Verizon Strike: Decisive Battle for Entire Working Class

Equal Time radio podcast:45,000 Verizon workers have been forced out on strike by a corporation intent on outsourcing their jobs, cutting their health care and pension benefits, and working conditions despite earning record profits.

Verizon striker Pam Galpern and strike supporter Peter Spitzform explain what’s at stake and why the strike can become the starting point not only for a general mobilization against runaway corporate power’s attacks on jobs, wages, health care, social programs and democratic rights – but also for building the movement for all our social and economic rights.

Listen at: http://equaltimeradio.com/?q=node/372
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Length: 22:22 minutes (20.47 MB)

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Mass Strikes Against Austerity Brewing in France?

While workplace resistance to the tsunami of attacks on our living standards, pensions, healthcare, social security, and our social wage in general is near an all time low as measured by recent U.S. strike activity, our French brothers and sisters are demonstrating a different way.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, leader of a center-right party, campaigned promising to put more money in people’s pockets, to cut taxes, and make France more competitive. Eighteen months ago Sarkozy seemed unstoppable. Now his government is trying to force workers to contribute more to their pension and retire later. The attack on pensions has stripped away what little remains of the populist posturing that helped Sarkozy and his party win in 2007. As the Economist reported, “The champion of the worker is now wielding the ax, cutting jobs in teaching, hospitals and the police force.”

Despite strikes and protests, and a vow of further action by labor unions, the French National Assembly voted in mid September to pass President Sarkozy’s pension cuts. The French labor movement responded with a general strike on September 23rd, followed by a wave of demonstrations on October 2nd. On both days, perhaps 3 million workers and their supporters (in relative terms that would be 15 million in the U.S.) took part, with more than 200 local demonstrations on the 2nd.

A day after railway unions called rolling strikes, President Sarkozy, facing a further wave of strikes, announced some changes to his proposed pension cuts to ease the impact on women who stopped work to raise children. The unions dismissed the move as a smokescreen.

Nevertheless, calling one-day demonstrations and strikes weeks apart with no plan for continuing the action is not a strategy that could successfully stop a determined right wing government.

Sarkozy has vowed that the government would not bend on the essentials of the pension bill: increasing the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62 by 2018, and the age at which people can retire on a full pension from 65 to 67 by 2023.

The next general strike is due to take place on October 12th, and it appears that most French union leaders may escalate the action by organizing rolling 24-hour strikes if the government does not back down. In this plan, striking workplaces would hold workplace meetings every 24 hours where a vote would be taken on whether or not to continue the strike. This would be a qualitative escalation of mass action from the previous strategy of calling national days of action every few weeks.

In some places, sectors of industry are already out – college students, are walking out; high school students are protesting the pension reform; and longshore and petrochemical workers are already engaged in bitter strikes. Workers have shut the oil terminals at Fos-Lavera, the world’s third-largest oil port for 12 days, leading to shutdowns at major refineries in southern France. Some of these strikes have been called by national union leaderships, while others started on a local basis. In many cases, such as the ongoing petrochemical and dock strikes, local issues fuel the strikes.

French union leaders have also called a further day of demonstrations to begin four days into the escalated indefinite strike action – two big demonstrations in 4 days! If actually carried through, this would be the action of a workers’ movement that means business.

Our French comrades in the New Anti-capitalist Party are of the opinion that the union leaders have not escalated the action out of choice, but out of necessity; their hand has been forced by the pressure of the millions of workers who have mobilized. As these are demonstrations and strikes called from above, it is necessary to build rank-and-file networks and general assemblies to deepen, coordinate, and sustain mass action.

While the mass strikes have not started yet; and the union leaders and government still have time to come up with excuses for postponing general strike action, this is a potential turning point in the class struggle. An indefinite general strike may be about to sweep across France.

With working people and the oppressed across the world facing the imposition of austerity measures, the example of such a political strike movement would demonstrate the enormous potential power of organized labor to disrupt the day-to-day functioning of society (and, implicitly, to reorganize it), with profound implications for the class struggle.

Vermont is going to lead the way in Healthcare

Vermonters from all across the state converged on the statehouse on May 1st in a demonstration to show that Vermont can be the first state in the nation to recognize healthcare as a human right, providing it as a public good by implementing a single-payer, universal healthcare system.

