From the Labor Commission of the CPUSA, updates, information, news, analysis, and organizing materials in solidarity with workers of the world.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cong. Jesse Jackson: “Fight continues for Public Option”

Cong. Jackson: “Fight continues for Public Option”

By Scott Marshall

Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr (D-Il) hosted an overflow town hall meeting on health care reform last night (8.18.09) He hailed the meeting, held in a local church, as a model of civil and respectful debate and discussion. In lively back and forth with the crowd, Jackson fielded questions and invited participants to tell their stories. Jackson concluded that the fight for “a more perfect union” that features comprehensive health care for all will be an ongoing fight, even after passage of HR 3200, the House version of health care reform. “But we have to win this one first,” he declared.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Push grows for public option

John Wojcik
People's World

As President Obama continues his push for comprehensive health care reform and as reports emerge about “compromises” designed to win backing from Senate Blue Dog Democrats and Republicans, Health Care for America Now, a huge national coalition, and some unions have launched a new $650,000 television ad campaign targeting GOP leaders in the House and Senate and Republican members of Congress.

In support of a robust public option, the ad points out that while the Republicans take advantage of such a plan as members of Congress, they oppose giving the same benefit that would lower costs to both American consumers and small businesses. The ad blames their reluctance to back a public option on the millions of dollars in campaign contributions the lawmakers have taken from the health care industry.

The ad is running this week nationally and in the districts of Republican members of Congress who have spoken out against health care reform. The national version targets House Republican leader John Boehner, House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, Senate Majority Leader Mitchell McConnell, and Senate Republican Whip John Kyl. The national ads are paid for by HCAN, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

“These Republicans on Capitol Hill are working for the insurance industry, not the American people,” said AFSCME International President Gerald McEntee. “They are putting profits ahead of people, and the voters need to know it. Congress has to make real reform happen – Americans can’t wait for reform that guarantees quality, affordable health care for all.”

The 1.6 million member AFSCME, one of the leading members of HCAN, represents public service workers in hundreds of different jobs across the country.

“It’s shameful that elected officials who, because of a public plan, don’t have to worry about being able to see a doctor when they get sick would stand in the way of making sure every family and every business in our country has the same guarantee of quality, affordable care,” said Richard Kirsch, national campaign manager for HCAN. “Is their opposition to health insurance reform motivated by the millions of dollars in campaign contributions they’ve taken from the health care industry?”

The stepped up efforts on behalf of a bill that includes a strong public option come in response to reports that pressure is on in the halls of government to craft a compromise that would replace the public option with either a proposal for a non-profit co-operative or a mechanism for creating a public option only after it becomes clear that other measures are leaving too many people still uninsured.

AP has reported that remarks by the president in Colorado Sunday where, after giving detailed reasons for his support for a public option, he described that option as only part of his health care reform agenda, as indicative of his willingness to sacrifice it for the sake of compromise. Other reports cite remarks by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius who described the public option as “not the essential element” of the administration’s healthcare agenda and remarks by White House spokesman Robert Gibbs Sunday on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”

Pressed on whether the administration was willing to compromise on the public option, Gibbs would only say that the president has thus far sided with the notion that choice and competition can best be achieved with a public option.

Former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean said this morning that he expected the House to pass a bill with a public option and the Senate to pass a bill, with 60 votes, that will not include a public option. He said that the two bills will then have to be reconciled and that if there is a strong enough push from people across the country combined with the fact that the final bill, under allowable “budget reconciliation procedures,” will need only a simple majority of 50 votes, “we will end up with the public option.”

There are some Blue Dogs in the Senate who, under this scenario, would be freed up to vote “no,” the thinking goes, to cover their so-called “right” flank without actually sabotaging passage of a bill with a public option.

Health care activists aren’t taking any chances on the ins and outs of the legislative process, however, and have called for a continued push for the public option during the closing weeks of August.

Dean said last week at a labor-backed “Netroots Nation” gathering in Pittsburgh that the only thing that made health reform legislation proposed by the House worth doing was the public option. “The public option is incremental reform,” Dean said, “but there is no incrementalism without the public option.”

