Texas unionists demand health care for all

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Coming to this coastal city from all corners of the Lone Star State, a strikingly diverse group of delegates — men and women of many nationalities, young and old — gathered for the 47th constitutional convention of the Texas AFL-CIO Aug. 1-4.

Delegates were treated to a variety of speakers who repeatedly emphasized the importance of political organization among labor activists to achieve legislation that benefits working people. Numerous speakers talked about the importance of achieving universal health care and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a law that would make it easier for workers to form unions.

Many speakers focused on recent electoral successes in Texas, both in increasing the number of Democrats in the state Legislature and in the U.S. House of Representatives. Delegates were exuberant over labor’s role in breaking the back of the notoriously right-wing political machine of former GOP Rep. Tom DeLay, and over the election of Democrats Ciro Rodriguez and Nick Lampson to Congress.

The importance of unity and organization was also a common theme. Becky Moeller, president-elect of the Texas AFL-CIO and the first woman to hold that office, told the delegates, “To make progress, we have to band together. … Together and united we can leave organized labor’s footprint in Texas.”

The convention called for passage of HR 676, a bill introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) that would provide single-payer health care for all persons in the U.S. The Texas AFL-CIO added its name to 81 central labor councils, 297 union organizations and 20 state AFL-CIOs that have endorsed HR 676.

Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, urged the delegates to support universal health care. He pointed out that whenever the CWA goes to the bargaining table with AT&T, headquartered in San Antonio, the company always tries to cut health care benefits.

CWA has asked AT&T to work with the union to pass universal health care, noting that “in other democracies it is considered a right.” Cohen quoted a veteran who had recently returned from Iraq as saying that his worst fear is that “I’ll get a job with no health care.”

Linda Chavez-Thompson, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO and a native Texan, called for a national health care plan and enactment of the EFCA. She called for a president “who will be on our side.”

“It all goes back to Woody Guthrie,” she said, “and how he sang 60 years ago. He said, ‘This land was made for you and me.’ His song is still true today. This land was not made to keep working people down. This land wasn’t made for union busting and race baiting and gay bashing or for oppressing women and immigrants and people with disabilities.”

Chavez-Thompson continued: “This land wasn’t made for us to be poor, scared, insulted and denied a voice when we need it the most. This land wasn’t made to break our spirit in the sweatshops and break our backs in the fields. This land was made for you and me to be strong and proud.”

phill1917 @comcast.net