A report by Dan McKisson, Local 19 and Rich Austin, Pensioner
President McEllrath assigned us to attend the 2015 Single-Payer Strategy Conference in Chicago, IL on October 30 – November 1, 2015.
The conference was a collaborative effort involving Labor Campaign for Single Payer (LCSP), Healthcare- NOW and Single Payer States. The Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) were also holding a conference and participated in portions of our conference. Many unions and state single payer organizations were represented at the conference with the nurses unions having the most representatives. There was approximately 400 people in attendance.
The first day included a well participated rally at the offices of Blue Cross. The keynote speaker was Tom Conway of United Steel Workers (USW) who spoke about the challenges faced by workers of addressing healthcare at the bargaining table.
Day two started with a speech by Representative Jim McDermott from Washington State, who has been a longtime single payer advocate. His latest strategy is to move HR3241, a state-based bill that would give waivers to states to move away from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and pool the money to start a single payer system in their states. There was debate throughout the conference when or if national and other state efforts should break away from their local campaigns to support another state that is on the verge of succeeding to secure a single payer system.
The afternoon included a menu of workshops including, “Winning Support from the Business Community,” “The Cadillac Tax & Attacks on Workers Healthcare” and “Healthcare is a Human Right Model.”
The ILWU took an early position against the ACA’s excise tax and it was good to see other unions and groups finally coming around to this position. Some people expressed concern that if the excise tax were to be amended or repealed, that the single payer movement could lose momentum. One sister chastised the moderator for using the employer’s words when addressing the excise tax—calling it the “Cadillac tax.” She is right. This term unfairly paints comprehensive health insurance coverage that ILWU members have fought for as “luxuries” instead of as a right that all Americans should have.
The most interesting workshop was the “Winning Support from the Business Community”. The presentation was based on a short film that was recently produced by a business owner from LeHigh, Pennsylvania called “Fix It”. The film addresses why business should support a single payer system. (The film can be seen at: http://fixithealthcare.com) Even with the passion and motivation of the attendees at the conference we will only be able to move single payer forward when the business community sees the financial advantage of a universal health care system. The day concluded with a fund raiser and I was able to present the ,500 check from the Coast Longshore Division to the LCSP and Brother Austin presented a check from the Pacific Coast Pensioners Association. Both contributions were very much appreciated.
The final day comprised of groups discussing five questions and submitting ideas to guide future actions by the sponsoring groups. There were some at the conference who concluded that the ACA had a couple of good changes, but that it was still a discriminatory system—it does not cover undocumented residents, for example. In addition, the ACA was largely written by drug and insurance companies and for-profit hospitals in order to maximize their profits at the expense of public health.
Many people at the conference felt that we should stop making excuses for the ACA, and instead work to make single payer a reality. The conference was informative and much larger than the previous Labor Campaign for Single Payer conferences. The movement seems to be gaining some strength even with the recent setbacks in Vermont and New York.
In order to win single payer, some people felt that the best strategy is to win it state by state. That theory suggests that once the first state goes, it will be a domino effect thereafter. Others, including a number of doctors belonging to Physicians for a National Health Program, feel that a national approach such as House Resolution 676 (HR 676) “Expanded and Improved Medicare for All” that was endorsed by the ILWU should be our overall objective.
The LCSP had a business meeting at the end of the conference and Rich Austin Sr. was voted to the Steering Committee where he will be an invaluable resource.
Future conferences should continue to be attended by the ILWU and we should take the opportunity to send different members each time to represent and experience the conferences so they can bring it back to their members.