Socialist Workers Party candidates tour Washington: ‘Workers need gov’t-funded cradle-to-grave health care’

By Edwin Fruit
March 23, 2020
From right, SWP candidates Malcolm Jarrett for vice president, and Rebecca Williamson for Congress, speak with Heidi Gomez and mother Susana, a farmworker, in Yakima March 3.
Militant/Jeanne FitzMauriceFrom right, SWP candidates Malcolm Jarrett for vice president, and Rebecca Williamson for Congress, speak with Heidi Gomez and mother Susana, a farmworker, in Yakima March 3.

SEATTLE — With the spread of coronavirus, working people are facing new problems caused by capitalism’s for-profit health system, growing economic dislocations and the rulers’ insistence that workers are on their own in finding ways to get food and supplies. This was part of many discussions Alyson Kennedy and Malcolm Jarrett, the presidential and vice presidential candidates of the Socialist Workers Party, had while on a five-day campaign tour here.

Washington is the state with the most reported cases in the U.S.

The SWP platform calls for “health care for all. Fight for universal, government-guaranteed cradle-to-grave health care, and retirement income for all.” The disease is a social question, and workers and our unions need to fight to make sure our jobs, income and needed health care are assured.

Speaking at a March 6 campaign rally attended by more than 40 people, Henry Dennison, the party’s candidate for governor, denounced the inadequate response and bureaucratic measures used by the federal and state governments to deal with the outbreak. Sixteen people, mostly in an elder care facility in Kirkland just east of Seattle, have died from the virus.

“Bosses tell you to take off work if you are sick but penalize you and don’t offer sick pay,” Dennison said. And the government isn’t even organizing widespread testing for the disease, key for people to get the medical treatment they need and in slowing the virus’s spread.

Jarrett urged everyone to read the new Pathfinder book Red Zone, which describes the role of Cuban medical personnel in leading the fight against the Ebola virus in West Africa several years ago. “You cannot just transpose the Cuban system of health and education onto the capitalist United States,” he said. “We need to make a revolution here, like Cuban working people did, before we can organize a workers and farmers government and reorganize health care from top to bottom.”

Kennedy added that “our campaign button has two slogans that capture what working people need: a labor party and workers control of production.” We need our own party, she said, that can help organize and lead our battles against the capitalist rulers and their efforts to force us to pay for the crisis of their system. Doing so will pose the need for working people to fight to take political power into our own hands.

Workers control, including demanding open the books of the pharmaceutical giants and medical companies, would help workers see the truth about how the for-profit health system operates and why working people need to organize in their millions to wrest control over the entire economy.

Nearly $2,000 was raised for the national campaign.

Campaigning in Yakima Valley

Kennedy, Jarrett and supporters campaigned in Yakima March 3, knocking on doors in this farming center in central Washington.

“I bust my butt for a small amount of money,” construction worker Derick Rivera, 29, told Jarrett. Rivera helped his landlord renovate his apartment, and then the landlord raised the rent so high he had to move out.

Rivera has worked on scaffolding on construction sites where the bosses didn’t provide safety harnesses. They discussed how the bosses’ drive for profits leads to unsafe conditions on the job.

At rally against conditions at detention center in Tacoma, SWP presidential candidate Alyson Kennedy, left, talks with Luis and Rufina Arenas, who came to visit locked-up family member.
Militant/Henry Dennison At rally against conditions at detention center in Tacoma, SWP presidential candidate Alyson Kennedy, left, talks with Luis and Rufina Arenas, who came to visit locked-up family member.

The SWP says that workers and their unions must have the right to shut down production where there are unsafe conditions until they are corrected. Jarrett pointed to the Socialist Workers Party 2020 platform, which starts out with the need for unions and for a labor party. He noted that the Militant frequently covers the growing number of injuries in construction and other industries and the fight for unions and job safety.

Jarrett added that the labor movement must organize the unorganized, including undocumented immigrants. Amnesty is key to uniting working people to stand up to the bosses. Rivera got a copy of the Militant, saying he plans to take it into work to show his co-workers.

Kennedy, Dennison and campaign supporter Michele Smith met John Nelson, a disabled railroad worker, who said it took him nearly three years to get compensation from the bosses after he was no longer able to work.

“We live under the dictatorship of the rich,” Kennedy said. “We need our own political party, a labor party, which we can build as we unite in our millions to fight against the attacks of the bosses and their government.” Nelson got a subscription to the Militant and the book In Defense of the US Working Class by SWP leader Mary-Alice Waters.

Solidarity with Asarco strikers!

Kennedy and Jarrett had lunch with campaign supporters and a few workers from a Walmart in Federal Way, south of Seattle, March 12. Rebecca Williamson, the party’s candidate for Congress in the 9th District, also works there. Some 25 workers at the store had recently signed a solidarity card for copper miners who have been on strike in Arizona and Texas against Asarco since October.

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“The solidarity they get, like what you offered, is more important than ever. At the Walmart where I work in Dallas, we took up a collection and like you sent a card of solidarity for the strikers,” Kennedy said, as she told them about her recent visit to the strikers’ picket lines in Arizona. This is the largest and most important labor battle in the U.S. today.

Bennie Boggan said that he had worked at an auto plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in the 1980s. “I was in the United Auto Workers and the unions seemed to be a lot stronger then,” he said. At Walmart, where there is no union, “you can be fired after five attendance points in a six-month period. You get two points if you take off work on, before or after what they call ‘event’ days.” Now with the coronavirus, Walmart bosses tell you to stay home if you are sick, but you will still get points and not get paid if you are not at work.

Walmart’s stance is typical of bosses everywhere. They leave people on their own to deal with the consequences of the disease or impose bureaucratic measures that end up punishing workers.

Standing up on the job for better wages and working conditions, Kennedy said, “increases our confidence that we can win when we fight together.”

On March 7, Kennedy, Jarrett and Dennison attended a rally at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, where many immigrants are imprisoned. The action was called by La Resistencia and held to commemorate the sixth anniversary of a series of hunger strikes in the facility. They demand center officials conduct testing for coronavirus and provide adequate medical care.

Kennedy told the gathering, “The SWP candidates demand amnesty for all undocumented workers in the U.S.”

The campaign table attracted a lot of interest. Five participants bought Militant subscriptions. A number of books by SWP leaders were sold, including Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power and Is Socialist Revolution in the US Possible?

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