How unions helped create Medicare

The union movement has always campaigned for laws and policies that will protect the health of working people.

Unions were strong advocates for the Whitlam Labor Government’s introduction of a universal healthcare scheme during its time in office, from 1972 to 1975.

But many conservatives hated the idea of public healthcare. When Whitlam was dismissed from government in 1975, the Liberal Party Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser started to undermine the system.

In 1976 Fraser’s attacks led to the ACTU calling a national strike to defend universal healthcare. Two million workers took action in an incredible show of support.

But while we were able to delay Fraser’s attacks, we weren’t able to stop them entirely. By 1981 Fraser had succeeded in ending the system of universal healthcare.

The union movement, however, didn’t give up.

In 1983, former ACTU President Bob Hawke was elected Prime Minister, leading the new Labor Government.

Hawke’s government signed an agreement with the ACTU known as the Accord. As part of this agreement, unions would help tackle the major inflation crisis at the time by not pushing for certain wage increases.

In return we would see an increase in the ‘social wage’ – social services to make working peoples lives better.

At the top of our list was universal healthcare, and this was introduced by Hawke’s government as Medicare in 1984, which we still have and rely on today.

 

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