The ILWU has been advocating for a national, single-payer health plan since 1938, and remains active in that effort through a network of unions and community groups who met in New York City on January 13-15, to continue pushing for a quality, non-profit health system that would cover every American. ILWU International President Bob McEllrath assigned pensioner and longtime “single-payer” health advocate Rich Austin, Sr., to attend the meeting and represent the ILWU.
Protest to protect Medicare & jobs
Activists from around the country began their 3-day meeting with an early-evening protest against threatened Medicare and Medicaid cuts proposed by Republican leaders in the House of Representative and U.S. Senate. They convened outside Trump Tower, where the President-elect had been meeting with Congressional leaders. The Tower also hosts offices of a union-busting company, Momentive Chemical, which forced 700 workers out on strike last November by demanding huge concessions in health care benefits. Workers are resisting those take-aways despite bitter-cold days on the picket line.
Growing strength in numbers
More than 100 new participants were on hand for the opening session of the health care conference that began after the evening protest ended. The 500 attendees came from many different unions and groups including Physicians for a National Health Program and the Labor Campaign for Single Payer, which hosted the event.
Labor for Bernie continues
Invitations for a special meeting held during the conference went out to the six national unions, including the ILWU, who backed Senator Bernie Sanders for President: the Communication Workers of America, American Postal Workers Union, National Nurses United, United Electrical Workers, and the Amalgamated Transit Union. The representatives who attended felt that progressive unions should work to expand the “Labor for Bernie” network by including other national and local unions to promote “Medicare for All” and other issues raised by the Sanders campaign. A future meeting on this topic is being planned for February.
ILWU contribution noted
A contribution check from the ILWU to support the “Labor Campaign for Single Payer” effort was welcomed with applause when Rich Austin presented the donation on the second day of the conference. He noted the ILWU’s longtime support for a national healthcare system that should cover everyone, similar to the Medicare program that already covers older Americans without using expensive, profit-making insurance companies.
The conference ended with discussions about strategy, emphasizing the need to build grassroots support to protect and expand Medicare and Medicaid. After adjourning, Austin and others went to a rally at the “Wall Street Bull” statue in Bowling Green Park, an action inspired by Bernie Sanders to protect and improve America’s health care system. “Over 12 million Americans supported Bernie Sanders during the Presidential primary campaign because they liked what he said about ‘Medicare for All,’ good union jobs, and affordable college for everyone,” said Austin. “Those problems will remain front-and-center during the next four years, and we need to be involved in the process.”