Plumbers & Pipefitters Convention Reaffirms Support for Single Payer

Pipefitters Convention Affirms Support for Single Payer Health Care, Demands an End to the Wars, and Calls for a March on Washington to Protect Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid

Meeting in national convention in August 2011, the 340,000 member United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry, or "UA" as it is commonly known, affirmed its support for "further efforts to provide Americans with affordable, quality health care, specifically a true universal health care single-payer system, Medicare for All." At the 2006 Convention the UA endorsed HR 676, the national single payer bill introduced by Congressman John Conyers.

The health care resolution was presented as supportive of the Affordable Care Act that was passed and signed by President Obama in March 2010. Then Delegate John McKnight of Local 170, Vancouver, British Columbia, was greeted with applause as he rose on the convention floor to speak. (The quotes are from the official convention proceedings.) Here's what John McKnight said about Canada's single payer system:

"Thank you delegates. It's very generous of you.

"Anyway, Mr. Chairman, fellow delegates, about three conventions ago my local union sent in a resolution to the UA Convention at that time calling for a national health care program similar to Canada.

"Now, let me just tell you something about myself just for the moment, and it's nonpolitical, Mr. Chairman. In April this year I received a new aortic valve for my heart. I was (in the) hospital for five days in New Westminster. It's (a) hospital in the lower mainland in Vancouver. And what did it cost me? The word that was used in the voting yesterday, it cost me zero.

"But, as a Canadian citizen, it did cost me through the income tax system of our country. Taxation can be a very good thing, and it gave us health care. And I'm sitting across from Brother Bary Clark in my local, a former Business Manager, and he had a quadruple bypass over two years ago. He was in for five days. What did it cost him? Nothing. The American population is being ripped off by the corporate system.

(applause)

"The United States of America is the only industrial nation on this planet that does not have a comprehensive health care system for its people, and that is a shame on the leadership of the United States of America.

(applause)

"So I'm pleased that even this somewhat weakened structure of Medicare here in the United States is being supported by the UA, and I think it's one that we should all support, but I think it's one we should realize it's not the answer. It must be a comprehensive health care system that we should strive for here in the United States. And we have a vested interest in Canada in hoping you get the same results because our system today is under attack by the Medical Association in Canada and the insurance entrepreneurs and our conservative government. And that is an issue for us, so, therefore, it's an issue for all of us.

"Thank you Mr. Chairman."

UA General President William P. Hite thanked him and recognized the delegate on mike 3, Fred Hirsch.

DELEGATE FRED HIRSCH, Local 393, San Jose, CA:

"And what a privilege it is to follow upon such a magnificent delegate as John McKnight.

(applause.)

"I agree with every word that he just said, and I think we have to be just a little more specific than this resolution, which I do support. I would like to amend the resolution so the resolved has the following words, "as well as support further efforts to provide Americans with affordable, quality health care, specifically a true universal health care single-payer, Medicare for all."

Delegate Brent Bowers of Pipefitters Local 711 in Houston, Texas, spoke of his good experience with Canadian health care.

The full resolution including the single payer amendment was passed by the Convention.

The UA convention also called on Congress and the Canadian Parliament to speed the ending of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to redirect military spending to promote job creation at home, rebuild infrastructure, and meet vital human needs.

In addition, the UA Convention called for an all-out, in the streets mobilization to defend Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Delegate Fred Hirsch of Local 393 spoke in favor of the resolution:

"Brothers and sisters, I'd just like to state that we didn't get Social Security and we didn't get the whole New Deal, which came down to include in later days Medicare and Medicaid, out of the flower gardens around the White House. They came out of the grassroots movements of workers all over this country.

"The New Deal would not have been a New Deal if it were not for a general strike that took place in San Francisco, in Seattle, in Minneapolis; if it wasn't for thousands of working men and women who marched on the White House and organized unions as they had never been organized before in the midst of the Great Depression.

"We stand now to lose those gains that were won by those men and women….

"We cannot win this fight with our lobbyists. We cannot win this fight with e-mails. We cannot win this fight unless we're able to move the labor movement to put our feet in the street."

The resolution was passed. It is reproduced below.

RESOLUTION Demanding "Hands Off Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid!"

WHEREAS substantial cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security appear certain to be enacted by Congress by August 2 or soon thereafter in the absence of massive and militant protest actions; and

WHEREAS President Obama's Bi-Partisan Commission (Simpson-Bowles) determined that Draconian cuts were needed in these "entitlements" and now various schemes are proliferating calling for takeaways of one kind or another; and

WHEREAS the takeaways contemplated for the 54 million people on Social Security, 45 million receiving Medicare, and 53 million using Medicaid are being justified by the claim that the country is broke and we all need to share in the sacrifice to restore fiscal stability; and

WHEREAS that is a giant hoax because taxing the corporations and the rich, closing the loopholes, bringing the war dollars home now, and creating tens of millions of good paying jobs -- which would produce gigantic additional revenue -- would ensure all the funding needed to preserve and expand our rights and gains; and

WHEREAS the big question now is what the labor movement will do to meet this challenge confronting working people and the great majority. The choice is clear: either confine labor's protest against cuts in the social programs to pronouncements opposing them, coupled with lobbying; or combine these efforts with an all-out mobilization of the rank-and-file and our allies to prevent the cuts from being enacted; and

WHEREAS the first option, without more, will not succeed because Democrats and Republicans alike have made clear their intention to impose the cuts, and this will not change with just a lobbying campaign. On the other hand, our labor movement has the power to turn the situation around and to stop the corporate onslaught in its tracks by demanding "Hands Off Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid!" and organizing immediately a fightback campaign on a scope and magnitude that surpasses anything labor has done in the past several decades; now therefore be it

RESOLVED that the United Association urges the AFL-CIO, Change to Win, NEA, and other independent unions to issue a statement declaring their rejection of any and all proposals to cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid; and be it further

RESOLVED that the United Association urges the above-named labor organizations to organize a campaign to mobilize support for "No Cuts or Concessions! Tax the Corporations and the Rich!" in the streets -- where it counts the most -- and in every corner of the nation; and be it further

RESOLVED that the United Association urges the above-named organizations to get the wheels rolling on organizing an emergency march on Washington with the goal of generating such large numbers in the capital as to preclude enactment of the cuts being planned by the corporations, the wealthy, and the politicians willing to do their bidding; and be it finally

RESOLVED that copies of this resolution be sent to all the above-named organizations.