AFL-CIO Convention: Two Health Care Resolutions; Everybody's Happy

After President Obama speaks later today, the AFL-CIO convention will consider two health care resolutions, but won't vote them against each other.

Both are expected to pass unanimously.

One will support the Democratic leadership's many and varied health reform proposals. That resolution backs both the government-insurance "public option" supported by the House of Representatives and the insurance co-operative exchange preferred by Senate Democrats, says all employers must pay toward their employees' health care, and chides the administration for proposing to tax union members' benefits.

The other resolution acknowledges that whatever passes Congress this year, "the task of establishing health care as a human right, not a privilege, will still lay before us. The single-payer approach is one the AFL-CIO supports and that merits dedicated congressional support and enactment."

At a morning gathering to prepare for the debate, which is expected to be tightly managed and polite, convention delegates and AFL-CIO executive council member Clyde Rivers, from the California School Employees Association, said years of effort had moved the discussion of single payer much further along than he would have dreamed a year and a half ago. He described Executive Council meetings at which a mention of single payer would be met with stony silence.

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The language of the pro-single payer resolution had been negotiated with the convention committee. Jeff Crosby, North Shore (Massachusetts) labor council president, told the committee that health care reform activists on the ground support single payer, and that the federation should respect the wishes of local activists, on whom it depends to move its program.

At the meeting, union legislative directors counseled impatient advocates to let both resolutions proceed as planned.

"We have no illusion that this will transform people in 16th Street (AFL-CIO headquarters) into single-payer firebrands, but it will work to make those meetings more pleasant—and it gives the work back home more legitimacy," said Mark Dudzic of the Labor Campaign for Single-Payer.

Having the AFL-CIO's official endorsement gives activists fresh material to build the backbone of timid local unions and labor councils and to encourage aggressive campaigning by Jobs with Justice chapters.

"Whoever speaks today, we have to say, passing a resolution isn't enough," said Rose Ann DeMoro, the California Nurses executive director. "All these unions pass single-payer resolutions. The AFL has to step up; the support has to mean something."

Mischa Gaus was the editor of Labor Notes from 2008 to 2012.mischagaus@gmail.com