Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
March 23, 2010

It Was the Worst of Times; It Was the Worst of Times
The “historic” health insurance bill, now seemingly unstoppable after the Sunday evening vote in the House, managed to bring out the worst in today’s political climate in the United States.

It will take a while to discover all the details of the deal itself; codicils to its 2400 pages were added even as Representatives debated it. Included in the agreement, but separate from the bill, was a hastily drafted Executive Order, gratuitously reminding women they are excluded from using the new “reform” for a medical procedure that offends some religions.

Still, the fundamentals are clear:

• Hundreds of billions of dollars will be transferred from taxes, mainly paid by the working class, to insurance and drug companies. They in turn will spend a portion of this on actual health care.

• 23 million residents of the USA are still not covered by this reform.

• For the first time, a tax on health insurance benefits will be established.

Physicians for a National Health Program issued a statement yesterday with a more comprehensive analysis.

Today’s Globe & Mail, like all Canadians somewhat puzzled by American health care, ran an article entitled, Uninsureds' gain causes little pain to U.S. business. The gains of the uninsured may be dubious but they were spot on with this observation,

“The most sweeping change to the U.S. health-care system in 50 years will create surprisingly few losers in American business and may even anoint some winners.”

As you would expect, the insurance and drug robber barons–who held no hard feelings over the theater of insurance-bashing by the President and union leaders–were strongly behind being “reformed.” The drug companies kicked in 12 million dollars for television spots to influence jittery Democrats just during the final week before the vote. Of course, the insurance peddlers of the AARP were on board from the beginning. The more suspicious AMA also decided it wasn’t so bad after all. Those groups stand to reap substantial material benefits.

But representatives of those who will pay the bill for this largesse, with little or no improvement in health care, also elbowed their way on to the train before it left without them: the AFL-CIO, Change to Win, the NAACP, to name just a few. Among feminist groups only NOW showed hesitation and their objections centered almost entirely on the anti-choice issue.

And what about those dozens of sponsors of HR676 single-payer in the House? Only two voted against the Obama plan during its first passage in the House a few months ago. Since then one found it prudent to choose early “retirement.” The other, Dennis Kucinich, after sharing a ride with the President on Air Force One, flipped.

This capitulation by mass organizations, and so-called “friends” in office, allowed the media to present obstructionist Republicans, cheerleading racist and homophobic scum, as the only opposition to the Obama plan swindle. Only Bill Moyers continued to give a fair hearing to single-payer advocates–and now he’s retiring.

In every poll where choices have been fairly framed single-payer has commanded the most public support. The challenge for us who advocate it is to mobilize this sentiment in to action in the communities, in the streets.

Perhaps not realizing the full ramification of her remarks, the new AFL-CIO organizing director Elizabeth Bunn said, “History taught us organizing does not follow the law. The law follows organizing.” This wisdom about workplace organizing is just as relevant to mass movements for social reforms. The Wagner Act, Social Security, the Fair Labor Standards Act, were not New Deal gifts. They were granted in the face of militant worker battles that threatened the whole system. The same was true of the civil rights movement, and the movement that helped end the Vietnam war.

The Best Meets Worst
But even mass movements are vulnerable to diversion when they operate within the present “real politics” of two boss parties. Just as the House debate on health insurance, which would exclude immigrants, was beginning a massive demonstration–the organizers claim 200,000–for immigrant worker rights assembled in Washington. This impressive gathering included significant numbers of Asians as well as Latinos, and prominent African-American leaders were represented on the speaker platform. It was the biggest protest around the issue in nearly four years–and the biggest of any kind during the Obama administration.

The Establishment prepared for this action. Earlier in the week, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), laid out their “framework” for a bipartisan immigration “reform” to Obama who gave it his blessing. The President, who was otherwise occupied Sunday afternoon, sent a video statement praising this hopeful development to the rally.

The bipartisan framework would offer a path to citizenship for the undocumented only after they first denounced themselves as criminals, paid substantial fines, and back taxes on any work performed off the books for chiseling bosses. It would also open up a new “guest worker” program of indentured servitude.

David Bacon, who is among the most knowledgeable about both the history and present status of immigrant movements, offers a detailed criticism of the Schumer-Graham-Obama approach in a recent article. In it he calls for a better alternative, more thoroughly integrating immigrant rights in to the broader, seemingly never ending battle for human rights.

This comes back to my tireless nag–these recent events confirm the overarching need for any of our movements today is a working class party of our own. Like a fine wine, our Labor Party was put on a cool shelf in the cellar by unions after the 2000 election. The fermentation is at its peak. It’s time to draw the cork and let it flow in to our empty glasses.

Wearin’ of the Green
There’s another Green Jobs, Good Jobs conference coming up in Washington in May. A number of unions, environmental groups, and NGOs are among the sponsors.

So are such tree-hugging corporate citizens such as the Alliance for American Manufacturing; ArcelorMittal; Association of American Railroads; BP America; Kaiser Aluminum; UPS; and Xcel Energy. Sounds like the vanguard of the same kind of grand coalition that came together around health care reform.

But there’s a major difference in such a comparison: we can’t repeal carbon emissions, deforestation, melted polar ice, or leaked radiation from a nuclear power plant. All these things are occurring while people who should know better are engaging in palaver to greenwash companies that don’t give a rodent’s backside about any jobs–green, good, or gone.

The theme of our New Crises, New Agendas conference last April was that effective countermeasures against global warming require a massive restructuring of our economy that can provide good–and green--jobs for all. That conference, small as it was, did lead to an ongoing discussion among green trade unionists in four Midwestern states.

We now think it is time to take our discussion public through the format of what we call the Alliance for Class and Climate Justice. You can read our initial statement here. We distributed this at our Tenth Anniversary meeting and will have it on our literature table at the Labor Notes Conference. We will also have an attractive button available by then.

The Alliance has a web page on kclabor.org–so far pretty bare bones but due to expand quickly.

Actually We Do Look A Bit Older
On Sunday we celebrated the Tenth Anniversary of kclabor.org with friends and supporters at the North Kansas City Library. I began my remarks, “The relationship of our hemisphere to the Sun tells us that it is Spring but Winter is not relinquishing its grip with good grace.” Most of those determined souls who gathered first had to shovel 7-8 inches of very wet, heavy snow.

Also gratifying were a number of greetings from readers around North America which you can read in the Program we distributed.

My old friend Tony Saper, a Metro bus driver and treasurer of the KC Labor Party, chaired the event and made sure we had enough time to eat anniversary cake.

Cris Mann, who has become involved in many movement activities in the relatively brief time since she immigrated from St Louis, spoke on behalf of Kansas City Labor Against the War.

If you’re interested, you can read my talk here.

That’s all for this week


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