Progressives in Congress are more determined than ever to push for the public option.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, said Sunday, “The only way we can be sure that very low-income people who work for companies that don’t offer insurance have access to it, is through an option that would give the private insurance companies a little competition.” The congresswoman, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, also worked in the past as the chief psychiatric nurse at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Dallas.

Kirsch notes that even if the public option weren’t part of the Obama reform plan, “the right would be screaming about a ‘government take-over’ as loudly as it is now.” He noted how, during the recent period, the right shifted its focus to “scare stories about government-backed euthanasia.”

“If scuttling the public option won’t quiet the right, it will definitely quiet the left,” Kirsch warned. “And that would be disastrous to the prospects of Democrats passing legislation this fall. Giving people an alternative to the private health insurance industry is the one issue that highly motivates progressives. Over and over again at Health Care for America Now, it is what our tens of thousands of activists – from grassroots community people to high-dollar Democratic donors – want to talk about. For them it has become the measure of whether health reform is about real change or just a cosmetic lift to a broken system.

“Responding to those same voices,” Kirsch added, “four Democratic committees in two houses of Congress have passed legislation that includes a public option, and the President has consistently reaffirmed his support.”

He compared the GOP strategy for health reform to insurance company strategy for paying big medical claims, “delay and deny,” and suggested that “maybe there’s another reason that Republicans in Congress are so focused on killing the public option. They think that if they succeed in killing the public option they’ll cause mass desertion from the progressive army that’s powering the President’s agenda for reform.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How one union community took back a town hall on health care

From the AFL-CIO Blog

Here’s a firsthand account from Rosa Blumenfeld, an organizer for the North Shore (Mass.) Labor Council, on how an organized and well-briefed union presence can counter the tactics many health care reform opponents are using to disrupt congressional town hall meetings.

As we arrived at the Chelmsford Town Hall, there were already people lined up to get in. Some were wearing T-shirts with angry tea kettles on them and carrying signs saying things like, “Stop Socialized Medicine” and “Obamacare: It’s to Die For.” As we were warned, they spread out all over the room and constantly disrupted anyone, including Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.), who spoke out against their lies.

Our side had about a dozen people between the North Shore Labor Council and IUE-CWA Local 201 and another dozen from SEIU Local 615. There were many Obama supporters among the crowd of 200 inside the room, and the 200 more waiting to get in.

What worked were simple signs with large print slogans like “Real Health Insurance Reform Now,” and “Stop Insurance Company Greed.” During Tsongas’ opening remarks, we applauded forcefully and many in the room cheered. We even had folks countering the extremist amongst the crowd waiting outside.

One of the most effective points during the Q&A happened when one union woman stood up and said:

I think that everyone in this room can agree that we need to stop unnecessary death. My grandmother got sick and died from breast cancer because her insurance company refused to pay for her treatment. The system isn’t working. People are dying. We need this health insurance reform.

What we were not warned about was the incredible amount of tension that it would create both within the room and within ourselves. Even our most active members that attended were exhausted by the time it was over.

Two things became very clear during the course of this town hall event. First, if we hadn’t been there, they would have eaten the congresswoman alive. These people were constantly shouting and were not interested in discussion or debate. All they wanted was to disrupt things as much as possible. Because of our support, she stood her ground and answered the questions in a way that supported the public health insurance option.

Second, we have to keep our message on the insurance companies whose insatiable (and thus far unchecked) greed got us into this mess in the first place. We cannot focus on the Democrats who support a public option in health care reform or even President Obama. In our meetings with elected officials, it is entirely appropriate to thank them for their support and push them to be stronger advocates, if necessary. But in our public message to counter the extremists, we must keep the focus on corporate greed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Labor shifts its health care drive into the streets

by John Wojcik
People's World

Organized groups of union members, responding to right-wing attempts to de-rail the movement for health care reform, are turning out for virtually every health care rally and town hall meeting in the nation, knocking on doors, and are holding their own demonstrations. The efforts are part of a special 30-day mobilization that began August 6.

At a health care rally in Chicago last week members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, carrying their union banners, formed a human chain along Dearborn Street to separate and help protect a large and peaceful crowd of health care activists from a loud and hostile group of right wingers.

