After a long silence, the AFL-CIO has weighed in on the campaign for comprehensive health care reform. In their resolution, “Renewing the Drive for Comprehensive Health Care Reform,” the February meeting of the AFL-CIO executive council said, “Now, even more than in the past, the AFL-CIO believes strongly that universal coverage is the best and ultimately only way to achieve the goal of extending affordable, high quality health care to all Americans.”

The AFL-CIO resolution made it clear that the federation is tired of the accusation that it is some kind of “special interest” with no interest in getting everyone in our country the health benefits enjoyed by union members and many other workers. Clearly, unions prefer to maintain their benefits. But that, as the recent strike against General Electric showed, is becoming more and more difficult as employers attempt to pass on increased costs. As a matter of fact, health care is fast becoming the top issue in collective bargaining.

The executive organization cited the groundswell of activity by various state labor councils seeking to find solutions to the crisis in health care. Wisconsin and California are two examples of state labor councils seeking state action to get health care for everyone in that state, but others are contemplating similar action. The issue is becoming, should labor expend its political strength and energy on state governments or should the focus be on Congress? The Exec. Council made it clear that many actions will be necessary to get health care to be a focus of the year 2004 elections.

With almost every state government facing skyrocketing budget deficits, it doesn’t make much sense trying to get governors to initiate a new health legislative program when they should be trying to maintain the current level of health and other social programs.

It is a time honored tradition in state legislatures to recognize that state government is not capable of protecting its people with universal health coverage’s and other social problems due to financial and other constraints. That is why they, in the past and now, should contemplate enacting legislation memorializing the national Congress to pass universal health coverage. Once enacted, legislative trips to Washington, D.C., backing up these actions, would make sense.

Since the failure to enact national health legislation in 1994, the Democratic Party, lead by the right of center Democratic Leadership Council, and the AFL-CIO agreed to keep health policy issues off their agendas.

This was a terrible mistake since health care was and remains high on the agenda of all people in the USA. This new direction of the AFL-CIO on health policy is part of the prescription for throwing out the Republicans from Congress and the White House and in health care a matter of right rather than a privilege.

But, the principled new development within the labor movement is, as the resolution says, making health care an item that all candidates seeking election in 2004 must address: “As much as anything else,” the resolutions says, “we need to turn the 2004 elections into a referendum on whether all Americans should finally be able to afford high-quality health care with their right to choose their own doctor.”

As part of that campaign, the council said it will schedule three regional meetings this spring and summer to “explore further the crisis in health care bargaining … and to assist unions in health care bargaining and in broader public policy work.’” The AFL-CIO expects health insurance to be a critical issue as unions representing more than 600,000 workers head into contract talks this year.

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