Staudter: Labor and the health care debate

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(HOST) This Labor Day, commentator and long time union member Kurt Staudter, is thinking about how unions are re-inventing themselves and what part they may play in Health Care Reform.

(STAUDTER) In the 1950s one in three American workers was in a union. In the 1970s this country had its largest number of citizens covered by collective bargaining. Today, private sector unions represent only about 8% of workers,

It’s probably not a coincidence that while union membership has declined a large share of the prosperity once enjoyed by the working class and the middle class has been transferred to the upper class. Yet, if a worker speaks up about this growing inequity, he or she is accused of fueling class warfare.
With declining union membership there’s been a corresponding loss in the amount of clout that workers are able to exert on the social and economic agendas of this nation. And Labor leaders have been racking their brains about how to become, well, relevant again.

Looking back, each surge in union membership occurred during periods of unprecedented social change like the Great depression. And when the unions were thought to be on the wrong side of social change, they were vilified – as they were during the Vietnam War.
Here, labor leaders have recently gotten behind a new social movement that may restore the voice of working men and women: the current debate on health care reform. At recent town meetings held by Senator Bernie Sanders union members working in conjunction with the Vermont Workers’ Center were able to largely prevent the disruptions that have marred similar meetings in other states, by respectfully engaging the protesters and urging them to take part in the open forum in a manner that was fair to all opinions. Vermont deserves the national attention it received for this civility.

The Vermont Workers’ Center has turned up the heat with their "Healthcare is a Human Right" campaign reflecting the dissatisfaction of many Americans with the for-profit medical industrial complex.  They’re demanding systemic reform, and they intend to put pressure on those politicians who seem to be caught between large donations from the multi-trillion dollar industry, and doing what’s right.

Here in Vermont, there’s still strong support for a single-payer solution where everyone is in and nobody is out.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that out-of-state agitators trying to disrupt our health care debate felt outnumbered and out of place. Vermonters have been talking about this issue for so long that we’ve already heard most of the lies and half truths that those who profit from the status quo use to muddy the discourse. 

Health care reform is the big domestic issue of our time, and this generation will be judged by how we meet the challenge to expand coverage, control costs, and improve outcomes. It’s a natural cause for today’s unions, organizing a collective voice to benefit not just workers, but everyone.

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