Single Payer Universal Health Care: Building a Pathway to Victory

by Sandy Eaton, RN, Dialogue & Initiative, August 2018

This year is pivotal for shifting the balance of forces in the United States away from the proponents of austerity, racism, war and fascism. People are coming together not only to resist Trump and the Republicans but to fight for economic and social survival. Health care in the U.S. is a raging cauldron of struggle to win justice as millions campaign for access, affordability, quality and equality. Single-payer financing is increasingly recognized as essential for a just healthcare system.

The drive toward “Building a Pathway to Victory” has begun and was the focus of this year’s national single-payer strategy conference. The Minnesota Nurses Association hosted this historic meeting in Minneapolis June 22–24. Initially funded by National Nurses United, this campaign seeks to make healthcare justice, including the enactment of expanded and improved Medicare for all, an essential ingredient in the 2018 and 2020 elections. Support for improved Medicare for all has already shown itself to be a winner in Democratic Party primaries across the country, North and South. Organizers have been hired to work in key presidential primary states. Regional meetings to launch this campaign have so far drawn hundreds more activists into the fray.

Single-payer universal health care was beyond the range of acceptable political discourse within the two-party system until the Bernie Sanders campaign of 2016, which offered a social-democratic platform in defiance of neoliberal marketplace dogma. Ironically, Donald Trump, supposedly the contrarian, has been pushing a domestic neoliberal agenda with all the stops pulled out. Finance capital is extending its tentacles ever further into what passes as the U.S. healthcare system. Make no mistake: we’re making a direct assault on a major funding stream of finance capital. We’re confronting and refuting its neoliberal practitioners and ideologues.

In January 2017, 500 activists assembled at AFSCME District Council 37 in New York City, convened by the Labor Campaign for Single Payer (LCSP) and Healthcare NOW!, the national umbrella of active single-payer organizations. (See the report in the 2017 D&I.) One week before the Trump inauguration, they came together under the theme of “going on offense while playing defense.” That strategy has been unfolding nicely.

Two-and-a-half attempts to “repeal and replace” the ACA failed due to Republican Congressional factionalism and massive grassroots opposition. Predictably, death by a thousand cuts was the alternative approach: cutting insurance-company subsidies, which a federal court in California ruled to be legal since states are supposedly filling the funding gap. The annual window for signing up for plans on the exchanges was shortened and outreach funds cut. The 2018 budget began the planned $1.5 trillion cut from Medicare and Medicaid. CHIP was allowed to sunset. The 28,000,000 lacking health insurance (CDC 2015) are being joined now by growing numbers falling through the widening cracks. Gallup reported that 12.3% are now uninsured, with the change greatest among Black and Latinex residents. Four million people are estimated to have lost coverage in the last two years.

The LCSP was founded in Saint Louis in January 2009, a week before Barack Obama’s first inauguration. Its first goal was putting the AFL-CIO back on track with the social insurance model of health care, something lost with McCarthyism, the Cold War and the development of Taft-Hartley and other union-sponsored health plans. Seventy unions submitted single-payer resolutions to the Pittsburgh AFL-CIO convention that September, and that effort proved successful. The Los Angeles AFL-CIO convention of 2013 continued that support, avoiding a blanket condemnation of the ACA that some demanded.

On October 24, 2017, the AFL-CIO passed Resolution 6, Making Health Care a Right. The Labor Campaign for Single Payer had a short window between assessing the final draft of Sanders’ Senate single-payer bill and the deadline for submitting convention resolutions. Nevertheless, the draft resolution was submitted by eighteen union bodies. Although the resultant resolution lacked the specific injunction to work for the Senate or House single-payer bill, it did call for active struggle for Medicare-for-all enactment. Both HR.676 and the Sanders bill, S.1804, are there for such active support, while defending a role for union health plans and maintaining the fightback.

With ever-growing inequality, communities with disproportionate numbers of well-heeled privately-insured people are far less likely to lose necessary facilities and services. Where the dollar value of individuals is least, insured with public programs with lower reimbursements, working-class communities, particularly communities of color, are far more likely to experience medical redlining, losing community hospitals, community health centers and such family-centered services as maternity, pediatrics and mental health. Single-payer financing will not automatically end this disparity between the haves and the have-nots, but it will provide a matrix wherein the struggle for equality will be strengthened. The struggle against racism and elitism will still need to be central.

The Maine People’s Alliance and allies won a ballot question last Fall to force Medicaid expansion, which Tea Party Governor Paul LePage is fighting tooth and nail. Movements in other states are working to win the ACA’s Medicaid expansion through the ballot box as well. Healthcare expansion is becoming an explosive election issue as November approaches. Virginia is enacting the expansion, but with the cruel work requirement attached.

Early drafts of Bernie Sanders’s Senate Medicare for All bill included co-pays and other undesirable features. His staff was pressured not to include any concessions to neoliberal influence and the resultant bill complied. Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the Medicare-for-All Act of 2017, S.1804, on September 13, 2017 with sixteen cosponsors, including likely presidential candidates. John Conyers’ HR.676, the Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act, now has 122 cosponsors. Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison, former co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has taken over lead sponsorship of the House Medicare for All Act after John Conyers’s resignation. A single-payer caucus will be reemerging in the House following the expected shift in November.

Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington is also preparing to introduce the “State Based Universal Healthcare Act” based on a version introduced by now-retired Representative Jim McDermott in 2016. The bill would make it easier for states to implement a single-payer-style state health plan by explicitly authorizing ACA Section 1332 waivers and adding an ERISA waiver, while allowing states to consolidate all federal funding streams from Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, TriCare and the federal employee health benefits fund into a single stream, provided that the state establishes a universal healthcare system that covers everyone at levels higher than the current levels mandated by the various federal programs. Unlike the earlier McDermott version, this plan would avoid “race to the bottom” problems by making these waivers only available for universal healthcare programs.

Some Corporate Democrats have proposed a Medicare X, a variation of the so-called public option, the DP equivalent of Republicans’ high-risk pool. On April 18, Democratic Senators Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Chris Murphy of Connecticut introduced the Choose Medicare Act. The bill closely follows the recommendations made by Jacob Hacker and the Center for American Progress (CAP). Both Hacker and the CAP were leading advocates of the public option during the debates that led to the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Senator Diane Feinstein of California is now running for reelection on a pledge to support lowering the age of Medicare eligibility to fifty five. These efforts, including an offer to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with the drug cartel (something prohibited both under the Bush Medicare Part D and the Obama ACA), would look like steps forward if it weren’t for the fact that it’s single-payer universal health care that’s the growing demand and rallying point of the opposition to the current marketplace madness and wave of cutbacks.

In addition to vastly heightened activity on the national scene, state health-reform movements are burgeoning. Encouraged by the provision of the Affordable Care Act that permitted states to experiment with expanded coverage starting in 2017, Vermont enacted a path to Green Mountain Care, signed into law by Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin, who had run for election in 2010 as the single-payer champion and reelected in November 2014, only to pull the rug out from under this initiative that December, thoroughly infuriating the activists of the Vermont Workers Center and the members of the union coalition committed to healthcare justice, those who had built a vibrant grassroots single-payer movement starting in 2008.

In Colorado, a state senator and physician grew frustrated with the inability to get progressive healthcare reforms through the legislature, initiated a binding ballot question to get it enacted. Although both the Right and the Left used the short-hand term “single payer” to describe its content, the retention of some copays weakened its appeal. The building trades unions actively opposed it, arguing that its benefits would be less than those currently offered its members through their multi-employer plans. Without the backing of the Colorado AFL-CIO and the Democratic Party, it went down in flames in November 2016.

Activists in Washington are now pursuing a statewide single-payer ballot question. Without a strong enough organizational and funding base, many fear it will go the way of similar prior ballot attempts in California and Colorado.

Rightly or wrongly, such losses are used by defenders of the status quo to try to blunt independent initiatives. Wonks and politicians opposed to single payer have been making the rounds.

The New York Health Act (A4738/S4840) passed the Assembly in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Support in the Senate is back to thirty-one cosponsors, with thirty two votes needed to pass. Unfortunately, Republican leadership in the Senate refuses to bring the bill to a vote and advance it to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk. Even though Cuomo now claims to support single payer, allies in the Senate may spare him the pain of actually having to enact it or the embarrassment of vetoing it.

In California, the single-payer bill SB.562 passed the Senate but was taken off the table by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who claimed it was unfinished. The Campaign for a Healthy California argues that the missing pieces were to be added while it was going through the appropriate Assembly committees. The fight-back has been intense, with canvassing and confrontation ongoing. Two of the Democratic Party’s four gubernatorial candidates this year support single payer, including the leading candidate, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom. Observers feel that Governor Jerry Brown, like New York Governor Cuomo, does not want a single-payer bill to cross his desk.

Health care is now 17.8% of the GDP. Healthcare workers are largely women and people of color, and have become a major force fighting for healthcare justice. So now we have PDA, DSA, Our Revolution, the AFL-CIO, and such independent unions as NEA, SEIU, UE and ILWU on record in support, many seeing single payer universal health care as a top-tier priority. CCDS has joined this list. Unleashing the rank-and-file and grassroots activists is essential to realize the potential promised by all the resolutions that have been passed. The “Building a Pathway to Victory” campaign offers the hope of our doing just that!

Addendum: This report was submitted for publication in June 2018. So fast have events been moving that some specifics discussed here are already outdated.

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Walking Away from the Democratic Party—One Person’s Story

by Thomas Bias, National Secretary, Labor Fightback Network
August 28, 2018

Fifty years ago today I turned my back and walked away from the Democratic party. From that day to this I have never looked back.

Like so many college freshmen in New England, I put on my high-top boots and a warm cap and went up to New Hampshire during the early weeks of 1968. I rang doorbells campaigning for Senator Eugene McCarthy for President in small towns and was impressed by how much the people that I met were dissatisfied with President Johnson and wanted change. And they weren’t happy with the Vietnam war, either. For myself, I was giving the system “one more chance,” and after the results of the New Hampshire primary, I was optimistic.

