PITTSBURGH – With the industrial heartland in a state of collapse, 33 steel companies are in bankruptcy, steelworkers are joining thousands of doctors, nurses, health care workers and grassroots organizations to push universal health care from resolution to the front of the political agenda. Across industrial states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois and Minnesota, ad hoc coalitions are springing up to win national health care for all U.S. residents.

Kicking off the National Health Care campaign in Western Pennsylvania, the local coalition, which includes the League of Women Voters as well as doctors, nurses, steelworkers, electrical workers and a host of religious leaders, organized over 100 central labor council leaders, elected officials, steelworkers, active and retired, rank and file and leadership, labor leaders, professionals, small business people and residents to get the health care crisis on the front burner.

“Everybody in. Nobody out,” opened Dr. Quentin Young, national coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program, based in Chicago. “This is an historic meeting. With this gathering it will be said that the movement to bring national health care to Pennsylvania started here.”

Health care, Young pointed out, is the only social problem for which the material base currently exists for a solution. There are 10 million health care workers in the U.S., plenty of hospitals, technology and money. The only obstacle to providing every U.S. resident with quality, comprehensive health care is the system itself, where insurence company and drug corporation profits come first, health care second.

In the last 10 to 15 years, the situation has placed the doctor/patient relationship at risk. Every poll, as well as their political activity, indicates that doctors are now on board to change the system from private to public. “Health care is where we need government,” Young said.

United Steelworkers of America (USWA) International President Leo Gerard, the meeting’s host, added the teeth. In a presentation that is being sent to every USWA local union in the U.S. and Canada, Gerard called on all 600,000 steel retirees to become the core of this fight. “The health care system in the U.S. is racist and class conscious,” Gerard said, citing the numbers: 49 percent of U.S. workers earning $20,000 a year or less have no health coverage; 28 percent earning $20,000-$34,000 lack health insurence; 45 percent of Hispanic residents and 27 percent of African-American residents do not have access to health care. In the fastest growing segment of the U.S. economy, small businesses, 59 percent of the workers cannot go to the doctor.

“The stars are lining up,” Gerard continued, “like they did on the tariff fight. No one thought we could win that in this political climate. We can put together the same fight as we did on the tariffs and trade for health care.”

The USWA is spearheading a federal bill to cover health care for not only 600,000 steelworker retirees, but all victims of company bankruptcies, including Enron. While the federal legislation does not yet have a number, members of congress are signing on and it is expected to be introduced soon. “This is a step,” Gerard said. “We are going after the Democratic Party and Republicans. You cannot be the richest country in the world and not provide health care for your people, all your people !”

The author can be reached at dwinebr696@aol.com


Conn Hallinan
Conn Hallinan

The late Conn Hallinan was a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus. A retired journalism professor, he previously was an editor of People's World when it was a West Coast publication.