More than two hundred union leaders and activists gathered in Chicago for the Labor Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare’s fourth national conference to strategize about next steps for labor in the movement to win universal health care. With government officials from both major parties contemplating cuts in Medicare as part of a “grand bargain,” delegates resolved to stand up to any cuts in this cornerstone social insurance program.
Conferees were welcomed and inspired by Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, who shared lessons of her union’s recent successful strike. Lewis drew important parallels between the struggles for quality public education and quality universal health care.
A second inspiring keynote came from Nicole Bernard representing the French CGT Federation of Social Security and Health Care Workers who described the struggle by French workers to defend their national health care plan and pledged strong support for American efforts to win single payer.
Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) brought delegates to their feet as he described his plan to resubmit legislation and hold hearings on Improved and Expanded Medicare for All, House Bill 676. “Health care is a right, not a privilege,” said Conyers.
Workshops were held on the anticipated impact of the Affordable Care Act on joint labor-management health and welfare funds and on already contentious collective bargaining on health care benefits with employers.
Delegates offered strategies and committed to action items to prepare union leaders in their communities for the ACA and build the reform movement. Emphasis was placed on the importance of building coalitions with medical providers, community groups and the disabled.
“There was a strong consensus that the Affordable Care Act will not solve the health care crisis,” said Martha Kuhl, a RN from Oakland, CA and Secretary-Treasurer of National Nurses United. “The broad support from so many labor leaders and union activists reaffirmed labor’s unique position as a strategic force to win real solutions that will provide quality care for all working people.”
“We don’t have a budget crisis; we have a jobs and inequality crisis,” said Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “We could solve our fiscal problems if we cut out private insurance and paid far less for health care like any other industrial country.”
The conference had an unexpectedly large turnout that included representatives from ten state and local labor councils, more than 50 different unions and especially strong representation from five state nurses associations. Delegates were joined by many supporters from national and local health care reform organizations.
Photos from the labor strategy conference may be seen here.