Brattleboro Reformer, Labor Day Weekend Editorial
(also ran in Burlington Free Press, Rutland Herald and Bennington Banner)

By Dawn Stanger

Friday, August 29

BURLINGTON — The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, proclaimed, “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of oneself and one’s family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care.”

Although these principles were adopted at the urging of the United States, our government has failed to achieve these rights for all of us. Our rights to health and medical care are denied by a private, for-profit health insurance system. We are the wealthiest country in the world. What good is government if it doesn’t help us to do together what we can’t achieve individually?

Labor Day honors the contributions of our grandparents and great-grandparents who struggled to create a better society for us.

There is a saying, “The Labor Movement: The Folks Who Brought You The Weekend,” but united workers struggled for more than just the 40-hour week. The minimum wage, Social Security, the end of child labor, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance and more all were the results of their work. We are proud of our ancestors and toast them.

But in the U.S., that list falls short.

For the Vermont Workers’ Center, Labor Day 2008 marks a renewal of the struggle to make health care a basic human right, not linked to employment or income. Now, only rich people can afford care from the “cradle to grave.” It is a moral imperative that we createAdvertisementa new system that recognizes this basic human right for all of us.

This summer, our folks have been all over the state surveying Vermonters. The question, “Do you believe we have a human right to health care?” is just one being asked as part of our “Health Care is a Human Right” campaign. We aim to change what’s politically possible with grassroots organizing among regular Vermonters.

Health care should not be a marketed commodity upon which the few get rich denying care, while the many die, suffer and amass huge debts. The private health insurance system has failed. This is not just a crisis of the “uninsured.” It’s a crisis the insured as well.

We already knew that 50 percent of all bankruptcies were caused by health care costs, but we didn’t yet have personal stories from Vermonters. The survey responses we have collected from hundreds of Vermonters have been real eye-openers. Approximately two-thirds of those surveyed have refrained from getting treatment or drugs because they couldn’t afford it.

A majority has kept jobs for fear of losing health insurance. Almost one in five experienced discrimination accessing care. More than one in 10 stayed in abusive relationships for insurance. Now we’d like to learn even more from you.

We collect surveys by knocking on neighbors’ doors, and talking at work, community events, and house parties hosted by volunteers (and we can always use more). Next, we’ll host “Human Rights Hearings,” where community leaders can hear from those most affected: working Vermonters, the unemployed, retirees, the un- and under-insured. The Vermont Workers Center expects to hold hearings in Brattleboro, Burlington, Barre and the Northeast Kingdom in coming months, expanding from there. We hope, for all Vermont’s families, that some Labor Day in the years to come we’ll celebrate the successful struggle of working families for the basic human right to health care.

Dawn Stanger is president of the Vermont Workers’ Center and a Teamster who works for United Parcel Service. For more information about the campaign, to volunteer or take the survey, contact the Vermont Workers’ Center at 866-229-0009 or visit