Over a thousand people marched from the Montpelier City Hall down to the capital building accompanied by drums, dancers, puppets, baloons and signs supporting universal healthcare while chanting “hey, hey what do we say? Vermont is ready to lead the way!” The marchers then joined another two hundred participants already at the Statehouse lawn and swarmed up the capitol steps for a festive rally that featured skits by regional organizing committees of the “Healthcare Is A Human Right” campaign, musical performances by Vermont artists, and speeches by campaign leaders from all parts of the state.

A group from southern Vermont performed a skit based on “The Wizard of Oz” that hit opponents of a single-payer health care system for using scare tactics. “Liars and tyrants and scares, oh my,” they chanted. The wicked witch represented a “greedy insurance company” and she melted after “single-payer water” was thrown on her.

Sen. Sanders, a longtime advocate of universal care, called it a “moral disgrace” that the U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t guarantee health care for all of its people. I want you to pass a single-payer health care program in Vermont,” he said. “And when you do that, I will go to the president of the United States and say, ‘Mr. President, this is what Vermont has done. Let ’em go forward’.” To thunderous applause, Sanders added, “I’m going to go to my conservative friends in the Congress and say, ‘You believe in states’ rights. Well, here’s a state that has passed single-payer. Let ’em go forward!’” To operate a single-payer system Vermont would need a waiver to get out of the state insurance exchange required under the new federal health care law. Sanders said he and Sen. Ron Wyden are writing a bill that would allow states to become “laboratories for Democracy” and enact other health care models before 2017.

A bill passed by both the Vermont House and Senate, and currently in conference to resolve differences, mandates designing three proposals for a universal health care system, including a single payer system. The rally Saturday was a celebration of the campaign’s accomplishments, an effort to strengthen the legislation, and another step in a multi year campaign to build the power to achieve a single payer system that fulfills human rights principles.

“We’re just gonna keep moving forward and hopefully by 2011, 2012 we can put in a real system that covers everybody, that makes sense, put our health care dollars toward health care services,” says James Haslam, lead organizer at the Vermont Workers’ Center.

David Kreindler, a state employee labor activist and a leader of the Vermont Workers’ Center, summed up where he believes the movement for health care reform stands, “We are winning, but we have a long way to go before we’ve won.”

Vermont Passes Single Payer

The Vermont Workers Center/ Jobs with Justice (VWC ) grew out of a grassroots livable wage campaign in central Vermont. Since 1998, when the VWC was started, we’ve organized support for union contract and right-to-organize campaigns at over one hundred workplaces across the state.

Two years ago, based on the growing need for systemic healthcare reform reflected in calls to our workers’ rights hotline, discussions with our members and affiliates, and in increasingly difficult collective bargaining over the rising the costs of health insurance, we decided to prioritize organizing a multi-year Healthcare Is A Human Right Campaign. We have had considerable success in organizing a strong grassroots social movement that has engaged thousands of Vermonters. We have built a statewide network of organizing committees in every county, and have a real chance to pass ground-breaking legislation. We are building for a huge rally on Saturday, May 1st at the Statehouse in Montpelier.

With the national healthcare reform movement derailed for the time being, it is clear that a real solution to our healthcare crisis must come from the states, and we believe that Vermont can be the first state to enact a single-payer system that guarantees the human right to healthcare. We say this recognizing that, even in Vermont with a viable third party (the Progressive Party), we lack a proper political vehicle for radical reform. We will see whether a mobilized social movement with significant union support can break the political and economic barriers that deny the human right to healthcare.

–Traven, for the Vermont Workers Center

Important Victory! Vermont Senate Passed S.88!

On Wednesday, April 7, the Vermont Senate passed S.88 by an overwhelming majority of 28-2. Passage of this bill by the Senate is a major step toward recognizing the human right to healthcare in Vermont and is an important victory for the “Healthcare Is A Human Right” Campaign. The bill calls for the hiring of consultants to design three health care models, one of which must be a single payer system that is administered by government, publicly financed and decoupled from employment. All three of the models must meet the Healthcare is a Human Right principles of universal access and coverage, be comprehensive and affordable, be transparent in design and must ensure public participation in the design, implementation, evaluation, and accountability. The designs also have to include implementation timelines beginning no later than July, 2012.

