Democratic Party platform panel waffles on trade and health care

Michael Smith had a message for the Democratic Party: Stand up for U.S. workers who have lost jobs to so-called “free trade” pacts.

But the majority of the 15 Democrats writing the first draft of the party’s platform for the 2016 presidential campaign didn’t get the whole message. The platform apparently waffles on worker rights in “free trade” treaties.

Smith was one of 114 speakers at the drafting committee meeting in late June in St. Louis. The full 187-member platform committee will meet July 7-8 in Orlando, Fla., to finalize the platform, and then convention delegates must ratify it.

But if past is prologue, the combined forces of presumed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton  and  the party establishment will outvote supporters – including union supporters — of Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., on key issues such as the trade pacts and single-payer government-run national health care, also known as Medicare for all.

That’s what happened in the St. Louis sessions.

The platform drafting committee’s “majority substituted generic language that trade deals should protect workers’ rights and the environment, and a misleading sentence that claimed that Democrats are divided on trade. A year ago, 85 percent of House Democrats voted against a fast track on the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” said former Communications Workers President Larry Cohen, who is now a top labor advisor to the Sanders campaign.

The TPP, which President Obama and business interests are pushing, “is not only bad policy, it’s bad politics,” Cohen added.  Democratic waffling, he explained, lets presumed Republican nominee Donald Trump step in with outright opposition.

The outvoting scenario is important. While party platforms are usually filed and forgotten, Sanders has made a point of influencing the platform. The ultimate outcome of that contest, at this year’s party convention in Philadelphia, may influence how enthusiastically his legions – including members of several major unions – campaign for Clinton this year.

Smith, a leader of Bakery Confectionery and Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 300 on Chicago’s South Side, told the panelists how NAFTA ultimately cost him and hundreds of his unionized co-workers their jobs. He explained Mondelez, the owner of Nabisco, moved the South Side’s Oreo cookie production line to Mexico, to gain for higher profits and more compensation for its CEO. She already earns 534 times what the median U.S. worker earns.

The U.S. “has given corporations the right to produce products across borders and overseas, and then return those products that were once produced by American workers for sale in the very communities suffering from the corporate decision to displace me, is failing me, my family, my co-workers, our communities and the very essence of America’s future,” Smith said. Workers and families are broken. I am not just a number and I am not just a statistic.”

But the draft Democratic platform, Sanders says, won’t help Smith and workers like him pick up the pieces.

“The challenge for us today is to take on the greed and power of Wall Street and corporate America, and create a government and an economy that works for all of us and not just the 1 percent,” Sanders explained in a statement from his campaign after the St. Louis session. “In our anger and frustration, we must not succumb to the bigotry and divisiveness of Donald Trump and others like him.

“This is precisely what the struggle over the platform is about. We need to create a Democratic Party which fights for working families and not wealthy campaign contributors.”

But while Sanders praised the platform drafters for tough language to break up the big banks, to expand Social Security, to rebuild U.S. infrastructure and to “end the outrageous tax loopholes that enable the very rich and large profitable corporations to avoid paying their fair share of taxes,” he faulted them on what Smith talked about: trade treaties.

The “drafting committee voted down some very important provisions. Despite Secretary Clinton’s opposition, as a candidate for president, to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, her sup-porters in St. Louis voted down a proposal to keep the trade deal from coming up for a vote in Congress,” he said. As Obama’s Secretary of State, Clinton backed the TPP, before changing.  

Sanders backers also tried to get the platform to back single-payer government-run national health insurance. That’s a top cause of the senator, NNU, the Steelworkers and 20 other unions. They lost 9-6, with one other delegate joining the five Sanders supporters for it.

“Every life matters. I want to see the political will of the Democratic Party to fight for single payer, period. I don’t think we can piecemeal it,” National Nurses United Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro told platform drafters. “We have to have a commitment to provide the care people need and to not charge them for staying alive. That’s our role in society.”

The Democratic National Committee contingent, named by Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla., the party chair, plus Clinton’s representatives – including the sole union rep, top AFSCME official Paul Booth – outvoted Sanders supporters on single-payer. Sanders wanted to name DeMoro to the drafting committee, too, but Wasserman-Schultz vetoed her.

When the committee voted single-payer down, DeMoro said the Democratic panel “turned its back on tens of millions of Americans who continue to have no health coverage, or who are paying for health insurance they cannot use because of the prohibitive out of pocket costs.” Instead, the committee endorsed health care “as a right.” DeMoro called that “little more than empty rhetoric” without specifics on how to guarantee reasonably priced health care.

Not all the unionists were unhappy with the outcome. Rep. Keith Ellison, DFL-Minn., a Sanders delegate, argued strongly for a binding commitment to a $15 hourly minimum wage, with no exceptions. He says that lost, but Saru Jayaraman of Restaurant Workers United disagreed. “Victory for one fair wage is on the way!” she exulted.

“According to a statement by Clinton campaign senior policy advisor Maya Harris, the draft policy position reaffirms that ‘Working people should earn at least $15 an hour, citing New York’s minimum wage law and calling for raising and indexing the federal minimum wage. It also calls for the elimination of the ‘tipped’ wage and for the right of workers to form or join a union,'” Jayaraman explained.   

“It means we’re on the verge of correcting decades of injustice and improving the lives of millions of Americans, especially women and people of color trapped in poverty because the federal tipped minimum has remained frozen at $2.13/hour for 25 years and tipped workers are continually left behind in minimum wage increases. On the horizon, we can see a day when women are no longer forced to endure sexual harassment because of an irrational system that leaves them dependent on tips to pay the rent and feed their families.”

Photo: The platform panel heard testimony about how NAFTA cost the jobs of the Nabisco workers seen demonstrating earlier this year on Chicago’s South Side.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C.

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