On August 28, 1968, at the Democratic convention, the platform committee debated a plank concerning the Vietnam war. Both were compromises, but it was understood that the majority report stood for a pro-war position, and the minority report for an anti-war position. After speeches for each position, ending with Senator Wayne Morse’s passionate speech for the minority report, the voting began. The votes came in, back and forth, for the different positions until Gov. John Connally of Texas, still a Democrat, brought his delegation in lockstep behind the majority report. The minority report was defeated. I said to all who had been listening to the radio in the Baltimore City Hospitals lab where I had a summer job, “I gave the system one more chance. That’s it!”

I had a date with a student nurse that night. I told her my thought that I had given the system one more chance, and it had proved itself not to work. I was concluding that revolution was necessary. She didn’t agree with me, but we had a good time that evening anyway. I took her home to Hampton House, the student nurses’ residence hall at Johns Hopkins Hospital (I was a good boy) and went home to find my mother pacing the floor—not about me. She said, “Do you know what’s going on in Chicago right now?” I didn’t. She told me what Mayor Daley’s cops were doing to kids who looked a lot like me in Grant Park. She was furious. She swore that she would never vote for Humphrey after this. She was a Republican, but she was against the war and didn’t much like Nixon.

That solidified it. I understood what the Democratic party was in its heart of hearts, and that it was not a party of peace and justice. Nothing I have seen in the half century since has convinced me that the Democratic party can make the change that our country—and our world—needs. We need to mean it when we sing Ralph Chaplin’s words from 103 years ago:

“In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold,
Greater than the might of armies magnified a thousand-fold.
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old,
For the Union makes us strong.”

Yes. Think about what those words mean. Act on them!

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The Anti-Trump Resistance and the Democratic Party

It would be surprising if anyone who believes in peace, justice, economic equality, and environmental protection did not feel white-hot anger at the policies and pronouncements of President Donald John Trump. He is not only a racist, sexist, labor-hating, war-mongering reactionary. He is also a boorish, stupid, and incompetent narcissist, who has no business holding the most powerful job, in the most powerful government, in the most powerful country that has ever existed on this earth. People who recognize the truth about this man have participated in activities under the rubric of “Resistance,” recalling the heroic people of occupied Europe who fought back against the Nazis during the World War II. Under Trump’s administration, big business’s campaign to curtail the right of working people to organize trade unions, to limit people of color exercising their democratic right to vote, and to knock down all environmental protections in the name of “deregulation” is galloping ahead. Resistance is absolutely what is needed at this time.

It is also completely natural that people who believe in peace and justice would like to see this president removed from office. Because of Trump’s incompetence as a chief executive, his ignorance of diplomatic protocol, and the damage his uncouth comments and actions are doing to international diplomacy, even sections of the financial elite and senior government officials have come to the conclusion that he has to go before he faces the voters in 2020. So we see two social forces with diametrically opposed economic and political interests both coming to the same conclusion—that the current president of the United States should be removed from office.

Ultimately, there are two ways that the president could be removed from power. One way is by a workers’ revolution, in which working people in their massive numbers refuse to work any longer for the profits of the financiers and shift their allegiance to a new workers’ government composed of people who truly represent them, elected at the workplace and community level. Though that may indeed be desirable, it is not going to happen in the short term. The other way is through the processes defined in the U.S. Constitution, which include impeachment, as defined in Article 2, Section 4, or the provisions of Section 4 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment. It is understandable that the millions of people observing the horror show of the Trump administration support the idea of impeaching Trump, which is probably more realistic than expecting Trump’s vice president and cabinet to agree to remove him under the provisions of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment’s Section 4. When sections of the financial elite also believe that the President should be impeached, it becomes a realistic possibility, and, yes, in the short term.

As any Democratic campaigner will explain, impeaching Trump will be a lot more likely if the Democrats gain a majority in both houses of Congress in the 2018 elections, which will take place in about three months. Impeachment requires a majority in the House of Representatives, and removal from office requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate. However, the majority party controls the agenda in each house of Congress. The committee hearings which could lead to the drafting of articles of impeachment in the House of Representatives would simply not be held against the wishes of the Speaker of the House and the majority leadership. Consequently, the Democratic Party is not shy about stressing the importance of returning a Democratic majority to both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Activists in the labor movement and in many other struggles for social justice are hearing from their Democrat-supporting colleagues that “now is not the time to go ‘third party,’” referring usually to the Greens, but sometimes to socialist electoral efforts.

In the past, Democratic electoral campaigns have attempted to limit mass action by the movements for social justice and racial equality in the interests of getting their candidates elected. Things have changed. The largest mass actions in the history of the United States took place on January 21, 2017, the day after Trump’s inauguration. Three million people took to the streets on that day. Officially, it was called as a day of marches for women’s rights in response to Trump’s coarse sexism. The huge numbers showed how deeply women are worried about losing their rights under the Trump administration and how outraged they are about Trump’s open contempt of women. In addition, those concerned about other issues joined in, expanding the protests expanded into a day of anti-Trump demonstrations. Mass actions opposing the Trump administration’s travel ban on Muslims a few weeks later were also very large. While some of the protest was spontaneous, well organized pro-Democratic networks such as MoveOn.org, called for many of the actions and used their vast social media and other resources to build them.