The “Health Care Is A Human” right campaign has fought to have the right to healthcare as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enacted in state law since it started almost two years ago. At the time of the Campaign’s launch, the notion that Vermont should provide healthcare to every citizen regardless of their ability to pay was brushed off by many politicians as “not politically possible”. The Campaign has since turned this doubt into a big victory Wednesday on the Senate floor through its massive grassroots organizing campaign. In fact, the improved S.88 “Healthy Vermont” Bill adopted languages and frameworks that the “Health Care Is A Human Right” Campaign has been instrumental in developing.

Jake Williams, a Vermont Workers Center staff member from Brattleboro says that “the bill passed 28-2 thanks to the hard work of Vermonters who called their legislators, wrote to their local papers in support of the bill, came to Montpelier to give testimony on the importance of healthcare reform, and helped spread the word about the campaign in their communities.” He adds that “now, we are one big step closer to enacting a system where healthcare is recognized as a human right. This never would have happened without the help of our supporters and our communities.”

“We thank our Senators for their votes, and now look to their fellow legislators in the House to do the right thing” says Peg Franzen, Policy Committee Chair for the Campaign. The Campaign is currently gearing up for a huge May 1st Rally at the Statehouse, which has been billed as the largest rally of its kind in Vermont’s history. The main purpose of the rally is to celebrate the Campaign’s achievements so far, to keep building the momentum for universal single-payer healthcare, and to keep the pressure on the House of Representatives.

For a full analysis of the just-passed S88 and more information on the campaign, please visit the Campaign’s website at www.workerscenter.org/healthcare. The “Healthcare Is A Human Right” Campaign also has local leaders and organizers spread throughout the state in every community and they are available for interviews by any news organization.

Vermont rallies for single payer

On May Day, Vermont’s state capitol rocked to chants of “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Insurance companies got to go!” and “The system, let’s stop it – My health is not for profit!” as over 1000 people took a day off from work or school for a boisterous Health Care is a Human Right march and rally. Union members, including hundreds of nurses and other healthcare workers, community activists and youth converged for our largest weekday statehouse rally on record.

While sentiment for single-payer has been strong for years, this rally reflected a year of strategic organizing by the Vermont Worker’s Center in a grassroots Health Care is a Human Right Campaign. The Workers Center has worked to build and train organizing committees across the state, polling over 1,500 Vermonters to hear their experiences with the health care system, and holding local hearings. The Campaign is enlisting a growing number of workplace activists who are reaching out to their coworkers. The Workers Center has linked the campaign with public sector workers’ resistance to layoffs and cuts in wages, benefits and public services.

There is a growing disconnect between our Republican governor/legislature (with a “veto proof” Democratic majority), who have spent the year cutting programs and services and laying off state employees, while refusing to take up single-payer legislation which languishes in committee, and most Vermonters who recognize that health care is a human right, that it is a public good.

However, the size and character of the rally demonstrated to thousands of potential activists, as well as legislators, that the Campaign is not just changing what is “politically possible,” but given the economic times and the growth of the movement, the Healthcare is a Human Right Campaign is building real organized power. According to Workers Center chair, and Teamster activist, Dawn Stanger, “Today is May Day, a day that commemorates when our foremothers and forefathers fought for basic workers’ rights and the eight-hour-day. They did this by organizing, standing together and creating change through mass struggle. We need to do the same thing for health care…Today was a giant step towards realizing this right. We feel that Vermont can lead the nation by becoming the first state to have real universal healthcare.”

Speaking at the rally, Senator Bernie Sanders, I-VT, praised the turnout, “You are part of a struggle to transform the basic values of the United States of America…You are saying loud and clear that health care is a human right for all people, not just the privileged or those who have a lot of money.” Sanders also announced that he has introduced a bill in the Senate which would make it possible for five states to establish single-payer, providing federal waivers to create one public pool covering every resident.

As citizens rallied, the Vermont House passed a resolution endorsing both H.R.676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, and S.703 sponsored by Sanders, which would establish a state-based health security program providing health care to all.

Over the next period, the Campaign plan is to strengthen local organizing committees, building the power necessary to counteract the insurance and pharmaceutical interests, and make lawmakers carry out the will of their constituents.

The Vermont Workers’ Center is part of Jobs with Justice, Labor Campaign for Single-Payer Healthcare, Grassroots Global Justice, and partners with the National Economic & Social Right Initiative.