Bill Knight - January 14

Macomb, IL – As organized labor and working Americans begin 2010, a sober reflection on the last year is necessary, a time when assumptions about workers and unions became stark and alarming.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the rather disappointing result of the debate about health-care reform, a long process in which a "public option" -- much less a single-payer system - was rejected in the Senate, and a debacle where President Obama neglected to use his influence to stress to conservative Democrats that they must get onboard. Or else.

That option - a sensible choice of a government-run program to compete with the virtual monopoly insurers now exploit -- survives in the House version, which must be reconciled with the watered-down Senate bill. But if past is prologue, the White House is too eager to do something to do the right thing - backed by most Americans.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, reforming the costly and unjust health-care system was seen as vital, a measure that, while ambitious, was nevertheless an imperative to ensure access to what should be a basic right: healthy life.

In fact, in the fall, Obama quoted a letter he'd received upon the death of U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy. Obama said, "[Kennedy] repeated the truth that health care is decisive for our future prosperity, but he also reminded me that it concerns more than material things. What we face,' he wrote, is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country'."

Indeed, fair access to health care isn't just a Democratic platform plank or an American ideal. It's a matter of ethics, of values, of faith.

Compromising with conservatives such as turncoat U.S. Sens. Ben Nelson, the Nebraska Democrat, or Joseph Lieberman, the Connecticut "Independent," overly worried about costs - much less trying to appeal to Republicans more than ever locked in to an obstructionist stance - is a diversion from the goal: ending a system that's unwieldy, unfair and harmful to regular people.

If the surrender signals victory, justice remains elusive.

Elsewhere, labor has two key issues where we don't seem to matter, where Democrats seem to be saying, "Labor will stick with us. What choice do they have?"

Take the Employee Free Choice Act, which Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis all pledged to support. Solis has yet to even raise the proposal.

Or consider the war - or wars. U.S. troops may be withdrawing from Iraq, but the pace is slow. In Afghanistan, 30,000 more troops have been committed, outraging U.S. Labor Against the War and other organizations.

Democrats have a point, unfortunately. Decades of Republicans' anti-worker policies and politics that continue to divide the country on everything from gender to geography succeeded mostly in losing jobs and enriching the already-rich.

So labor must return to its strength - the grassroots. There, organizing can make inroads to further empower working people so that it's plain: Working people will support those who support us, and oppose those who oppose us.

Regardless of party.

Regardless of promises.

Regardless of the past.

For the future, promises are insufficient. Action is needed.

If there's too little, or it's too late, labor won't be there.

In 2010 and beyond.