Labor Rallies for Health Care, But Keeps it Vague
by Jane Slaughter
Labor Notes Newletter
It’s no secret that the union movement is divided on health care reform. Resolutions favoring “Medicare for All,” a single-payer system, have been passed by 558 unions, central labor councils, state federations, and other union organizations. Yet in practice leaders of many of those same unions have acted as if actual single-payer legislation (Representative John Conyer’s HR 676 and Senator Bernie Sanders’ S703) didn’t exist.
Instead they’ve promoted milder changes that will leave private insurance companies in place, instead of kicking them out of the temple, as every other industrialized country-from Canada to Japan-has done. In effect, labor’s leaders are placing on the table first what logically should be their fall-back position. They’ve gone along with the D.C. consensus that the most that can be won is a plan that includes a “public option” to compete in the marketplace with private companies.
And they’re not wrong about the unwillingness of this Congress to buck the system. Conyers was asked in May, “What would it take this Congress to pass single payer?” He replied, “Nuclear weaponry.”
Even so, the staunchest single-payer advocates believe they will win most by continuing to agitate for what they really want rather than a compromise. These folks see large amounts of activists’ anger and energy wasted.
The June 25 rally at the Capitol sponsored by the AFL-CIO and Health Care for America Now (HCAN), both of which steer clear of single payer, was attended by 7,000 people. But the organizers “didn’t know what to get them fired up about,” said Mark Dudzic of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer. “It was a good, high-spirited group of people, who want to fight, who honestly believe they’re fighting for national health care,” he said. “A lot of the focus of the rally was to mobilize anger at private insurance companies, and it’s tragic where the leaders want to leave those folks.”