AFL-CIO endorses single payer healthcare
by National Nurses Movement
Wed Sep 16, 2009
The campaign for the most comprehensive healthcare reform of all, single payer, won a huge boost Tuesday as the AFL-CIO voted unanimously at its national convention in Pittsburgh to endorse the enactment of single-payer, universal healthcare.
The vote came shortly after the convention was addressed by President Obama who repeated his call for comprehensive healthcare reform, and will accompany another AFL-CIO resolution supporting other Congressional efforts to pass comprehensive reform.
It marked the first time in some two decades that the AFL-CIO, the leading voice of the American labor movement, which includes 56 unions and more than 10 million members, has been formally on record in support of single-payer, which would essentially expand and improve Medicare to cover all Americans.
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Statements by a host of delegates on the resolution, which was sponsored by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and the Alameda County (California) Central Labor Council, affirmed for many that even after a bill is passed in Congress, the fight will continue.
In urging its support, CNA/NNOC Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro, an AFL-CIO National Vice-President, noted the recent death of Crystal Lee Sutton, the real-life union organizer from the film Norma Rae who died last week after a long battle with cancer, exacerbated by her own three-year fight with her insurance company.
“No one should spend the last days of their life fighting with their insurance company,” said DeMoro. “We should not make choices of who gets healthcare based on their ethnicity, gender, or economic status. But I am addressing the labor movement, not Wall Street. And we all know what is the right thing — the moral thing — single-payer healthcare.”
The resolution notes that “the experience of Medicare (and of nearly every other industrialized country) shows the most cost-effective and equitable way to provide quality healthcare is through a single-payer system. Our nation should provide a single high standard of comprehensive care for all.” It also sites specific single-payer bills, including HR 676, which has 86 cosponsors in Congress.
It also followed a reception hosted by CNA/NNOC and other unions Monday night featuring filmmaker Michael Moore whose previous film SiCKO presaged the current national debate with its indictment of the healthcare industry, and was on hand to premiere his latest film, Capitalism: A Love Story to the AFL-CIO convention.
Moore recalled that 65 years ago President Franklin Roosevelt proposed a second bill of rights which called for a right to universal medical care, a fight that continues. He noted that every day the healthcare industry spends over $1 million to block reform while thousands of Americans continue to lose coverage, and urged labor and community activists to keep up the fight.
Regardless of the outcome of the current healthcare legislative action, said United Steel Workers President Leo Gerard, “we’re going to continue the fight for single-payer. I’m not in favor of universal insurance, I’m in favor of universal healthcare. We are going to fight to make sure every single American gets high quality healthcare.”
“We know the patient care crisis, we see it every day,” said CNA/NNOC co-president Zenei Cortez, RN at the reception. “We will not rest until we get rid of the private insurance companies that profit off of suffering.”
Greg Junemann, president of International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers and chair of the HR 676 Labor Caucus, which has won similar endorsements from hundreds of international and local unions and state and local labor federations, noted to the convention the unity of labor in fighting for real reform. He also cited the ongoing fight of workers every day to protect the health coverage many have now.
“The labor movement needs to set our flag on the top of the mountain, and that we will not rest until we have single-payer healthcare for all,” said Junemann.
Clyde Rivers, past president of the California School Employees Association, noted the huge drain of healthcare costs on California schools and school workers. The Los Angeles school district, he noted, “could save $20 billion if we had single payer. Think of all the programs that could be put back in place” if those resources were returned.
Donna DeWitt, president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO, who noted to groans and jeers that her governor is Mark Sanford and her Congress member is Joe Wilson, added that “we understand struggle and that struggle makes us stronger.”
Labor unions around the country have been in the forefront of grassroots actions around the nation in support of single-payer and many labor bodies submitted resolutions to the national convention in support of an endorsement. It was also the culmination of a growing, national push within the labor movement. More than 566 labor organizations, including 22 international unions, 134 central labor councils, and 39 state AFL-CIO federations, have also endorsed HR 676.
Labor has been central to enactment of similar systems around the world, DeMoro noted, in her comments paying tribute as well to the many international guests at the convention.
She pointed out how most of them represent industrial nations where no one dies from lack of health coverage or goes bankrupt or loses homes due to un-payable medical bills.
“The reason? Because they have single-payer or other national healthcare systems, and because your labor movement led the fight for healthcare. Here insurance companies are at the apex of power, controlling our lives. It is not the public option we should be questioning, it is the private option and its horrendous power over our families,” DeMoro said.
“When we meet again in four years, perhaps if we adopt single-payer, we will be like all our international brothers and sisters in this room, and no longer be the richest nation in the world but just 37th in healthcare,” DeMoro said.