May Day 2010 Report for Labor Notes

On May 1st, more than 1,500 people poured into the streets of Montpelier, the state capital, chanting, “The system, let’s stop it, our health is not for profit.”

The May Day march, called by the Vermont Workers’ Center’s “Healthcare Is a Human Right” Campaign, came just after both houses of Vermont’s legislature passed by wide margins a bill championed by the campaign.

The bill commits the state to design a new health care system based on the principles of universality, equity, transparency, accountability, and participation. It commissions a consultant to design three options, one of which must be a single-payer (that is, Medicare-for-All or Canadian-style) plan.

The marchers came from all over the state and included members of all Vermont’s major unions, along with young people, students, people with disabilities, members of the faith community, retirees, and lots of previously “unorganized” working people.

The march converged on the statehouse, where marchers gathered to celebrate the legislative victory, demand that the Republican governor refrain from vetoing the bill, and hear speeches and skits from leaders of local organizing committees across the state, nurse union leaders, and Senator Bernie Sanders, a long-time advocate for single-payer health care.

David Kreindler, a rank-and-file member of the Vermont State Employees Association and a leader of the Workers’ Center, noted that when the campaign began, few among the “political class” thought it would be possible to take action on health care at the state level during the federal health care reform debate.

But “we are winning because we’re organizing,” Kreindler said. “We are winning because we’re building a social movement!”

Mari Cordes, a member of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals Local 5221/AFT, was one of more than a hundred union nurses from Vermont who travelled to Haiti in the wake of January’s earthquake to provide emergency medical relief.

“We could not have succeeded [in Haiti] without the solidarity and strength of my union,” she said. “We succeeded because we worked together, just as you and I work together every day to ensure that each and every one of us never has to worry about whether they can afford to get medical help.”

While the mood was celebratory, Workers’ Center organizers are clear that there is still a long struggle ahead, to prevent or override a veto this year and to ensure implementation of a decent plan next year.

“We see ourselves as part of the labor movement,” says James Haslam, director of the Vermont Workers’ Center, “and the success of this campaign demonstrates what can be accomplished when the labor movement takes a principled stand on issues that resonate with working-class and low-income people, provides a way for everyone to be meaningfully involved, and maintains independence from political parties.”

This was published as part of the longer article, “May Day Protests Gain Urgency as Immigration, Health Care Fights Explode” at Labor Notes. Though credited as the main author for the article, I really only wrote the part here, about Vermont. —Jonathan