Unfortunately, coalitions that were not linked to the Democratic Party were unable to mobilize anything close to the massive numbers seen at the Women’s March. An antiwar mobilization called for several cities during the weekend of April 14–15 had a very disappointing turnout. Of even more significance was the Poor People’s Campaign, which was called by one of the most charismatic leaders of the African-American community, Rev. Dr. William Barber II, a man who has been compared to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. Barber has led the Moral Mondays movement in Raleigh, North Carolina, for a number of years, mobilizing thousands of people in struggle. His group, the Repairers of the Breach, called for a “Moral Revival,” uniting faith communities for social justice, peace, and the health of the planet. The Poor People’s Campaign specifically rejected giving elected officials or people who were campaigning to be elected officials any leadership role, not even as speakers at rallies.  Only a few hundred protesters showed up at most State Houses for the six Mondays of rallies and civil disobedience. To be sure, organizers of both the peace demonstrations and the Poor People’s Campaign made mistakes, but during a period when so many people have shown that they are ready to take to the streets to protest Trump administration policies, the poor turnout indicates that pro-Democrat organizations failed to mobilize for actions they could not control or take credit for having organized.

Meanwhile, the political establishment has found the “high crime” with which they will charge Trump to remove him from office—and it is a big one, actually mentioned before “high crimes and misdemeanors” in the Constitution. It is treason—yes, treason. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as well as other agencies in that murky network known as “the intelligence community” have come to a consensus that agents of the Russian “intelligence community” attempted to influence in the 2016 election in favor of Mr. Trump. James Comey, the director of the FBI whom Trump fired, testified in Congress that there was “no doubt” that the Russians attempted, through the release of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails and other information that put her in a poor light, and by trying to exacerbate current political divisions, to turn voters toward Trump. What success they had is very much open to question. However, if it can be proven that Trump or his campaign staff consciously cooperated with Russian operatives in that effort, then they can be found guilty of treason, which could send them to prison for the rest of their lives. In fact, if a declaration of war had been in effect against Russia, such an act of treason could be punishable by death. Former FBI director Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel charged with investigating the matter, has amassed significant amounts of evidence, which he and his team are keeping secret as good lawyers know how to do. Trump’s early campaign manager Paul Manafort is facing trial on charges of embezzling and tax evasion unrelated to the Russian meddling in the election campaign—however, it has been clear from the beginning that Mueller has been using the charges as pressure to persuade Manafort to tell what he knows about the Trump or his staff’s collaboration with Russian intelligence agents.

Suddenly, Democrats have worked themselves into a frenzy about Russia. Liberal politicians and press commentators have for the past year been referring to Russia as an “adversary,” which, one supposes, is one step below “enemy.” Many of us are wondering when the decision that Russia is an “adversary” was made and who made it. We certainly didn’t get the memo.

What is dangerous is that liberal Democrats are now taking a page from the Cold War playbook. We have heard accusations that, not only is Trump a “traitor,” but that anyone who does not actively work for his impeachment is a “traitor,” too. That goes for anyone who does not vote Democratic in the 2018 election or who campaigns for electoral candidates running as Greens or as independent socialists. For example, in New Jersey, the Democratic Party’s candidate for Senate, the incumbent Senator Robert Menendez, is one of the most corrupt politicians in office today. He has a terrible record of supporting war. Yet some peace and social justice activists are endorsing him him and criticizing former New Jersey Peace Action Executive Director Madelyn Hoffman for running against him on the Green Party line. Behind it all is the subtle—and sometimes not so subtle—implication that the Green campaigns and other independent electoral initiatives are part of the Russian attempt to help Trump in the elections.

These are tactics worthy of Senator Joseph “Tailgunner Joe” McCarthy, whose reign of terror in the late 1940s and early 1950s was a sad chapter in the history of this republic. The liberals are attempting to intimidate people into voting Democratic, as increasing numbers of voters recognize that the Democrats do not represent our interests, as evidenced in the extreme by the choice presented in the contest for New Jersey’s Senate seat. The social-justice wing of the labor movement needs to stand up and fight back against these undemocratic election tactics. The Democrats need to be told in no uncertain terms that working people have the right to vote as they see fit to promote their interests and values, and that it is not treason to do so.

At the same time, it is important to support and work for the success of mass actions in the streets, even when they are organized by liberal Democrats and used as a platform for their candidates. Mobilizing millions of people in the streets around issues such as women’s rights is a good thing. The recent mobilizations against the Trump administration’s flat-out evil immigration policies, which include snatching small children from their parents’ arms at the border, and against the Trump administration’s wholesale assault on environmental protections are other good examples. It is important to be at these actions and, if possible, to be involved in their planning and organizing. Mass demonstrations in the streets are the first step to organizing working people in their own interests and in their own name to take whatever actions necessary to save life on Earth. Simply removing Donald Trump from the presidency—as desirable as it is—will not do that. After all, can we expect anything good from President Mike Pence?

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All Out for the Poor Peoples Campaign!

