Union members and progressive activists grappling with a disappointing
choice of two corporate-backed candidates for president this year
finally have an opportunity to make a clear and effective statement
about the state of politics in the country and to take a meaningful
step toward shifting the political alignment.
Ralph Nader is the most pro-labor presidential candidate to attract
significant support in decades. More importantly, he is raising
issues and presenting proposals that would be totally absent were
he not in the race. "The percentage of union members in the private
economy has just dropped below 10 percent, the lowest in 60 years
and the lowest percentage in the Western world," Nader points out.
He says this is an "indicator of people's plight" and "explains
much more about why many workers do not earn enough to support their
families, why they have to bear more of the health insurance premiums,
if they receive any from their employer, and why they go without
or endure shrinking retirement benefits."
As he has gone about the country, Nader has argued for a living
wage for all workers, repeal of the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act,
triple back pay for workers fired illegally in organizing drives,
expanded power for the National Labor Relations Board to stop unfair
anti-union practices, and a ban on permanent replacement of strikers.
He has expressed firm opposition to the unfair trade treaties and
institutions such as NAFTA and the WTO. Nader's stand on these issues
of importance to labor are in sharp contrast to those of the other
candidates, even though the positions he takes enjoy wide support
among the electorate. But as long as only the two major candidates
frame the issues, these matters will never be raised.
Nader is the only candidate in this campaign who is talking about
unrestrained corporate power and its effect on our political institutions,
economy, media, culture and democracy. He and Green vice presidential
candidate Winona LaDuke are the only candidates presenting a comprehensive
program to improve the quality of life for all of our people. It
includes eradicating poverty, narrowing the income gap, enhancing
labor rights, ending the death penalty, halting the "drug war" and
the discrimination in our criminal justice system, protecting our
environment and democratizing our elections.
Nader has been barred from the televised presidential debates precisely
because his participation would mean a break in politics as usual,
would present voters with clear policy alternatives, and would allow
working people to register their disgust at the current arrangement
by which money determines the choice of candidates. The persistence
with which most of the country's major media have chosen to ignore,
marginalize or ridicule the Nader candidacy arises from a commitment
to maintain the current two-party arrangement.
Several years ago, as part of the California Nurses Association's
decision to advocate more effectively for patients, to resist corporate
health care restructuring and press for real health care reform,
the union moved to build a partnership with patients and the health
care consuming public. Out of that process grew our working relationship
with Nader, the nation's foremost consumer advocate. He is the only
candidate for president who stands for universal health care, including
a national health insurance system that would guarantee access to
full health care services for every man, woman and child in the
United States. For us, as nurses concerned with the present crisis
in health care, this is of utmost importance.
The present trend toward corporate-run health care is symptomatic
of the growing undemocratic concentration of wealth and power underway
in our society. As income disparity grows, the influence of money
on our political process has swelled to enormous proportions. All
too often it is the decisive factor in the deliberations and actions
of politicians and legislators on matters that affect our lives
and the environment in which we live. With this has come a growing
disillusionment of millions of people who are increasingly cynical
about elections and opt out of the democratic process.
"Feelings of powerlessness and the withdrawal of massive numbers
of Americans from both civic and political arenas are deeply troubling,"
Nader says. "This situation had to be addressed by fresh political
movement arising from the citizenry's labors and resources and dreams
about what America could become at long last."
If we continue to accept the choice presented by the two major
parties as the only one possible, the alienation of people from
the political process will only grow. A strong showing by Nader
will have a positive effect long past November. We have a chance
to break with the past and raise the standard of political debate
and decision-making in our country. A vote for Nader is not a vote
for anyone else. It's a vote for the best candidate in the race.
And it's a vote for breaking with politics-as-usual and revitalizing
the democratic process.
Kay McVay is president of the California Nurses Association.
Now read George Becker's response, "Gore
Gives Workers More"