In a telephone interview Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO’s secretary-treasurer, indicated that one of the major purposes of labor’s stepped up mobilization for health care reform this month is “to counter the right-wing-organized riots that have disrupted congressional town hall meetings with shouts, chants, shoving and disinformation.” At one such meeting the radical right strung up the local congressman in effigy.

Trumka described the right-wing actions against health care reform as “riots bought and paid for by special interests, the Republicans and the radical right.”

Noting that labor demonstrations are “ also passionate, heartfelt and often loud,” Trumka said, “This is not what corporate-funded mobs are engaging in when they show up to disrupt meetings.”

“Major health care reform is closer than ever to passage,” he declared, “and it is no secret special interests want to weaken or block it. These mobs are not there to participate. As their own strategy memo states, they have been sent by their corporate and lobbyist bank-rollers to disrupt, heckle and block meaningful debate. This is a desperation move.

Mob rule is not democracy. People have a democratic right to express themselves and our elected leaders have a right to hear from their constituents – not organized thugs whose sole purpose is to shut down the conversation and attempt to scare our leaders into inaction,” Trumka said.

The unions are also taking their fight to the nation’s airwaves. The AFL-CIO, AFSCME and others are funding ads that explain to radio listeners and TV viewers the essential points of health care plans emerging from Congress, what the unions see as the most important parts of those plans and what they see as the positive role of the Obama administration.

The union-backed Americans United for Change is mounting a major offensive against the insurance companies.

“Make no mistake: Cigna and the other private insurance companies created the health care mess – and as long as profits keep going up, they are perfectly happy to wallow in the mess forever,” said Tim McMahon, the groups acting executive director.

The stepped up campaign by the unions was launched Aug. 6 by AFL-CIO President John Sweeney who will retire in mid-September. He said that those campaigning on behalf of the nation’s unions are calling on Congress to “side with workers, and not the insurance companies.”

“Side with health insurers and vote for legislation that continues their control over health care in America, or vote for reform that puts people in charge of their health care,” Sweeney said in a memo to union presidents and state federation and local council leaders. “The question for us is: Will we let them make health care ‘Obama’s Waterloo’ or will we make it the next big step in our march to turn around America?”

A major part of labor’s 30-day drive is taking place on line.

Marc Laitin, the AFL-CIO’s online mobilization director, said that the thrust of the federation’s message on the Internet is that “real health care reform must include a quality public health insurance option, a requirement for employers to pay their fair share and no taxation of workers’ existing health care benefits.”

He said that unions are also making an effort to use their online presence to support the president. The message, he said, is that “the plans Obama backs mean health care will be there for you, no matter what. Health care costs will be reduced. There will be an end to insurance company abuses. You can’t be denied coverage because you’re sick or have a pre-existing condition. And you and your doctor will be in charge of your health care decisions.”

The current labor mobilization comes as the nation’s lawmakers, having left the issue of health care hanging when they recessed, now spend the month of August at home.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee had approved a bill that meets the criteria laid out by Laitin, as did both the Education and Labor and the Energy and Commerce Committees in the House.

The key Senate Finance Committee, however, which has jurisdiction over finances, stalled amid reports that it seeks to drop the public option.

Friday, August 7, 2009

AFL-CIO blasts "corporate mobs" at recess town hall meetings

By Tim Wheeler
People's Weekly World

The AFL-CIO has called on its union affiliates to defend lawmakers’ health care reform Town Hall meetings from “Corporate…mob rule” in recent days.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney sent out a memo this week outlining a blue-print for union members to counter the campaign of fear and intimidation in which hired thugs are infiltrating health care town hall meetings to heckle, disrupt and even physically assault health care reform advocates.

“We want your help to organize major unions to counter the right-wing ‘Tea Party Patriots’ who will try to disrupt those meetings as they’ve been trying to do to meetings for the last month,” Sweeney wrote, adding, “Remember the hooligans, many of them Republican Congressional staff, who harassed Florida vote counters in 2000? We can’t let it happen again.”

