United Auto Workers is one of the strongest unions in the United States. In the past century it humbled the nation's largest corporations with hard bargaining and strikes to carve out the wages and benefits that made American auto workers the envy of the world. But now Wal-Mart is the world's largest corporation and US automakers can build their cars in Shanghai if they run into labor trouble in Detroit. So UAW leaders had little leverage when GM executives called them in and said the union could either give up some of the wages and health coverage they had negotiated in the current contract, or the corporation would go to bankruptcy court to get a judge to extract more onerous terms. The union agreed to submit the concessions to the rank and file.
Ford and DaimlerChrysler are expected to demand similar concessions, as more corporations adopt the scam of extorting wage and benefit givebacks to get their profits back in line.
Retirees are rightly outraged. "We fought for everything we got," the New York Times quoted Ray Bailey, 75, a former GM electrician in Belleville, Mich., who along with his wife, Dorothy, worked at the GM Willow Run Transmission plant in Ypsilanti, Mich. "We took benefits instead of wages a lot of different times, so they didn't give us anything. We earned it."
But Nathan Newman noted that UAW members still have jobs with health insurance, even if they now have copays, unlike 45 million Americans who are forced to go without coverage at all. Almost 20% of employers have dropped coverage altogether in the last decade, adding to the 40% that weren't providing health insurance before that.
And Republicans could not care less. George W. Bush's plan for health care, honest to God, is to see to it that if poor folks somehow get in to see a doctor and subsequently get injured by malpractice, they will not be able to sue the doctor or the hospital for damages. The Republican Congress is trying to reduce funding for Medicaid health care for the poor. The Medicare drug plan for seniors is widely recognized as a boondoggle to profit the pharmaceutical companies.
The UAW, in its statement on the concessions, noted that no one union and no one company can solve America's health care crisis. "America is the only advanced nation in the world without some form of national health care &endash; and US businesses and America's working families are paying a high price for this nation's uncompetitive public policies. Indeed, GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler are benefiting from Canada's national health care system. The UAW has long advocated single-payer national health insurance as the most cost-effective and fairest way to fix America's health care crisis. Today, we are more determined than ever to make single-payer national health insurance a reality."
Unfortunately, no major US employer is pushing for a national health program to replace our inefficient privatized system that puts families at the mercy of employers who may or may not provide coverage and insurance companies who may or may nor authorize treatment. Corporations should recognize that expansion of Medicare to cover all workers and families would remove a big liability from their accounts at a relatively modest cost estimated at 7% of payroll.
When it comes to the depredations of insurance companies, I'm beginning to feel a little like Cato the Elder, the Roman senator who was notorious for ending every speech with: "and therefore, I conclude that Carthage must be destroyed!" Cato eventually got his wish as Carthage was destroyed. (Cato actually foretells Dick Cheney's style more than that of a simple country editor.) But the point is that Democratic candidates for Congress should not let a public event pass without concluding that "Medicare must be expanded to provide health care for every American!"
Progressive organizations have formed the Emergency Campaign for America's Priorities (ECAP) to fight the resurgent Republican push for more tax cuts for the rich and cutbacks in domestic programs for the poor.
ECAP hopes to use the same aggressive tactics at the grassroots that helped beat back the Social Security privatization scheme, which GOP strategists have set aside for the moment. The coalition opposes cuts to public services such as Medicaid, food stamps, student loans and housing. They support efforts to rebuild crumbling schools, hospitals and highways and increase investment in public services. They also support "affordable health care for all." In their first two weeks, more than 18,000 people signed up at ECAP's website, ActNow.org and they expect to be active in at least 35 states as well as D.C., confronting Republicans on budget choices
Roger Hickey, co-director of Campaign for America's Future, said the Bush administration planned to cut the domestic budget by $35 billion and to cut taxes by $50 billion this fall before the Katrina disaster threw them off their game for a few weeks. But their shame didn't last long, as right-wingers put the budget and tax cuts back on track.
"All the polling we've seen indicates American people really think they're out to lunch," Hickey said. "They say the number one priority should be rebuilding the Gulf states and correcting the problems with FEMA and poverty in America."
ECAP partners were encouraged when Congressional leaders were unable to get a House vote on a $50 billion spending cut. At press time the GOP was preparing to try again. "We think there's a very good chance that Congress can't get approval of draconian budget cuts," Hickey said.
A survey for ECAP by Hart Research on the proposed budget reconciliation found two thirds of respondents opposed more budget cuts for the poor and tax breaks for the rich. The issue unites Dems and divides Republicans, as 42% who voted for Bush think more budget cuts and tax breaks is the wrong approach while 44% said it sounded good. Even among white evangelical Christians, 55% oppose the GOP plan.
Meanwhile, Democratic congressional leaders plan to roll out a policy platform that they hope will become a progressive version of the Republican Contract With America. According to Roll Call, the agenda includes proposals for "real security" for America through stronger investments in US armed forces and benchmarks for determining when to bring troops home from Iraq; affordable health insurance for all Americans; energy independence in 10 years; an economic package that includes an increase in the minimum wage and budget restrictions to end deficit spending; and universal college education through scholarships and grants as well as funding for the No Child Left Behind Act, which has been consistently underfunded by Republican Congresses.
Democrats reportedly also will promise to return ethical standards to Washington through bipartisan ethics oversight and tighter lobbying restrictions, increase assistance to hurricane disaster victims through Medicaid and housing vouchers, save Social Security from privatization and tighten pension laws.
The Hill reported Oct. 25 that House Dems are discussing a new slogan for the mid-terms -- either Together, We Can Do Better," or "Together, America Can Do Better."
There is talk of Democrats holding a mid-term convention. Such an event would cost the party millions to produce and delegates more millions to attend. That money would be better spent identifying voters; airing ads that promote a progressive agenda that a majority of Americans can support; and getting those voters to vote for Democrats next November. -- JMC