Our union is stepping up our fight for healthcare for all! A delegation of NYSNA nurses joined over 200 union leaders and healthcare activists in an annual strategy conference for the Labor Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare.
The conference takes place during a volatile political and economic climate. On the one hand, the labor movement is still grappling with the impact of the global financial crisis and the massive budget cuts that have since been implemented — most recently the unprecedented and historic attacks on Social Security and Medicare threatened in the so-called “fiscal cliff” debate.
But also beginning to emerge are signs of union resistance to these attacks, symbolized most clearly by the Chicago teachers strike this past fall.
All of this is happening in the context of the ongoing implementation of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which, while it contains some positive components, will ultimately leave millions uninsured, and creating millions more who are underinsured, all while increasing the power and wealth of the private insurance industry.
Karen Lewis, leader of the now famous Chicago Teachers strike earlier this fall, delivered the opening keynote address to the conference, and empowered the audience with her main message of the critical role of bottom-up organizing. “The power is in the rank-and-file,” said Lewis. “They have their coalitions, we need ours.”
This year’s conference focused on four themes:
- The fight for single-payer as part of a broader fight to defend Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in the face of attacks;
- The need for a social movement model encompassing a labor-community alliance;
- Increased participation in the labor movement to actively join this fight, and
- Effective strategies including federal and state efforts, as well as human rights organizing models and contract fights.
NYSNA Board members were reenergized by the experience and were also able to contribute substantially to the discussion.
“The Labor Campaign for Single Payer conference was a great networking tool for groups who have a shared vision that everyone has a fundamental, humane right to healthcare,” said NYSNA Director-At-Large Anthony Ciampa, RN. “Different perspectives, strategies and experiences were shared in an effort to coordinate an effective campaign.”
“It is important that NYSNA takes an active role in this fight because as nurses, we must advocate for healthcare for all. Healthcare is a human right, not a privilege,” said Central Regional Director Carol Ann Lemon, RN. “The government uses our tax dollars for things like the military and public works like roads, and sewers, but resists a single payer healthcare system that would ensure access to medical care for all.”
Attendees heard from numerous panelists who touched on different dynamics of the healthcare debate.
Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, First Vice President of NYSNA, gave a presentation on “Building a Movement from Below” which drew lessons from NYSNA’s journey towards a more democratic, member-run organization.
Another very inspiring presentation was given by the Vermont Workers Center, who showed a video documenting their successful struggle for single-payer healthcare in Vermont. The yet-to-implemented Green Mountain Care plan was won through a series of large mobilizations and door-to-door organizing throughout the state.
With regards to single-payer, there was some debate about whether to focus on a national strategy or whether it's more useful to fight for legislation at the state level, while keeping a national perspective.
Attendees were divided on their assessments of the Affordable Care Act. Some participants felt that the recent legislation was simply insufficient and that we should focus our efforts on shaping its implementation, while others proclaimed it a step backwards and felt that we should instead advocate for replacing it with single-payer.
The ideas shared in these debates are sure to influence the strategies of unions and other organizations, including NYSNA, in the coming year. The stakes of this fight have never been higher.
“Until we as a country address the financial crisis that has emerged from the for-profit healthcare system and adapt to a single-payer healthcare system, this problem will continue to grow and affect many more Americans,” said Lemon.