Retirees step up fight for health care, pensions

If the recent conferences of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) and the Alliance of Retired Americans (ARA) are any indication, senior militancy is definitely on the rise. Both of these union-based organizations, meeting back-to-back in Columbus, Ohio, in late October, focused on the developing fight against the Bush administration, the fight for genuine prescription drug coverage, and the fight to preserve pension rights.

“We must make the fight for national health care the defining issue of the 2004 elections,” SOAR Director Jim Centner told the cheering delegates.

The fight for health care and prescription drug coverage were the key issues at the SOAR conference. Connie Engholm from the ARA reported on the victory in forcing pharmaceutical companies to negotiate lower drug prices for Ohioians.

Almost every speaker slammed Bush’s war in Iraq. “Bush wants $87 billion for his Iraq war while he cuts pensions and health care for retirees here. That $87 billion would make a tremendous health care system for Americans,” said Bill Luoma, a SOAR leader from Warren, Ohio.

“The key to everything is unity to defeat Bush and the ultra-right next year,” Dave McCall, USWA district director, told the delegates. “To win we’ve got to start now.”

The Ohio ARA conference showed the remarkable growth of the organization in its first year of existence. Engholm reported that there are now 110 chapters of the ARA in Ohio.

Reports of militant actions marked the conference. ARA organized a successful sit in at Sen. Mike DeWine’s (R-Ohio) office in Cleveland, protesting his support for the Bush administration’s bill to privatize parts of Medicare. Reports were made of militant ARA-led actions in Chicago and Phoenix protesting the phony prescription drug bill.

The ARA was alone among national organizations in opposing the administration’s prescription drug bill, calling it a “ploy to privatize Medicare.” After the ARA actions, it was reported that Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) withdrew his support for the bill. It was reported that the conference committee is now so divided that the bill may be dead.

After a series of reports, the conference went into closed session in order to discuss building an organization to defeat Bush and the ultra-right in the 2004 elections.

The author can be reached at bruce@admiral.cc