AFL-CIO Vice President Rich Trumka added his own angry blast. The thugs infiltrating the town hall meetings of U.S. Senators and Representatives during the current Congressional recess are “corporate-funded mobs…sent by their corporate lobbyist bankrollers to disrupt.” He added, “Mob rule is not democracy. We call on the insurance companies, the lobbyists, and the Republican leaders who are cheering them on to halt these ‘Brooks Brothers’ riots. Health care is a crucial issue and everyone, on all sides, has the right to be heard.”

The memo also stresses that labor is fighting for real reform and will not accept a sell-out compromise. Reform legislation must include a “requirement that ALL employers pay or play” and must have “a robust public health insurance plan to compete with the private insurers and drive down health insurance costs.” The memo also promised that labor will “redouble our effort against taxation of benefits of any kind.”

The labor memo was a reaction against brazen tactics of fear and intimidation by a gang of paid thugs who are being bused to town hall meetings across the nation to disrupt and intimidate.

A group-let identified as “Patients First” a front for the lobbyist-funded Americans for Prosperity, hanged freshman Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil in effigy outside his office in Salisbury, Maryland, one day last week. The aim is to terrorize him from supporting health care reform with a “public option.” Kratovil has not yet announced his position on the “public option.”

Similarly, a goon squad surrounded freshman Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY), jostling him and screaming epithets at him during a visit back to his home district. Police had to wade in and rescue him and hustle him into his office. Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) another freshman, has cancelled all town hall meetings in his North Carolina district during the August recess after he received telephone death threats including a message, “Miller could lose his life over this.”

Extremists picketing a town hall meeting on health care reform in Hartford, Conn chanted that Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn), should “commit suicide” as a “cure” for his recently diagnosed prostate cancer. Dodd is a leader in the Senate in fashioning health care legislation with a “public option.”

Democratic Rep. Brian Baird, who represents Vancouver, Washington, also cancelled town hall meetings telling the local newspaper, “What we’re seeing right now is close to Brown Shirt tactics.” Instead, he is holding telephone town hall meetings with his constituents to answer their questions about health care reform.

Veteran Congressman Lloyd Doggett, who represents Austin, Texas, was “ambushed” while trying to hold “neighborhood office hours” at a Randalls grocery store in his district by goons screaming that he is supporting “socialized” medicine. The provocateurs brought with them a mock tombstone with the Texas lawmaker’s name on it. Said Doggett, “This is not a grass-roots effort. This is a very coordinated effort where the local Republican Party, the local conservative meet-up groups sent people to disrupt my event.”

His charge gains credence from Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, chair of the National Republican Campaign Committee, who endorsed the bully-boy strategy. Sessions boasted that the days of civil town hall meetings is “over” and the disruptions will continue. His comments recalled the role of Rep. Tom “The Hammer” DeLay (R-TX) who recruited beefy staff members of Republican House members in December 2000 and sent them to Florida where they banged on the windows of local Election Boards where ballots were being counted, screaming that the vote count should stop.

Jacki Schechner, media spokesperson for the Health Care for America NOW (HCAN) told the PWW that members of the House and Senate went into their August recess with many planning to hold town hall meetings at home to engage in a “conversation” about health care reform. “But when someone hired by the insurance lobby stands up and starts screaming in a meeting, that is not a conversation. The purpose of that is to stop the conversation. They are stopping the democratic process, halting the opportunity of these lawmakers to talk to the people they represent. We can’t let fear win.”

The strategy for disrupting the town hall meetings was drawn up by a rabid ultrqa-right group calling itself “Right Principles.” They tried it out first on another freshman Democrat, Jim Himes (D-Conn), heckling him on the health care issue during a visit to his district. Send in infiltrators who “watch for opportunities to stand up and shout…rock the boat,” declares a “how-to” memo.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Philadelphia town hall meeting supports universal health care

Ben Sears
People's Weekly World

PHILADELPHIA—The setting was the National Constitution Center on a Sunday afternoon. Some 500 people crowded in to hear HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius and PA Senator Arlen Specter (D PA) answer their questions about changing our country’s healthcare system.