By Labor Fightback Network

The Labor Fightback Network urges all our readers to participate in the Poor Peoples Campaign (PPC). Visit the PPC website to sign up for events.

Inspired by the PPC of 1968 that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was working on at the time he was assassinated, it focuses on the three issues he raised in 1968: poverty, racism, and, militarism, and adds an issue not as central in the 1960s: climate change and environmental degradation. The 1968 campaign was made up of a broad multiracial coalition of organizations committed to mutual support for each other’s issues. It encouraged participants to see their common ground and identify common enemies and obstacles. Mass protest and non-violent civil disobedience, as practiced in the Civil Rights Movement, were its central tactics. This included including the building of a massive temporary tent city in Washington, DC, to demonstrate the impact of poverty in the US.

The new PPC proposes to be an ongoing movement. Its current focus is on a 40-day program of demonstrations, civil disobedience actions, teach-ins, and religious services starting on Mothers Day (May 13) and culminating in a mass demonstration in Washington DC on June 23. Each of the 6 weeks will feature a different set of issues:

Week 1—May 13–19:  Somebody is Hurting Our People and It’s Gone on Far Too LongWomen, Youth, the Disabled, and Children in Poverty and the Right to Education
Week 2May 2026: Connecting Systemic Racism and Economic JusticeVoting Rights and Just Immigration
Week 3May 27June 2: Veterans, Our War Economy, and Militarism
Week 4June 39: The Right to Health – Ecology, Justice and HealthWater, Extreme Extraction, Climate Change, Health Care
Week 5June 1016: Everybody’s Got a Right to LiveLiving Wages, Guaranteed Income, Housing and Social Services
Week 6June 1723: A New and Unsettling Force Challenging Our Nation’s Distorted Moral NarrativeA Fusion Movement Rising Up

Each Monday during this period, starting with May 14, will feature protests and CD actions in up to 40 state capitols thus far. The goal is that a lasting movement committed to fundamental change, with both local and national structures, will grow out of these actions.

The central organizer of the new PPC is the Rev. William Barber, the progressive Black minister largely responsible for leading the North Carolina Moral Monday protests, which the Labor Fightback Network has long supported. Rev. Barber reflected the concerns of many that, despite efforts made to address the issues of poverty, racism, and militarism throughout the last 50 years, in many ways conditions are worse than they were in 1968, with the added concerns of climate change and the growing awareness of environmental racism. In conjunction with other leaders of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice, a progressive religious think-tank and organizing space, Barber decided not just to commemorate Rev. King’s work, but to revive it as an active movement using similar tactics. In preparation for the campaign, the Kairos Center, the Institute for Policy Studies, and Barber’s organization Repairers of the Breach, have published an extensive report documenting how income inequality, racism, militarism and attacks on the environment have harmed people in the US and throughout the world. The report offers both objective data and personal testimony and provides a strong political and economic analysis directly critical of capitalism and placing the blame directly on the US ruling class. In keeping with its religious inspiration, the report—and the campaign itself—emphasizes the need for a moral revival, arguing that a movement needs to arise that is not focused on electoral politics with its shallow definitions of right and left, but on right and wrong—what is right or wrong for the vast majority of working class and poor people. Grounded in its moral preference for the needs of the majority, it is explicitly pro-labor and multicultural.

Why do we feel so strongly that this campaign is one of the most important and promising developments in a very long time?

First, the PPC is truly inclusive. Its “fusion” approach seeks to unite all the various victims of capitalism across the most critical divide of our time: race. It fully acknowledges that race is the major means used to divide US Americans, urging us to overcome these divisions by working together against common enemies. While this has long been the approach of the progressive wings of organized labor, it has not been as supported by a lot of social movements in recent years. Often the issues of class and race are counterpoised. Many activists today view class as a distraction from the central issue of racism, and, raising class issues is often seen as a way to let working class white people off the hook for racism. By holding up poverty, racism, militarism, and environmental attacks simultaneously, the PPC does not counterpoise these issues and offers various points of entry to activists committed to overcoming all of them. The campaign promotes the organized labor movement, raises the need for single-payer healthcare and affordable housing, and supports full rights for immigrants. It defends the rights of women and LGBTQ communities, thus distancing itself from conservative religious groups. While led primarily by Christian clergy, it is multi-faith in its orientation.

Second, the PPC is projecting political independence. It is not calling specifically for independent electoral politics. However, it explicitly calls out capitalism and the US ruling class as the primary sources and enforcers of the status quo. Regardless of the electoral views of its leaders, some of whom do participate in mainstream politics, the campaign as a whole does not want to be identified with any party or politician and is willing to criticize any politician on the basis of their specific actions. Speakers at PPC organizing rallies have openly criticized Democrats and even the Democratic Party itself, not only Republican politicians. This is consistent with our position that policy reforms are won by mass pressure on elected officials, not by giving up our power to the parties that do not represent our interests as workers. To document its independence, the campaign is not allowing politicians to speak at events or accepting direct funding from them.

