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Anti-war Veterans Stand Up with Unions to Save the VA

By Robert Clack

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On September 20th, members of Vietnam & Iraq Veterans Against the War (VVAW & IVAW) and Veterans for Peace Chicago joined 2 public sector unions, the American Federation of Governmental Employee (AFGE) and Service Employees International Union Healthcare Illinois/Indiana (SEIU Healthcare) at a protest at the Jesse Brown VA to tell Trump to staff the VA and to care for veterans. As part of a national effort, the rally was organized by AFGE local 789 in Chicago and it brought together veterans and union members to push back against Trump's privatization and union busting agenda.

(l-r) Jesse Cerillo, Aaron Hughes, Roberto Clack,
Daniel Corral, Sabrina Waller, Barry Romo

"There are real problems at the VA and the administration tries to pit the VA workers and veterans against each other in order to advance a privatization agenda," said IVAW member Aaron Hughes. "While there are problems, we understand the VA saves lives and we can solve these problems by working with unions and supporting workers rights and safe staff levels, not through privatizing the VA."

Although President Trump campaigned on caring for veterans, since his presidency has begun, like many federal agencies, the VA has been subjected to ongoing hiring freezes. According to AFGE there are over 49,000 current vacancies at the VA nationwide. This is coupled with passed and proposed union busting legislation by congress along with a push by the Trump administration to further privatize the VA. Like other public institutions, EPA, public education, ACA/healthcare to name a few, the VA has come under attack by the Trump administration's radical agenda. Unless challenged, Trump's agenda of prioritizing profit over healthcare and replacing or weakening the VA with less efficient privatization schemes is a real threat to veterans healthcare in the coming years.

Fortunately, unions, veterans and community members are uniting and fighting back against this agenda. In the past, IVAW has organized with public sectors unions in Chicago to successfully win changes to better veteran's healthcare at the VA. There are plans in Chicago to relaunch these efforts and once again stand side by side with organized labor to demand safe staffing for workers and quality healthcare for veterans. Together, labor and veterans can challenge the Trump and republican agenda and can protect and strengthen the VA and the public sector at large. The "Save the VA" movement is just getting started in Chicago and the September 20th action was an important step in the beginning of relaunching local organizing efforts.

Roberto Clack is a community organizer in Chicago and has worked in the housing, labor and peace movements.

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