Something big is happening. In the face of a relentless assault by the Trump Administration and the Republican Congress on the very idea of social insurance, the movement for expanded and improved Medicare for All is getting stronger every day!
On April 8, activists in over 60 cities answered the Campaign for Guaranteed Healthcare’s call to hit the streets for a National Day of Action for Improved Medicare for All. They were joined by dozens of members of BMWED/IBT who are in a protracted contract battle with the major railroad conglomerates. “To put it simply, healthcare is a damn human right,”said BMWED member Cory Aaron who works on the BNSF railroad in Missouri, “Everyone should have the healthcare they need and we’re only going to get it by standing together.”
In New York, labor support for the New York Health Act is growing. The bill would establish publicly financed universal healthcare for all state residents. It enjoys a solid majority in the state assembly and is two votes away from a majority in the senate. “We’ve never been this close,” said Assemblymember Dick Gottfried, the bill’s principal sponsor, “That’s amazing.”
The Healthy California Act is a similar initiative in California. Submitted in February, the bill has strong support in both houses and is backed by a grassroots campaign led by the California Nurses Association, with strong support from Labor United for Universal Healthcare, the California School Employees Association, the CWA, NUHW and dozens of other unions and community organizations.
In the U.S. Congress, Rep. John Conyers’ HR 676–Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act has nearly 100 co-sponsors. This is more than at any time since the bill was first submitted in 2003. Constituents have been using this week’s congressional recess to flood town hall meetings and demand that their representative work to make healthcare a right for everyone in America.
From Defense to Offense.
The attacks on the ACA and other public health programs have awoken the sleeping giant. In the process of rallying to defend these programs, people have realized that we need to do much more than just circle the wagons around inadequate and flawed patchwork programs. If we’re going to fight, why not fight for the kind of healthcare that every American needs and deserves: guaranteed healthcare for everyone?
Medicare for All has become the rallying cry for the healthcare justice movement. Politicians have responded to that call because they see that people are mobilizing and will hold their feet to the fire. And, like BMWED, many unions are locked in tough contract fights and see the urgency of taking healthcare off the bargaining table by making it a right for everyone. As in New York and California, labor participation will add invaluable resources and organizing capacity to our movement and is essential for victory.
Strike While the Iron is Hot.
As momentum shifts in our favor, we need to be clear on what we are fighting for. HR 676 sets the standard for what a single payer Medicare for all national health program should look like. Check to see if your representative is a co-sponsor and either thank them for their support or urge them to add their name. Senator Sanders has announced that he will shortly submit a single-payer bill in the Senate. We need to start lining up other Senators to support him.
Unions should let potential candidates know that they will make support for Medicare for All a priority issue in their endorsements for 2018 and beyond. They need to educate and mobilize members while connecting healthcare justice to their bargaining strategies and building alliances in their communities. Our website has a number of resources, including PowerPoints and briefing papers, that unionists can use for this purpose.
We are not out of the woods yet. It is likely that there will be renewed attempts to repeal the ACA and replace it with a plan that slashes healthcare for the working class while giving massive tax cuts to the rich. There will also be continued attempts to cut public health and social insurance programs as part of the 1%’s ruthless drive to redistribute wealth upward.
As we wage these defensive fights, it is important to remember that “Trumpcare.1” was defeated by a massive outpouring of grassroots anger. This is the key to victory. We will win by keeping our eye on the prize and focusing on building a powerful social movement to fight for the healthcare we all deserve.