nation is being presented with an amazing opportunity right
now. We have the resources to give good
health care to everyone who lives here. We have the opportunity
to end the agonizing worry and unnecessary suffering of so many
people about their health care. What stands in the way is a
time-honored idea that modern technology has made as outmoded
and backward as the horse and buggy transportation we used to
depend on. It’s the idea that nothing should be done unless
some company can make a profit on it. We no longer need the
idea of making profits off other people’s misery.
Health care is in the same place that education was when
Alabama’s George Wallace and other segregationist governors
were standing in the schoolhouse door shouting “NEVER!”. People
believed the four-term governor when he shouted out “segregation
today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” There were
huge public policy arguments over whether school integration
would destroy American society. The segregationists spent huge
amounts of time and money defending the only way of life they
had ever known – even though its time was gone.
the time is gone for the idea that ill health can’t be treated
unless someone makes a profit from it. But like modern George
Wallaces, powerful people still defend the ways they know.
Attacking segregation turned out to be so much more possible
than we feared back in the days of George Wallace. It took
decades of struggle and a big social movement that included
people from 12 to 80 protesting and standing up to police dogs
to hasten the end of legal segregation. Those protestors had
the vision to see it was past the time for the old ways to die.
Like them, we need the vision to see that scientific progress
has reached the point where profits are no longer necessary
for health care progress.
What lessons can we draw from the way earlier generations
seized opportunities for positive change, despite formidable
opposition? In order to prevail against great forces, a boatload
of money, and powerful corporate interests, we cannot simply
rely on laws or elected leaders. We have to build a broad people’s
movement armed with a vision of the new possibilities. In health
care, this means talking up the United Nations declaration that
decent health is a human right, for everyone, not just for people
who can afford expensive medical care. And it means speaking
up for single payer universal health care as the only form of
health care that will secure true adequate health care for everyone.
also means seeing health care reform as part of a working class
struggle for survival. Why? Because just as segregation was
a social policy designed to keep African Americans and other
non-whites from advancing, the social policy that benefits corporate
profits today is designed to drive workers lower and lower on
the economic scale. This has produced tremendous class stratifications
in our country that cannot be papered over. There is a growing
new class of workers made up of part-time, contingency, undocumented
and low-wage workers with limited or no benefits, as well as
unemployed, disabled and retired workers whose rights to employment-based
healthcare have been destroyed. While women, African Americans
and other historically dispossessed groups are hit disproportionately
hard by the efforts to drive workers’ wages and benefits down,
it’s important to see that all workers are at risk.
easy to see why this is happening, and why the problem can’t
be solved with more patching up of the existing system. Fewer
and fewer workers are needed for production in a society where
the tools of production are computers, robots and electronics.
The drive to maximize profits means that companies eliminate
as many jobs as they can, and try to get the workers they have
to have on the cheap. Employer-based health care, therefore,
is increasingly expendable. Companies are busy with the restructuring
of labor/management relations to conform to the needs of capital
in a shrinking global market. They are dismantling the safety
net that was part of the old industrial-era social contract.
Workers who lose the fight to hold onto ever-shrinking wages
and benefits are increasingly left to fend for themselves.
What it will take to change this situation is a broad
social movement, informed by a forward-looking vision of
a new American social contract and a new strategy for working
class independence. Only a movement focused on the needs of
the most threatened workers will get us the health justice we
need. And only such a movement can insure that good public
policy aimed at remedying this broken health care system will
Any new vision of the better life
that technology is making possible must be aware of when so-called
“health reform” are nothing more than distractions designed
to keep the old systems in place just a little longer. One
of those phony distractions is called the “Individual Mandate”
and we need to speak out against it. Here’s what we need to
know about the Individual Mandates many states are moving toward:
They force people to purchase private insurance at
rates inflated to pay for corporate profits, high management
compensation, the costs of consultants, lobbying, and union-busting.
What can you do? Here are some practical ways to
help build this movement for health care justice. Some of them
may seem small, but they add up:
Break the silence on the contribution of poverty to health
care injustice. Speak out about how big health care corporations
are stealing away the hard-fought benefits of our health
care today, and steal from all of us in so many other ways.
We all need to come together to build a powerful movement
for economic human rights.
Speak out across color, cultural and class lines. Together, dedicated to a vision of health care for all, we
can build a working relationship across color lines, across
Spread a vision of what is possible, and what is right.
It’s up to us to do this, we can’t rely on the tired, weak,
and inadequate proposals from either of the major parties.
They are too tied to the old ways.
Use the tools on our web site, weap.org.
Click on the links at the top of the page marked “Human
Rights,” “Health Justice,” “Get Involved,” “Resources” and
“Events.” Share our news and notes and comment sections.
am reminded that before Dr. Martin Luther King was killed in
1968, he switched his focus from civil rights to economic rights.
That idea scared a lot of the people around him. They saw poverty
everywhere and didn’t see how you could fight it. Dr. King
was killed before he could get his poor people’s movement fully
organized. But the idea of a poor people’s movement wouldn’t
die because it really was the answer. The Poor People’s Economic
Human Rights Campaign, which WEAP
hosts, carries on in that tradition.
here to read any of the reports in this series.
member, Ethel Long-Scott, is the Executive Director of the Women's
Economic Agenda Project, (WEAP). She is known nationally and internationally for devoting
her life to the education and leadership of people at the losing
end of society, especially women of color. She is dedicated
to economic security and justice and believes that the US is engaged in a relentless war against workers
and the poor. Click
here to contact Ms. Long-Scott.