The organized “Tell Washington No” crowd was loud and disruptive enough to get a mention in the New York Times which reported that the Secretary and the Senator were “booed and heckled”, but that was not the big story of the afternoon. In fact, while the hecklers may occasionally have been louder, the majority of those in attendance including some disabled citizens in wheelchairs, had come to ask serious questions about the legislative work going on in Washington and to show support for universal health insurance.

Both Sibelius and Specter proved equal to the task of handling baiting questions. When a woman asked how any new plan would handle the 47 million uninsured, given the current long waits in emergency rooms and doctors’ offices, Sibelius took the opportunity to point out that the country desperately needs to train more doctors, nurses and other medical personnel as well as add more medical facilities in underserved communities. When a man spoke in opposition to “rationed care,” Sibelius responded that our current system now rations care for most Americans based on ability to pay.

Specter elicited strong reactions on both sides when he stated that he supported the president’s effort to win universal comprehensive health care and that he believed that “Single Payer should be on the table.”

One man moved everyone in the crowd to silence when he stated that while he was thankful for Medicare and Medicaid which had helped his father, he had had to sue his insurance company for failing to pay for a needed procedure. As the meeting ended chants of “Yes we can!” and “Health care now!” resonated through the large meeting space. The meeting provided a glimpse of the struggle now developing; while a vocal opposition is well organized and ready to be active, healthcare advocates are more than ready to persist in their efforts to win a quality affordable universal healthcare system for our country.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Autoworkers send Obama letter on high-speed rail and jobs

John Rummel
People's Weekly World Newspaper

DETROIT -- The shocking news this week is Detroit’s official unemployment rate is now 17%. Unless action is taken to re-open closed auto plants and prevent others from closing, the number will surely go higher.

In view of this, the recent letter to President Obama from 50 “Concerned Autoworkers, Retirees and Supporters” takes on special importance. The letter says that while some jobs have been saved, 400,000 auto jobs have been lost and more jobs loss will follow as a result of the bankruptcy restructuring at Chrysler and General Motors.

The letter also warns of a climate “tipping point” and points out how the economic crisis is interwoven with the environmental crisis because auto use contributes 20% of all annual U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and 40% of all U.S. oil consumption.

To solve this combination of crises the letter calls for prioritizing the production of mass transit including buses, light rail, high-speed trains and the tracks they run on and building wind and water turbines as well as solar panels.

It credits the Obama administration for having taken a positive first step by creating two blue ribbon task forces; The White House Task Force on Middle Class Families, called Promoting American Manufacturing in the 21st Century, chaired by Vice-President Biden, and the White House Council on Automotive Communities and Workers, under the leadership of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Larry Summers, chief economic advisor.

It welcomes these initiatives and asks the president “to ensure that the size of the ideas being considered match the size of the problems we face.”

One idea to match the size of the problem is its call for government ownership saying since “the people are now major stockholders in GM and Chrysler, it would be in the national interest to assume direct ownership of the GM and Chrysler plants that are closed or closing (as interest on our investment) to expedite the retooling and conversion of these plants for the manufacture of the products.”

A good chance to put that retooling into action came last week. Midwest governors responding to President Obama’s high speed rail plan agreed to partner to work cooperatively to fund the Midwest Corridor, a regional high-speed rail plan that will connect cities throughout the region with frequent, reliable high-speed.

Through coordination, the region hopes to capture part of the $8 billion that President Obama has made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for high-speed passenger rail, the largest investment that the federal government has made in over a decade.

Al Benchich, one of the letter’s signers and former president of UAW Local 909 (GM) asked where will they get the trains, the tracks? “We have the people who can do the work, we’ve got the equipment; we just need work in the plants,” Benchich said.

Benchich indicated that Flint, where employment at GM has gone from 80,000 to less than 8,000 has plants that are fairly new and would be a good place for retooling to produce rail and other necessary products.

He also said plants that formerly made engines and transmissions could easily be converted to manufacture wind turbines.

What happens next is a good question. To re-open closed plants and develop an energy and transportation policy that meets the needs of people and the planet we live on requires more than action from the president. It also requires a huge coalition of elected officials at state and municipal levels, of unions and their membership, and of residents in the communities being affected by the crisis, be brought together to demand a new course. One hopes the 17% unemployment rate is enough to spur all parties to come together quickly.

jrummel @