Solidarity Strikes, a DREAM Decree and “Obamacare” – June in Review

June 28, 2012

A new writing job in the labor movement has kept me from writing my own material more frequently both here at Subterranean Dispatches and other publications. 

While I hope to produce a new piece in the near future, for now I’d like to feature some outside anaylsis on important developments in the month of June – including inspiring solidarity pickets that spread around the country among Teamster sanitation workers and some insights on Obama’s recent executive order protecting 800,000 undocumented youth from the threat of deportation.

But first my take on healthcare reform…

Stepping Away from Single-Payer

In one of the most high-profile Supreme Court cases in recent history and a fever-pitched media event, the country’s highest court closed out the month of June with a decision on the Obama administration’s healthcare reform law. The decision is understood as being hugely historic on both the right and the left. But there was a lot of confusion about the substance of the verdict that the Supreme Court finally handed down on the Affordable Care Act.

A crowd of supporters and opponents of the reform were equally stunned when it was confirmed that the justices had upheld the law in its entirely. Liberal supporters of Obama and the ACA were fully prepared for a ruling that would have struck down the individual mandate, thereby killing the rest of the law and dealing a major blow to Obama and the Democratic Party.

In fact, on the eve of the landmark decision some Democrats were expressing hope that the law would be upheld while promising to use a loss as an opportunity to again raise the flag for a single-payer healthcare system. For some on the left, the goal of taking the profit motive out of healthcare may have made losing sound better than winning at the Supreme Court today.

So it was surprising that the decision left even the most constitutionally controversial part of the law – the individial mandate – intact. The scene outside the courthouse was festive. Progressives who hoped that the law would be upheld were jubiliant, even as many admitted Obama’s healthcare reform is not enough. They say it is a big step toward universal healthcare (or single-payer, or Medicare for All – whatever one chooses to call it).

One of the leading groups that has been at the forefront of the movement for single-payer has also been at the forefront of healthcare delivery. And they had a somewhat different reaction.

“This should not be seen as the end of the efforts by health care activists for a permanent fix of our broken health-care system,” National Nurses United (NNU) wrote in response to the ruling. NNU, the largest nurses union in the country with 175,000 members, is among the most progressive and militant groups leading the charge for single-payer healthcare and other economic justice issues.

According to NNU:  

The Affordable Care Act still leaves some 27 million people without health coverage, does little to constrain rising out of pocket health care costs, or to stop the all too routine denials of needed medical care by insurance companies because they don’t want to  pay for it.

The U.S. outspends all other nations per capita on care, yet trails dozens of other nations, which have a national system, such as our Medicare program, in a wide array of vital barometers, including life expectancy. While some of those countries are also mired in economic troubles due to the global banking crash, the presence of a national health system has softened the blow on peoples’ health.

But the limitations of “Obamacare” may be more than that: they may in fact restrain efforts to reach a single-payer system that covers everyone.

As Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), a single-payer advocacy group, explained back in 2010, “Instead of eliminating the root of the problem – the profit-driven, private health insurance industry – [the ACA] will enrich and further entrench these firms.

Today, NNU Co-President Karen Higgins explained further:

Even after this decision, we will continue to see patients who postpone filling prescription medications, or delay doctor-recommended diagnostic procedures or even life saving medical treatment because of the high out of pocket costs, or families faced with the terrible choice of paying for medical care or food or clothing, or who delay payment on medical bills at the risk of bankruptcy or a destroyed credit rating.

We will continue to see hospitals, insurance companies and drug companies engage in price gouging and insurance companies refusing to authorize treatment recommended by a doctor under the pretext it was “experimental” or “not medically necessary,” euphemisms for care that doesn’t meet the real test of a profit driven bottom line. 

And we will continue to see the U.S. falling farther behind other countries in a wide range of health barometers, including life expectancy, deaths of women of child bearing age, and long waits for care, even though we spend twice as much per capita or more than those other nations.

