Public Health Workers Can’t Count on Democrats

Over 10,000 public health workers will meet in San Diego for this year’s American Public Health Association (APHA) convention. The theme is “Health Care Without Borders.” The meeting occurs amid a global capitalist crisis and a growing trend towards fascism and world war.

APHA leaders will try to convince us to work quietly in our clinics and labs and not challenge the vicious out-of-control capitalist system. Last fall, the reality of anti-immigrant racism was dramatized when wildfires in the San Diego area burned undocumented immigrant workers to death as they made their way from the Mexican border, hiding from racist immigration agents in a wooded area.

APHA’s theory differs sharply from its practice. Its Governing Council has adopted resolutions against the Afghanistan and Iraq wars but every year military recruiters and billion-dollar defense contractors have lavish exhibits at the meeting. Attempts to exclude them were squashed by Executive Director Dr. Georges Benjamin, the former Director of Emergency Medicine at Walter Reed Army Hospital.

After 9/11, APHA leaders tried to tighten federal control over public health, coordinating with the Department of Homeland Security. Benjamin’s Washington-based APHA staff has consistently supported federal efforts to bring the public health workforce into line with the “national security” agenda but rank-and-file workers and students resisted.

This year, despite the pro-immigrant theme and the meeting’s location adjacent to Mexico, no anti-racist action is planned. Meanwhile U.S. government anti-immigrant racism gives the green light to gutter racists like the Minutemen, APHA could fight this. Imagine 10,000 public health workers picketing the racist border fence in San Diego!

The convention meets just days before the presidential election. Most public health workers deplore the terrible toll racism takes on the health of black, Latino and immigrant workers. The vast majority of APHA members support Obama for president. They view an election of a black president as striking a blow against racism. But just as selection of Dr. Benjamin, a prominent black health figure as APHA’s Executive Director did not stop racist cutbacks and hospital closings nation-wide, electing Obama will not lessen the systemic racist attacks against exploited and uninsured workers. He promises to expand the Iraq war into Pakistan and carry out the bankers’ orders to resolve the financial crisis.

A better world for the people and communities we serve will require more than a different defender of capitalism. It requires a different SYSTEM, communism, led by the international working class that produces everything.

On Obama’s Chicago South Side, 13 health clinics were closed in 2007, affecting more than one million uninsured workers in Cook County. More than 80% of County patients are black and Latino. In Washington, D.C., the White House is surrounded by a racist AIDS epidemic that rivals any super-exploited country. Either we will serve the people or the bankers. It will soon become clearer who Obama serves. It must become clearer who we serve as well.

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