Franken, Reagan, Health Care Reform And Our Debt to Unions

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Every American must support health care reform as if your life depended on it, because it does. From the man in his late 40s with a family who is laid off to a young person in the workforce but not quite making enough money to cover her health insurance, to the divorced women with children back in the workforce, to the millions who have been downsized but are not quite eligible for Medicare but at an age very vulnerable to illness or disease…all kinds of people or their parents or their children who will one day need good, reliable, moderately priced health care insurance. And we are talking about insurance in the broad sense…to be covered by someone for a risk that is greater than one can handle one’s self. You could be covered by a rich relative. You would be insured, have insurance against risk. The confidence in that person and the assurance from that person is your insurance. But it doesn’t happen that way. Almost no one has that kind of insurance. And so we have businesses who do this for a profit.

If you want a pretty good explanation of health care, and have ten minutes, listen to the Harvard-educated, humorist, author and political commentator, Senator Al Franken of Minnesota answer questions from a group of people at the Minnesota state fair.

Americans, by and large, are reasonably reasonable. They are fairly fair. But they need the facts, the truth. And so many in government and on the media and in blogs like this one are trying to get the message out that this is true reform, and the alternative is disaster.

If you go to the category “health care” on this blog, you will find numerous health care articles, on the crisis itself, on costs, on different plans, on the people and the identities of the groups trying to prevent health care, and the anticipated results of health care.

As Senator Franken points out, we must do something or health care insurance problems…and they are numerous, very serious, and growing day by day, will crush our ability to rebuild our economy. People can’t move, they don’t know what their insurance costs will be from year to year, and they are becoming beyond the reach of many average American workers. Even the people who have health care, like union members, are now being asked to pay more, take less, and be subject to the whims of the insurance industry.

Just a brief point about unions. We know that unions have fallen out of favor with many in America. Unions are indisputably responsible for certain things in American life. They gave us health care originally, gave us the idea of a livable retirement income through pensions (not just Social Security), gave us at least two weeks a year of vacation and more as workers came closer to retirement, gave us the 40-hour work week and the ability to object to abusive or dangerous working conditions, known as the grievance procedure. They did this by literally fighting in the streets with sticks and clubs against armed security forces working for corporations (the Blackwater of that day…called Pinkertons.) Eventually, those rough measures led to leadership that was tough and strong. But some of those leaders became involved with organized crime.

While the union members were not part of organized crime, and while they suffered by having their pensions looted in some cases, the union image became identified with criminals and an implied threatening attitude in negotiations. In addition, they often “featherbedded” jobs, keeping more workers on than were necessary to get the job done…rather than protecting the job by keeping the number necessary to get the job done. They fought for wages and benefits that were unrealistic and didn’t benefit either the worker or the corporation. Times were good, workers worked hard, corporations made plenty of money…so why not share the wealth? Union workers were not getting rich by any means. All they had were good jobs that gave them the ability to buy decent homes, cars, take a vacation and with some effort send their kids to college. And all that happened from the end of World War II to 1980.

In 1980, a former actor became governor of California because, as a reasonably intelligent man who had learned how to communicate extremely well, he could articulate the message that the state government was too large and offered too much to too many which cost too much in taxes. Whether true or not, he went on to use that post to campaign for and win the Presidency. He had been, for several years prior to his governorship, the spokesman for General Electric and the husband of a woman whose father was one of the most arch-conservative, and some said, racist, members of the medical community, a nationally recognized, brilliant surgeon.

Whether those two situations influenced President Reagan or not, he immediately set up policies and took actions to diminish the reputation and the power of the unions. At the same time as he was succeeding, and as union power and influence dimmed, the Reagan policies made it harder and harder for the Average American to survive, even with more and more income and lower taxes. Health insurance companies began to see an opportunity to take a stronger hold of the health insurance marketplace. They were now able to use lobbyists to combine and build large for-profit health insurance companies and hospital chains that would control prices and the delivery of medical services–a very powerful force in society. Eventually, growth and consolidation and more profit taking led to where we are today.

Unions, still the largest organized groups of workers in society, began to negotiate, not for increased wages…as the Reagan policies were followed by Bush policies and thirty years of a Congress bought-and-paid for by 32,000 lobbyists in Washington…but to keep health care benefits. And that is why the unions are the leaders today as America is finally pushing back against economic policies that serve only the very rich and major corporations. Reforms in health care will be linked to unions because the only candidates working for health care and the average working man were those supported by the unions. Health care reform will be put into place by Democrats. That is clear. Republicans aer fighting it with every sleazy, slimy trick, lie after lie, scare tactic after scare tactic, and with every one of the literally hundreds of millions of dollars being spent by the profit-rich health insurance and hospital corporations in the country.

Democrats were shoved into office by the people, to get this job done. That push was made easier by the unions who put those candidates on wheels, with their funds and their untiring effort. With health care reform, whether it succeeds or not, the unions once again deserve the respect and the admiration of the average American citizen. Unions may not have the best health care, but they already have it and theirs is better than yours. They were out on the streets again–this time, fighting for you…for your health care.