Medicare is far more effective than the broken private system in controlling costs and the waste that goes to insurance paperwork and profits, and it is universally popular, even among those who bitterly opposed the Obama law.

There is no doubt that there are positive elements of “Obamacare” and today’s Supreme Court decision to uphold it. Certainly millions will continue to benefit from the elimination of lifetime limits and young adults will remain covered by their parents’ healthcare plans. And the ban on denying coverage for preexisting conditions remains in place. All that is good.

But millions more will still be forced into buying private health insurance – an idea that actually originated from the playbook of free-enterprise arch-conservatives at the Heritage Foundation back in 1989.  

“The ACA perpetuates a dominant role for the private insurance industry,” PNHP said today in response to the ruling. “Each year, that industry siphons off hundreds of billions of health care dollars for overhead, profit and the paperwork it demands from doctors and hospitals; it denies care in order to  increase insurers’ bottom line; and it obstructs any serious effort to control costs.” 

The health insurance lobbies won big today. They won a captive market of uninsured individuals dropped into their laps by the federal government. So it was a good day for Obama and the health insurance industry. And it should also have be a great day for conservatives who once saw the individual mandate as a right-wing position on healthcare reform – until Obama adopted it as his own.

Constitutional or not, the individual mandate is a boon for private health insurance companies and a real loss for single-payer.

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Teamsters Punish Lockout With Rolling Sympathy Strikes

by Josh Eidelson, In These Times (June 18)

Over the past month, Teamsters in five cities refused work in solidarity with locked-out sanitation workers in Evansville, Indiana. The Evansville labor dispute is the second in three months to feature sympathy strikes against Republic Services. This rare tactic represents a major escalation in the Teamsters’ struggle with the company, and it’s poised to intensify this week.

Before the National Labor Relations Act established legal collective bargaining rights within discrete bargaining units, and the Taft-Hartley Amendments banned many solidarity actions, strikes would commonly spread from one group of workers to other worksites in the industry, or to other workers in the supply chain. Today, such solidarity strikes are rare.

The Teamsters’ ability to pull them off rests in part on a “conscience clause” in some of their contracts.

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Has the DREAM come true?

Socialist Worker editorial (June 20)

Barack Obama’s decision to end the deportation threat hanging over the heads of 800,000 undocumented youth is something immigrant rights activists have organized for years to achieve. But the measure comes with unjust restrictions–and no one should forget that it stands in contrast to the administration’s policies of the past three and a half years, especially the dramatic increase in deportations since 2009.

Obama’s June 15 announcement that the federal government would extend temporary legal status to some undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children was greeted with tears of joy among many families who have lived in the constant fear of being torn apart.

“This move has concrete and immediate impacts,” said Felipe Matos, an immigrant rights activist. “Now I won’t have to be scared whenever I encounter the police. I’ll be able to freely open a bank account…I’ll even be able to drive without fear of deportation.”

Among immigrant rights activists, however, the enthusiasm for Obama’s measure is dampened by the many restrictions and qualifications placed on undocumented youth who wish to apply to stay in the U.S. under the policy. Plus, the administration has made promises about curbing deportations before–and the expulsion of the undocumented has continued.

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About SubterraneanDispatcher

Brian Tierney is a longtime socialist activist who works as a communications specialist for a labor union in Washington, DC. After completing his undergraduate studies in International Affairs and Latin America Studies, he has been working in the labor movement and writing reports and analyses on various struggles for social and economic justice. In addition to reporting on protests in the DC area, he also writes about union struggles, immigrant rights, the fight to defend public education, and struggles of the poor and working class in general. His work has been published in The Washington Post, The Nation, The Progressive, Common Dreams, CounterPunch, Socialist Worker and The Neoprogressive. Brian can be reached via email at btier@yahoo.com.

Posted on June 29, 2012, in Austerity, Budget Cuts, Corporate Greed, Healthcare, Immigrant Rights, Labor Movement, Racism, SubDisp Exclusive, U.S. Politics, Workers Rights. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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