“Now is the time to win Medicare for All!” So said Minnesota Nurses Association Executive Director Rose Roach in her opening keynote on behalf of National Nurses United at last month’s National Single Payer Strategy Conference.
Roach went on to explain why Medicare for All “is deeply personal for nurses” and warned attendees not to be co-opted by the various “Medicare for Some” proposals currently being circulated as a more “viable” alternative. As a trade unionist, she declared that, “Bargaining for healthcare is a failed strategy. It is nothing more than a massive transfer of wealth from workers to insurance companies and pharma…It is a powerful weapon against workers in the class warfare struggle that we are all engaged in.”
Sara Nelson, the President of the Association of Flight Attendants, also addressed the opening plenary. She laid out why legendary UAW leader Walter Reuther would be “furious to see Democratic candidates for president standing on a stage and using union members as a wedge to argue against creating a national single-payer system.” She added that, “When someone tries to tell the country that single-payer is a threat to ‘great’ union plans, I just want to scream!”
A Conference of Organizers
The October conference in Portland, Oregon was jointly sponsored by the Labor Campaign for Single Payer and Healthcare Now. It brought together 350 activists and leaders from around the country to take stock of the incredible progress our movement has made and prepare for the challenges that lie ahead.
The Labor Campaign’s Mark Dudzic opened the “State of the Movement” plenary by describing the “magic moment” that we find ourselves in and urging the Medicare for All movement to take up some of the tools in the labor organizers’ toolkit to build unity, prepare our supporters for the fight ahead and bring new voices to the table. Ben Day, the executive director of Healthcare Now, closed the session by outlining the organizing imperatives that the conference was structured around:
- Learn how to rapidly scale up our movement to respond to the opportunities of 2020 and beyond.
- Build real and durable solidarity throughout the healthcare justice movement as the basis for unbreakable unity.
- Move politicians and other key institutional players from passive to active support for Medicare for All.
- Empower our diverse movement to do a better job by supporting each group’s initiatives in areas where they are strongest and/or have a natural base.
- Understand how to disrupt, divide and weaken our opponents in the medical-industrial complex and the political establishment.
Other plenary presentations amplified these themes. Alex Lawson from Social Security Works broke down the attacks coming from the medical-industrial complex. Jose LaLuz from the Debs-Jones-Douglass Institute chaired a panel describing how vulnerable constituencies could be scapegoated to break our unity and undermine support for Medicare for All.
Reinforcing the importance of “Big Organizing”, attendees heard an extensive presentation from NNU’s Kelly Coogan-Gehr and Jasmine Rutty that frankly assessed the first year’s progress of the Nurses Campaign to Win Medicare for All and discussed some of the plans in store for the upcoming year.
Panelists also discussed their organization’s plans for 2020 and businessman Richard Master announced the formation of Business for Medicare for All with the goal of organizing 10,000 business supporters. Canadian doctor Monika Dutt appeared by video link to answer questions about the Canadian single-payer system. Darius Gordon from the Center for Popular Democracy closed out the conference with a powerful call to build a movement with everybody in through confronting inequities and bringing the most affected voices to the table.
Workshops and Training
The conference featured 14 workshops covering a wide range of policy issues and organizing skills that showed the breadth and depth of our movement. At the “Head Them Off at the Pass!” workshop, trade unionists began a discussion about what is driving the recent incidents of backpedaling on Medicare for All by some national labor leaders and how grassroots leaders can constructively engage with their unions to ensure their voices are heard. Workshop leaders are working with the Labor Campaign to continue to expand upon this discussion.
Another workshop of central concern to trade unionists was “Reimagining a Just Transition” organized by the Debs-Jones-Douglass Institute (DJDI). Speakers laid bare the long history of betrayals of workers displaced as a result of trade treaties, environmental regulation, automation and other public policy decisions as well as the little-known story of how rail unions have, through close to a century of organizing and advocacy, created a network of real job protections and transitional benefits. Nearly 2 million workers will be affected by the transition to Medicare for All. Participants agreed that we must take the lead on this issue before our opponents appropriate it and use it as a wedge to divide workers. The Labor Campaign will be working closely with DJDI to make this happen.
DJDI also hosted a pre-conference training featuring its new worker-centered curriculum, “Runaway Inequality and the Crisis in U.S. Healthcare.” The training drew a packed house of enthusiastic participants and four unions have already committed to explore doing a version for their own members. DJDI will be organizing “Train the Trainer” workshops in the new year and is actively looking for other unions who are interested in bringing this to their members and allies.
A full description of conference workshops as well as videos of all plenary sessions is available at the Healthcare Now Wiki Page here.
The 2020 Primary season is upon us. This will be followed by likely platform fights at the summer political conventions and the debates and mobilizations in the general election. The coming year will be a watershed year for our movement and Medicare for All will surely be a central theme throughout all of the phases of the election. We need to seize this moment and work towards creating the conditions that could result in the passage of Medicare for All legislation in 2021 and beyond. Our work must include:
- Taking advantage of every opportunity to educate voters and mobilize them around Medicare for All as well as holding politicians accountable to make real commitments to support real Medicare for All policies.
- Working with the Nurses Campaign and other “Big Organizing” initiatives to help scale up our movement to meet the post-election challenges.
- Bringing in new forces from the national labor movement, expanding our grassroots labor outreach and holding labor leaders responsible for the positions in support of Medicare for All that have been democratically adopted by their unions.
- Making sure that we build a worker-centered transition to Medicare for All.
October’s national strategy conference has convinced me that our movement has matured, unified and grown in response to the explosion of popular support for Medicare for All. Now we must fight on until victory. Everybody In, Nobody Out!