Labor Activists Gather in St. Louis for the Premiere of Michael Moore's Sicko

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Roughly 150 activists and members of organized labor gathered outside of the Chase Park Plaza Cinema on Friday, June 29th, to declare that the time has come for, in the words of Carol Stevenson from the California Nurses Association, "comprehensive, universal, and guaranteed" healthcare for all and to view the St. Louis premiere of Sicko, Michael Moore's long-awaited exposé on the subject.

Various speakers took their turns in front of the "Sicko Bus", denouncing the current state of affairs and coming out in favor of a universal, single-payer system.  Unions had strong presence at the rally.   Aside from the various representative of nurses' unions, there was Kitty Loepker, a United Steelworker from local 1899 in Granite City, IL.  She relayed the heart wrenching tale of her brother.  He went to the hospital complaining of stomach pains, but because he, like nearly 50 million other Americans, lacked insurance, two different hospitals sent him home, where he died.  Stories like this are repeated every day in this country and are a central focus of Moore's film, the victims of a system that is designed to deny treatment.  

A very interesting speech was given by Dr. William Landau, a St. Louis neurologist and member of Physicians for a National Health Program, who spoke on behalf of those doctors that are tired of a system that encourages them to deny treatments like those that would have saved Kitty's brother, referring to HMO's as "Health Mafia Organizations".  

Another inspiring speech was given by long-time St. Louis activist, Bud Deraps of Veterans for Peace.  He discussed fact that over one million troops, contract, and government workers have been cycled through Iraq since 1991, many of whom have been exposed to depleted uranium and potential other dangerous agents with negative and often unknown consequences.   The healthcare system, as it exists, is simply not equipped to deal with a 426% rise in general cancer, a 366% rise in Leukemia, and a 600% rise in birth defects, which The Basra Medical Journal reports is the statistical increase that they have seen from 1990 to 2001 in Iraq, where the exposure to the weapons of war has clearly been most pronounced.   As Bud points out, what are these soldiers, mostly working-class youth, to do when they return home sick and find a 400,000 case backlog and a one year wait for treatment and corporate healthcare system unwilling to treat them?

It was generally agreed that the system is broken and cannot be "patched up".  Organized labor took center stage at the event, as capable and willing to carry this struggle on to the end.   180 unions have thus far signed on for universal healthcare.  As one speaker put it, "without the unions, we wouldn't be near where we are."  Ultimately our class must organize politically, as well.   If one looks at those countries in Moore's film with universal healthcare, they all have something in common:  They all have mass parties of labor, through which the working-class was able to codify concrete gains in the form of political reforms, such as universal healthcare, expanded social security and social safety nets, free public education through college, cheap public transit systems, 35 hour work weeks, etc.   These gains are currently under attack in these countries, but in this country until working people are organized as a class, with a party of our own, we will be left to rely upon the breadcrumbs from the table of the ruling class.

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