President Obama owes his re-election to the labor movement. Once again, America’s unionists mobilized in a massive ground campaign that helped to turn the tide. They stood up against the big money machines that would have established a national union-busting regime dedicated to the care and feeding of the 1%. Labor surely made the difference in the key battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Virginia.
Labor was there in all of the key electoral fights for justice, equality and opportunity. In California, unions led an all-out effort to pass Proposition 30 and defeat Proposition 32. Prop 30 provides emergency funding for California schools by taxing the rich and raising the state sales tax by a quarter of a cent. It is the first general tax increase approved by Californians in more than 2 decades and its passage will avert massive cuts to education and tens of thousands of layoffs.
Prop 32 would have made it virtually impossible for unions to expend money and resources on exactly the type of political mobilizations that passed Prop 30. It was decisively defeated despite the fact that huge amounts of corporate and super-Pac monies were expended on its behalf, including an $11 million secret contribution from slush funds with ties to the Koch brothers and Karl Rove. “We have a message for the Koch brothers,” said California Federation of Labor leader Art Pulaski. “We have your number. We will follow you everywhere.”
The election also returned many single-payer advocates to Congress with large majorities including John Conyers in Michigan, Jim McDermott in Washington, Raul Grijalva in Arizona and Keith Ellison in Minnesota. Alan Grayson, an outspoken advocate of healthcare for all, was elected to Congress in Florida after a two-year absence. In Illinois, single-payer champion Dr. David Gill appears to have lost his campaign for Congress by a razor-thin margin (though he has yet to concede). In the Senate, Bernie Sanders will be joined by the likes of Tammy Baldwin (WI), Mazie Hirono (HI) and Elizabeth Warren (MA).
These victories once again show how labor can be the crucial player in any fight for social justice. They re-affirm the importance of the mission of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer: to ensure that the labor movement at all levels leads the effort to make healthcare a right for everyone in America. We will win Medicare for All when the labor movement and its allies commit the kind of resources, organization and mobilization that we showed ourselves capable of in this election.
Now that the election is over, it is urgent that we pivot to the defense of the social insurance model, which will surely come under attack when the lame duck Congress returns to town to deal with the “fiscal cliff” negotiations. Massive pressure will be brought to bear to achieve a “grand bargain” that preserves tax cuts for the rich while cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for working people. We know that the fate of our fight for healthcare justice is tied up with the battle to defend and expand the social insurance model. We need to join with all who oppose any cuts to these core safety net programs.
In many ways, this election has cleared our way forward. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is now the indisputable law of the land. All of those who spent the last four years advocating for and defending the ACA because they saw it as a milestone on the path to healthcare justice have a choice to make: either circle the wagons around a flawed and partial reform or join the fight to win healthcare as a right for everyone in America.
The ACA creates new challenges and difficulties in collective bargaining in both the private and public sectors. It will not reverse the trend of employers to transfer costs and liabilities onto the backs of workers. Now that the election is over, unions must openly confront these challenges and develop a plan to remove healthcare from the bargaining table.
The AFL-CIO Executive Council has affirmed its support for Medicare for All as the most effective long-term solution to the healthcare crisis facing working people. They have pledged to, “…keep moving forward until the right to a single high standard of health care is a reality for everyone in America.”
On January 11, 2013, the Labor Campaign for Single Payer will convene a National Strategy Conference in Chicago, Illinois to plan how to advance our movement during the second Obama administration. If your union believes that we must step up the fight for healthcare justice in the post-election period, you need to be at this meeting! Register today.