One of President Obama's biggest allies -- Big Labor -- is coming to his aid on healthcare.
The AFL-CIO, the nation's largest union federation, announced today that it will mount an intensive 30-day grassroots effort to back a sweeping healthcare overhaul, timed during the recess when members of Congress will be home listening to their constituents.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, in a call-to-arms memo to union leaders, put the choice starkly: "The question for us is: will we let them make health care 'Obama's Waterloo' or will we make it the next big step in our march to Turn Around America?"
Sweeney said unions must fight for healthcare legislation that helps working people, not insurance companies. (His full memo is below.)
The AFL-CIO also put out a statement assailing the tactics of conservative groups, which are sending activists to congressional town hall meetings to criticize members of Congress.
"Every American has the inalienable right to participate in our democratic process. Our politics is passionate, heartfelt and often loud -- as was the founding of our nation. But that is not what the corporate-funded mobs are engaging in when they show up to disrupt town halls held by members of Congress," said the federation's secretary-treasurer, Richard Trumka.
"Major health care reform is closer than ever to passage and it is no secret that special interests want to weaken or block it. These mobs are not there to participate. As their own strategy memo states, they have been sent by their corporate and lobbyist bankrollers to disrupt, heckle and block meaningful debate. This is a desperation move, meant to slow the momentum for change," the statement continues.
"Mob rule is not democracy. People have a democratic right to express themselves and our elected leaders have a right to hear from their constituents -- not organized thugs whose sole purpose is to shut down the conversation and attempt to scare our leaders into inaction. We call on the insurance companies, the lobbyists and the Republican leaders who are cheering them on to halt these ‘Brooks Brothers Riot’ tactics. Health care is a crucial issue and everyone - on all sides of the issue - deserves to be heard."
UPDATE: The Service Employees International Union is urging attendees at townhall meetings to sign a pledge not be disruptive and to listen to those with whom they disagree.
“At the same time that America’s families are seeking relief from fast-rising and unaffordable health care costs, extreme radicals and corporate front groups are trying to derail health insurance reform by disrupting public meetings. While SEIU and allies across the country are staging more than 400 events to promote a real discussion on the country’s need for healthcare reform, these ‘Astroturf’ organizations, are spreading ludicrous, discredited myths designed to scare people away from much-needed reform," SEIU Healthcare Chairman Dennis Rivera said in a statement this afternoon.
“America’s families want a serious and civil discourse about health insurance reform. They want to know how health insurance reform will protect them and their loved ones.
“We, therefore, challenge everyone attending public meetings about health insurance reform to sign a pledge that they are prepared to engage in a civil dialogue so that the American people can better understand how reform, and the absence of such reform, will affect their lives.
“We are convinced that such a serious and civil discourse – tied to facts, not myths – will substantially increase the public’s support for reform."
To: AFL-CIO Executive Council
Presidents of National and International Unions
Principal Officers of State and Local Labor Federations
From: John J. Sweeney
Re: Thirty Day Campaign To Get Congress to Side With Working Families –
Not Insurance Companies – on Health Reform!
This month members of Congress will be meeting with their constituents and deciding how to vote on health reform when they return after Labor Day.
Congress' choice comes down to this: Side with health insurers and vote for legislation that continues their control over health care in America, or vote for reform that puts people in charge of their health care.
At stake is nothing less than insurers' power to control what doctors we see, what treatments we get and how much of our wage dollars go to their fat profits.
President Obama's proposal would put people and their doctors in charge of their own health care, reduce health care cost inflation, outlaw insurance company abuses, give doctors better decision-making tools for care, and require insurers to compete with a public health insurance option.
Hundreds of millions of dollars – including lots of our insurance premium dollars – are being spent by an unholy alliance of insurers, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and the Republican right in an aggressive campaign to stop health reform.
The question for us is: will we let them make health care "Obama's Waterloo" or will we make it the next big step in our march to Turn Around America?
August will tell! And that's why we're launching a "Thirty Day Campaign" in support of the President's health reform proposal. I urge you to commit to this campaign, just as you have to our push for the Employee Free Choice Act!
In addition to health care, we have a strong and focused plan for the Free Choice campaign for August. These two efforts fit together well as the centerpiece of our Turn Around America campaign.
On July 25, thanks to your efforts, Congress heard from over 30,000 AFL-CIO union members in a coalition effort that logged 72,000 calls in one day! Last month, 7,500 union members blanketed the halls of Congress in the largest health care lobby day ever. With the same kind of effort, we will make this month the biggest and most effective nationwide grassroots lobby effort ever on health care.
The principal battleground in the campaign will be town hall meetings and other gatherings with members of Congress in their home districts. We want your help to organize major union participation to counter the right-wing "Tea-Party Patriots" who will try to disrupt those meetings, as they've been trying to do to meetings for the last month. See the ttached news clip from a Philadelphia town hall meeting on August 2nd where opponents tried to shout down Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
(Remember the hooligans – many of them Republican Congressional staff – who harassed Florida vote counters in 2000? We can't let that happen again!).
· Organize major union participation in Congressional Town Hall meetings, both live and
virtual "Tele-Town Hall Meetings." A list of these meetings will be sent to you as soon
as we receive it along with the list of approximately 50 high priority districts.
· Election-style Local Union communications with members – at home and at work. It's
the way we elected President Obama and it's the way we can win Health Care Reform!
· Leadership meetings with Congressional members on our key issues – a requirement
that ALL employers "pay or play," a robust public health insurance plan to compete
with private insurers and drive down health costs, relief for company/union funds
providing pre-Medicare retiree coverage, and no taxation of health benefits!
· Redouble our efforts on Capitol Hill against taxation of benefits OF ANY KIND, for
including ALL businesses in the requirement to provide coverage, and for robust public
health insurance plan option. Before the Senate leaves for recess, I will be meeting with
key Senators to press our case against taxation of benefits and the proposed tax on
· Special attention to retirees who have become a major target of the other side. The
Alliance for Retired Americans will both attend member-sponsored town halls and
create events of their own. In addition, they will have a mail/phone program in key
· Working America canvassers in high priority states are expected to generate over 3,000
hand-written letters this month.
Our community ally, Health Care for America Now! is planning its own meetings with members of Congress, actions, and press events that I would urge you to support. Information on the events will be sent to you as soon as it's available.
Thank you for everything you have already done to win real health reform this year.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.