Thousands in Seattle Protest for Single Payer

On Saturday, June 2nd 2009, several thousand Seattle residents took to the streets to call for a national single payer health plan.  Though numbers were not as large as key organizers from Healthcare Union SEIU 1199 had hoped they would be, the tone of the action was an interesting mix of militant attitude and carnival of the oppressed.  Given the increasingly obvious attitude of the ruling gentry in the northwest and elsewhere that public and personal health should remain a privilege, the no-nonsense tone of the crowd was most welcome indeed.

Labor sponsors of the event included the nurses of 1199, the King County Labor Council, the International Association of Machinists, Retail Clerks, the Seattle Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and Teamsters Local 754.  A number of church and community organizations also lent vocal and physical presence to the gathering.

Perhaps the highlight of the afternoon so far as advocates of labor’s power are concerned was the refusal of the crowd to give a respectful hearing to Washington State U.S. Senator Patty Murray’s ongoing apologia for the Democratic Party’s retreat from any commitment to a national single payer health plan.  The idea of nationalized health care was put forward energetically by Obama supporters during the last election season, and now that the new president has begun to cozy up to insurance companies and back off from even meager commitments to socialized care, the blinders have fallen away from many eyes in the crowd.  Murray was unable to receive any “slack” from the body of the demonstration as she attempted to put forward the “Democratic” party line.

The bottom line for many of the participants in the action is that health care costs are now so prohibitory that many who work in health care themselves cannot afford medical assistance for themselves and their families.  Many community health care advocates in the crowd raised the concern that, in addition to rising costs of treatment plans, budgets for local programs that assist those with chronic illness and the elderly with preventative plans have been gutted. In such a context, it is hardly surprising that street theater and satirical skits were also part of the event.

The only way a single payer socialized health care plan that provides universal coverage will be back “on the table” is if the labor movement mobilizes its members and resources to fight for it. Seattle’s mobilization is a step in the right direction.

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