For a Modern Definition of Rights

August 7, 2015

Five decades ago, Medicare was created as an entitlement program to serve senior citizens and individuals with disabilities.

The fact that prior to the Medicare, seven out of ten Americans over the age of 65 had no health insurance at all was noted in a survey by the United States Public Health Service published in 1956. The ones that had insurance faced high premiums and deductibles. As a result of repeated popular struggles demanding that all members of society be guaranteed needed health care services, the program was created in August of 1965. Medicare not only represented at least a partial legal recognition of the right of senior citizens, but also, by investing a portion of our country’s resources in a social fund set aside to guarantee access to health care, created the means necessary to insure this right in practice.

Medicare is run by the Health Care Financing Administration within the Department of Human and Health Services. There are two parts to the Medicare program: 1) Part A provides hospital insurance and 2) Part B provides Supplementary Medical Insurance. Part A helps to cover the costs of hospital, skilled nursing facility, home health and hospital care. Part A is financed through a payroll tax. The benefits are paid out of the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund. Part B helps to cover costs of physician and outpatient services. Part B benefits are paid out of the Supplementary Medicare Insurance Trust Fund. The trust fund is financed through a combination of premiums that are paid by beneficiaries and federal general revenues.

Such movements as the struggle for public housing, Medicare and Medicaid, unemployment compensation, the struggles of social security, trade union rights, the 8-hour day, etc. have all made continual inroads against the rights of private property. By fighting and winning these political struggles, the workers are not only creating barriers against their unbridled exploitation but also are asserting their economic and human rights – asserting that they are more than beasts of burden to be exploited by the capitalists. Through such struggles the workers have raised the price of labor-power, created certain minimal standards and guarantees which have raised the general price of labor-power and asserted the human rights of the workers in opposition to the unrestricted “rights” of private property in the means of production.

The question the Workers Party poses today is, whose rights are paramount? The rights of the people, or the rights of capital? The right of the capitalists to exploit and plunder, or the right of the working class to live free of exploitation? We say that the rights of the people must come first. And these rights include not only the civil liberties of the Constitution, they include economic rights. Every human being has the right to a secure economic existence. Private property interests cannot be allowed to supersede these rights of the people.

The rights of certain groups of people must be recognized and guaranteed. These rights are based on the objective position of the group members in society. These include the rights of women to reproductive health care and assistance with child care; the right of national minorities to use their native language, and be educated in their native language; the right of oppressed nations to self-determination; the right of workers to a safe workplace and healthy working conditions and to wages commensurate with our country’s high level of development; the right of disabled persons to all assistance necessary to allow them to participate fully in society, and the rights of senior citizens which arise from their position in society.

So too, every human being has certain inviolable rights simply by dint of being human, and it is the elementary responsibility of society to provide guarantees for these rights. They include the right to a secure job or livelihood at the highest possible standard commensurate with the level of development of society, the right to comprehensive and free medical care, the right to secure pensions and for retired workers to live in dignity, the right to free and equal education at all levels (including university education), the right to housing, shelter and food.

The Workers Party puts forward a program of solutions based on the fundamental interests of the workers, a political alternative which goes against the privileges of private property in the means of production and which breaks the monopoly of the capitalists over political affairs. This includes the program of Democratic Renewal which relies on the independent political initiative of the people and brings to the forefront the question of political power.

Democratic renewal puts forward a modern definition of rights which includes the recognition of the people’s fundamental economic rights (i.e. the right to a livelihood, to health care, etc.) and demands that society guarantee the means necessary for the people to exercise all their rights in real life. The program of democratic renewal recognizes that in the final analysis the modern demand for equal economic, political and social rights for all human beings is the demand for the abolition of social classes.