Retirees celebrate health care reform, prepare for mid-term elections

LAS VEGAS — The Alliance for Retired Americans held its convention here in Las Vegas, April 6-9. Like other bulwarks of the working class, this retiree organization has its main roots in the labor movement. The organization has grown from 3 million members in the last convention to 4 million in 2010. They now have 30 state organizations chartered. Four hundred delegates from all over the nation attended this convention.

The most immediate issues discussed had to do with maintaining and extending retiree rights. The convention celebrated the great victory of getting a health care bill passed into law, but they also dedicated themselves to overcoming the “big lie” techniques of big-money interests opposing health care reform. Several workshops went over the many benefits of the new reform. Nevada Congresswoman Dr. Dina Titus, for example, said that Republicans spent $1.3 million the ten days preceding the vote in Congress to make her change her mind! She added that 2,000 robo-calls were directed to her office, which completely tied up her phones.

ARA is wary of the government’s new commission on Social Security and Entitlement Reform. Retirees plan to mobilize against any cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Speakers pointed out that anti-worker lawmakers only recently “discovered” the United States has a deficit problem — after they gave a trillion or more dollars to the financiers who created the economic crisis.

Further, any future Social Security funding problems can be cured easily and simply by raising the cap that allows the wealthiest people to avoid paying for the program, many argued. A proposed transaction tax on financiers would resolve the government’s deficit problems, rather than attempting to make workers, retired and active, bear the burdens.

The convention did not limit its concerns to those immediately facing America’s seniors. They also discussed the jobs crisis and other social ills that affect their grandchildren, even more than themselves.

The most pressing issue, looming over the convention and over the nation, is the 2010 elections. Retirees vote more than the general population in all elections. In non-presidential elections, the consistently-voting seniors gain even more clout at the polls.

Most of America’s seniors are isolated, speakers said, and easily misled by powerful television advertising. While seniors, in general, have been seen as slow to embrace new solutions and reforms, union retirees deliver their votes to progressive candidates and basic worker issues.

The problem before the Alliance for Retired Americans, then, is to take their progressive activism into the general senior population and win the 2010 elections for working people.

Photo: A Colorado union retiree volunteers his time at a phone bank. AFL-CIO/CC