life of this administration.
Congress can not be accused of doing nothing. Republicans have dropped their perennial call for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to concentrate on making a deal to open up off-shore drilling. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin told the Wall Street Journal he and Majority Leader Reid are “open to drilling and responsible production” in areas long off limits out of environmental concerns.
That’s all for this week.
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