Third, the PPC wants to be ongoing mass movement. Lasting movements need a clear vision of what is necessarya vision with a broad appeal to lots of people—and a leadership that does not encourage or allow others to water down or divert its vision. So far, the PPC appears to model this. While the four major areas of its focus encompass many different issues, the PPC is not presenting a proverbial “laundry list” of demands, a common approach that often serves to exclude those who disagree with some demands or do not want to prioritize them equally. One can oppose poverty, racism, militarism, and environmental degradation from many different perspectives without having to agree on details. With its emphasis on morality, the PPC cuts across partisanship, ideology, and academic theory to appeal to the common value of wanting a better life for ones own family and communities.

We believe the PPC’s approach is consistent with our own views on what is necessary to build a mass movement. A movement, though, is only as effective as the people who build it. Sign up now.

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The Wars Abroad and the Wars at Home—and the Work of Putting an End to Them

Of the many injustices to which working people are subjected day after day, generation after generation, the worst is war. Young working-class people are handed weapons and ordered into battle to kill—or be killed by—other young working-class people. Those who are not directly involved in combat face death by bombs falling from the sky, missiles and drones sent and controlled from hundreds or even thousands of miles away, and from starvation and disease as the necessary social infrastructures are destroyed. Behind all of it is the threat that the ultimate weapons, thermonuclear bombs and missile warheads, could destroy all society in minutes and with it nearly all life on the planet.

For nearly all of the current century, the United States has been at war on many fronts. Some of them we know about: Afghanistan, beginning in 2001; Iraq, beginning in 2003. Some of them most of us do not know about: Somalia and Niger. Then there are the so-called “proxy wars,” where other countries’ troops or nongovernmental entities are doing the actual fighting, directed from Washington and other world capitals. Such conflicts are going on in Syria and Yemen, and the human suffering in those two countries is some of the most heart-wrenching on earth. Lastly, there is the war of words between the United States and the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea), two countries armed with nuclear weapons which could be launched because of a stupid mistake at many different levels of the chain of command. President Donald Trump’s threat to unleash “fire and fury” on Korea, ironically between the seventy-second anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, reminded all of us that the work of dismantling the nuclear arsenal remains high on the people’s agenda.

On April 13, Trump, along with British Prime Minister Theresa May and French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron, ordered missile strikes against Syrian targets. Ostensibly it was in retaliation for a chemical attack on civilians in the village of Douma, near Damascus, allegedly carried out on April 7 by the Syrian government, headed by President Bashar al-Assad. The assertion that the Syrian government attacked civilians with chemical weapons has never been verified, and even the occurrence of a chemical weapons attack at all has been called into question. However, the truth has never been terribly important to the U.S. President.

The sheer hypocrisy of Trump’s “concern” for Syrian children is beyond belief. For one thing, the Kingdom of Sa’udi Arabia is carrying out a horrific attack on the Shi’i people of Yemen with the blessings—and military hardware—of the United States and its allies, and it is going on every day, not an attack here or an attack there. Secondly, if Trump is concerned about Syrian children and other noncombatants, why does he continue to bar them from seeking refuge in the United States? It shows clearly that Trump is motivated by a different agenda and does not care in the least about Syrian civilians.

However, the truth is that the United States has absolutely no business being involved in Syria. None. Whatever bad things Bashar al-Assad may have done in Syria—and there is dispute about the accusations—the Syrian Arab Republic poses no threat to the working people of the United States. The Syrian armed forces have not attacked U.S. troops in the region. There is been no accusation—true or otherwise—of terrorist activity instigated by the Syrian government in the United States or in any other country. The U.S. government has one and only one task to carry out in Syria. This is to get out, immediately, totally, and unconditionally. That means no troops on the ground, no troops in the air, no missiles, no drones, no weapons, no money, nothing!

The missile attack provoked emergency protests in cities and towns all over the U.S. Furthermore, regional demonstrations had been called months earlier, coming out of the January Conference against U.S. Foreign Military Bases, held in Baltimore, MD. Rallies and marches were planned for the weekend of April 14 and 15 in Oakland, CA, Minneapolis, MN, Washington, DC, New York City, among other places. They were called to “End U.S. Wars at Home and Abroad,” calling attention not only to U.S. military actions and interventions but to police brutality and murder, especially of young people of color, glaring income inequality, the continued rape and harassment of women, and the degradation of the earth’s environment and climate, among other serious problems which working people face, problems which could justifiably be called “war at home.”

Unfortunately, attendance at the Spring Actions was disappointingly small. The turnout in New York City was slightly over 1,000 at the Herald Square rally, with about 300 choosing to march to Trump Tower afterwards. To be sure, New York’s weather was cold and damp, and emergency demonstrations were scheduled throughout the region, including Highland Park, NJ (near New Brunswick), Greenwich, CT, and other towns. In the San Francisco Bay Area, an estimated 600 people joined the Spring Action. More emergency demonstrations will be held in the coming days.

It was good and important that actions were held against the wars at home and abroad as well as against the attack against Syria. However, an effective response to war requires mass action, not just action. What was needed were rallies and marches on the order of the Women’s Marches of January 2017 and 2018, the March for Our Lives in February 2018, or the nearly spontaneous response to the Trump travel ban at the airports in January 2017.

