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"



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