Postal workers union president calls for single-payer system

‘We are sick of a criminal system based on profit that leaves people hanging without the health care they deserve’

The following is an unofficial transcript of the remarks delivered by Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), AFL-CIO, to a protest rally outside the national offices of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 18. The protest, which drew more than 150 people – physicians, medical students, unionists and health reform activists – denounced the greed of the pharmaceutical drug industry and called for a single-payer national health system. It featured several rally speakers, one of whom was President Dimondstein, whose union represents more than 200,000 USPS employees and retirees, and nearly 2,000 private-sector mail workers. He was introduced by Dr. Robert Zarr, president of Physicians for a National Health Program, which organized the protest. A 5-minute video of Mark Dimondstein’s remarks can be viewed here.

President Mark Dimondstein’s remarks
Mark Dimondstein
It’s nice for me personally to be seeing doctors and medical students when I’m not sick. [Audience laughter, applause.] But we are sick of a system based on profit, a criminal system based on profit, that that leaves the people of this country and humanity hanging without the kind of health care that we all deserve.

Sisters and brothers, the people that I represent, for the most part, do have health insurance right now. But every day it’s going up, every day we have to pay more, every day the benefits go down, every day we’re in a fight with the insurance companies.

And for those who don’t know, the price of future health insurance is being used to choke the public Postal Service that is being demanded to put $5 billion a year into a fund for future health benefits for workers that aren’t even born yet.

So it’s hurting all of us, it’s hurting all of us, sisters and brothers.

And when we go to the bargaining table, guess what: Management always wants, and it’s not just arguing, they want our health benefits, if we can even keep them, to be less and less, and more and more coming out of the wages and benefits of the workers.

So we would all benefit – all of us – from a system of single payer and Medicare for All.

Now, we’re in front of PhRMA. I did a little thinking last night. Big Pharma wants to convince all the people of this country that you have to have this obscene system of profit-making, and CEOs that make $43 million, and lobbyists and enriching – you mention obscene profits – because that’s what’s going to drive the innovation of life-saving drugs.

You’re all in the medical field, so you know who Dr. Jonas Salk was, don’t you? [Shouts of "Yes," applause.] When he was working on a polio vaccine, which was an epidemic in this country and the world, he purposely decided that his work was not going to be based on personal gain. And when he was asked, “Who has the patent?” You know what he said? He said, “There is no patent. You can’t patent the sun.” You can’t patent the sun.

That patent, by figures today, that figure would have been worth $7 billion to the pharmaceutical industry, and he said no. And you’re here in the tradition of Dr. Salk, practicing medicine and fighting to have a system of practicing medicine that is good for the patients and good for the people of this country.

And we all have stories. We all have family and friends. My wife and I were good friends with the real Norma Rae, Crystal Lee Sutton, an American heroine. And when she got sick, and was fighting brain tumors, the insurance company of her husband cut off the benefits. And she could not afford the life-saving drugs that she needed, and she died at a fairly young age.

When my wife was sick, fighting a life-threatening thing, the medicine she needed, the shot, was $5,000 a pop. We had health insurance. What about all the people that don’t?

And when we say that Big Pharma is criminal, that’s what we mean, because people die on the altar of profits, sisters and brothers. And you know that better than anybody.

We’re very friendly with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. And when we meet with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers they brag about their health care system. They pull out their medical card – and it’s different by each province – they say, “Here it is. We go anywhere we want to. We have full choice of physicians. We have cradle to grave benefits. And we never see a bill because it’s part of the public good.”

Sisters and brothers, you’re out here fighting for the public good in your way, we feel we’re fighting for the public good in our way, in terms of defense of the public Postal Service. Together, we can fight for the kind of country we need.

It’s not an accident, to me anyway, in my thinking, that the Bernie Sanders campaign electrified this country. And what was one of the main demands of that that campaign? [Shouts of “single-payer health care.”] Single-payer health care. And in a way we should look at that primary season in this election as a referendum on those kind of issues, because the people of this country are ready for a Medicare-for-all single-payer system.

And with advocates and fighters like you, sisters and brothers, working hand in hand with unions like ours and the communities of ours, guess what? We can win, can’t we? [Cheers.]

Sisters and brothers, it’s great to be here with you. Solidarity forever, as we say in the union movement. And carry on your great fight with the great spirit you have here today. Thank you all. [Cheers, applause.]