During the upcoming weeks there will be discussions of mistakes that were made and things which the local and national coalitions could have done better. Though some of these issues are important and merit serious discussion — such as, for example, the need to focus on more limited demands that can unify the broadest movement against the U.S. warmakers — none of these was decisive. There are many factors, but the key factor is the political domination of forces allied with the Democratic Party, and one of those forces is in fact the labor movement. And the Democratic Party has no fundamental disagreement with Trump’s foreign policy. Breaking the labor movement and other decisive forces in society from its stranglehold is a long-term campaign, which is under way, but there will be no substitute for the hard and unglamorous organizing work. That may include—in some situations—working with Democratic Party politicians to build united mass actions in the streets demanding an end to the wars at home and abroad. Flexible tactics within a mass action strategy, designed to bring hundreds of thousands into the streets for their own agenda, not that of bankers, businessmen, or politicians will be required.

In the weeks ahead the Poor People’s Campaign—a National Call for Moral Revival—will be bringing working people from all of our different communities into the public square in cities and small towns throughout the United States to confront the many issues facing all of us, from economic inequality to mass incarceration to environmental racism, and many other social injustices. Spearheaded by a group called Repairers of the Breach, which is led by Rev. Dr. William Barber II and other leaders of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina, the Poor People’s Campaign is consciously resisting any attempts by politicians to use it to advance their own agendas and careers.

It bears repeating: of the many injustices to which working people are subjected day after day, generation after generation, the worst is war. To bring the issue of war into the Poor People’s Campaign would be natural and non-controversial. Any call for moral revival must demand peace. The destruction—indeed sheer waste—of young lives is unconscionable, and the amount of money wasted on that destruction is money which could be addressing the human needs to which the Poor People’s Campaign is drawing attention. This is not the time for retreat or demoralization, but for taking advantage of new opportunities and moving ahead.

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West Virginia Teachers Strike of February 2018

by Donna Dewitt, retired President, South Carolina AFL-CIO

WV teachers pay ranks 48th in the nation, with a minimum $32,000 annually and there has been no increase since 2014. Collective bargaining is prohibited for WV public employees and the Governor and Legislature are Republican. Across the state teachers walked out on February 22 in an act of civil disobedience to demand an increase in wages and an end to spiking insurance premium increases. 20,000 teachers and 13,000 school service personnel in 55 counties were joined by parents and students during the nine day protest.

The little known fact that the state decided if they called it a strike they would have to impose injunctions threatened by the state attorney general. Authorities referred to it as “Snow Days” and the teachers continued to be paid. The state police were, also, demanding a 5% increase and many of their family members were teachers. Therefore, the authorities did not want to call them out to random pickets. The strike fund was used to help families in need, mostly kids on the picket lines. A large percent of WV students qualify for free lunches. The strike fund raised $200,000. (contributed to Alan Benjamin)

The members defied the union leadership, who encouraged the strikers to return to work on the promise of the 5% wage increase, and remained strong until the wage increase was approved by the Legislature and a commitment was made on the employee health insurance, creating a bipartisan task force appointed by the Governor. There have been spontaneous protestations, encouraged by Koch Brothers funding, that the 5% will result in cuts to social programs and Medicaid. The response from the governor’s office has been that it will come from new revenue or executive branch cuts.

Social media provided broad communication that allowed constant news on the strike. The many statements of solidarity and presence of other international unions including CWA members on strike at Frontier and UMWA members and their President Cecil Roberts strengthened the solidarity efforts. Lita Blanc, president of the United Educators of San Francisco, coordinated a GoFund Pizza fund that raised approximately $21,000. The pizzas were delivered through AFT leaders in West Virginia on the crucial last days of the strike. Any money remaining was divided between the three teachers unions in WV.

The WV strike provides inspiration to teachers in Oklahoma, Kentucky, NJ, Arizona, Oregon and others to days of protest and strikes on issues of retirement, wages, insurance and other issues. Adjunct professors in Edinburgh Scotland on strike held signs of solidarity with WV teachers. They were inspired and despite encouragement from their union leaders to accept a new contract, they voted not to accept. The WV strike aligned with other progressive movements and captured the power to create wins. The strike further promotes the energy of independent politics to create a workers movement.

We know the resistance will be extreme. We see it in Florida in the proposed law for teachers unions to prove 50% membership. 24 states do not allow public employees to authorize in this manner. Wisconsin opened the door for this and there will probably be revamping in many states. Every state will be faced with these ALEC laws to further erode union membership. In the words of MLK “Unjust law is as good as no law at all.”

“But the lesson of West Virginia is not that unions are no longer the vehicle needed to advance workers’ struggles. Unions are needed more than ever. The lesson is that the rank-and-file have the power—and, if harnessed, that power can overcome what appear to be insurmountable obstacles. The lesson is that to win, democratic control of the unions from the bottom up is needed, with restored bargaining rights and local control over bargaining. The lesson is that right-to-work laws must be repealed. In a nutshell, what is needed is to reclaim the unions for struggle.” Alan Benjamin, The Organizer.

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Labor Fightback Network Endorses Effort to Revive Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign

It’s been more than 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., warned us about the triple evils of Racism, extreme Materialism, or poverty, as some would say, and Militarism, or the war economy. He called for a Revolution of Values to address these societal failures. He also accused the U.S. government of being “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” as the U.S. waged war on Vietnam. Probably no one at the time could have imagined that 50 years later, things would actually be worse, not better, that the U.S. would have fallen far short of the goal of justice for all. Yet that is the case.

That is why people across the nation are now sounding the alarm for a Moral Revival, a movement to build up people power, to demand true racial and economic justice. And because we are now facing the serious threat of extreme climate change, a fourth issue that disproportionately affects the poor has been added—ecological devastation.

Actions to launch the Poor People’s Campaign have already started, but the official kick off will commence on Mother’s Day, May 13, followed by 40 days of sustained action in state capitals around the country. There are approximately 40 states on board right now. The campaign has been built around a set of fundamental principles, which in brief, include the following:

Moral revival is necessary to save our failing democracy; lifting and deepening the leadership of those most affected by systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation; dismantling unjust criminalization systems that exploit communities of color and the poor; transforming the “war economy” into a “peace economy” that values all humanity; equal treatment under the law is non-negotiable; poverty in the richest nation ever to exist will not be tolerated, nor will accepting the claim that the U.S. does not have the abundance of resources to overcome poverty; systemic racism that maintains economic oppression must be named, detailed, and exposed, while recognizing the role white supremacy has played in maintaining economic inequality; the distorted moral narrative promoted by religious extremists must be shifted from single issues such as gun rights, abortion, prayer in school, sexuality, to systemic injustices like how society treats the “least of these”; building people power and state based movements to transform the political and economic structures of our society as the model, movement not from above, but from below ; a non-partisan movement about right and wrong, not Democrat or Republican; and engagement in a season of sustained non-violent civil disobedience, recognizing the need to put our bodies on the line; violent tactics will not be tolerated.

An excellent fact sheet from Souls of Poor Folks Preliminary Report Dec. 2017 provides supporting information as to why this call for a moral revival of values is critical at this time. The full fact sheet and sources can be found on the Poor People’s Campaign website, but here are a few examples:

Systemic Racism

  • There are fewer voting right in place today for people of color than 50 years ago when the Civil Rights Act was passed. Since 2010, 23 states have passed racist voter suppression laws.
  • As of July 2017, 25 states have passed laws that preempt cities from passing their own local minimum wage laws,
  • Since 1976, the criminalization of poverty has raised federal spending on prison tenfold to $7.5 billion a year. The number of state and federal inmates grew from 188,000 in 1968 to nearly 5 million in 2015. Racial profiling, biased sentencing, and policing practices have expanded the share of inmates who are people of color from less than half in 1978 to 66% in 2015.
  • Federal spending on immigration, deportations, and the border has gone from $2 billion in 1976 to $17 billion in 2015, with 10 times more deportations.

Poverty

  • As of 2016, there are 40.6 million people living below the federal poverty line and of these, nearly three-quarters are women and children. There has been a 60% rise in poverty since 1968.
  • Poverty is still disproportionately impacting people of color. The poverty rate for white people is 8.8%, 22% for African Americans, 19.4% for Latinos, and 26.2% for Native Americans.

Jobs, Income, Wealth

  • From 1973–2013, productivity went up 74.4%, but hourly compensation only went up 9.2%.
  • In 2017, 3 individuals had a combined wealth of $248.5 billion, the same amount of wealth as the bottom 50% of U.S. households, or 160 million people. Meanwhile, the bottom 38% of American households have 0 net worth.

War Economy and Militarism

  • The cumulative costs of the US wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and post 9/11 Veterans Care and homeland Security from 2001–2018 are estimated at $5.6 trillion.
  • At height of the Viet Nam War, military spending was $354 billion, today it is nearly twice that at $635 billion. 53 cents out of every discretionary tax dollar goes directly to the military.

Ecological Devastation

  • Pollution caused an estimated 9 million premature deaths in 2015 worldwide. Water pollution alone kills 1.8 million a year around the world.
  • The U.S. is the largest producer of oil and natural gas in the world. Between 2010 and 2015, there were more than 3300 incidents of crude oil and liquefied natural gas leaks or ruptures on U.S. pipelines.
  • At least 4 million families with children are being exposed to high levels of lead from drinking water and other sources.
  • A 2015 EPA analysis found that the population within three miles of highly contaminated “Superfund” sites was 45.7% non-white.

We encourage you to get involved in your state by going to www.poorpeoplescampaign.org and fill out the pledge form. Let them know in the comment section that you want to be connected to your state campaign. Individuals join to be part of the collective, not to represent an organization. But organizations, such as unions, are encouraged to spread the word to their membership. You can make a huge contribution now by getting the word out to friends, family, and colleagues and by passing resolutions to support this timely campaign. Pledge cards can be downloaded from the website and distributed.

As a resolution from the San Francisco Labor Council states, “This campaign has the potential to create a significant fight-back to the assaults by the rich.” Labor has a rich tradition of fighting for racial and economic justice. Let’s keep that tradition going. Get involved today.

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