Member of the United Auto Workers at General Motors went on strike earlier this week, the first time the union has launched a national strike since 2007. One of the reasons they did so, according to a UAW press release, is because “affordable healthcare for thousands remains unsettled for no good reason.”
On Tuesday, General Motors responded by cutting off access to striking workers’ healthcare entirely, meaning the union itself will have to pick up the tab for the duration of the strike. (A GM spokesman framed it as “shifting” healthcare costs to the union.)
If you’ve been paying attention to the Democratic presidential primary and particularly its debate about healthcare, this might come as a bit of a shock to you. Hasn’t Joe Biden been touting the fact that unions fought for their healthcare as a reason why Medicare for All is bad? Didn’t Tim Ryan argue that workers traded higher wages for healthcare coverage, and that’s why we should never move to a single-payer system? Wasn’t John Delaney’s dad a union electrician?
In one fell swoop, General Motors proved why that line of attack on Medicare for All and its proponents, namely Sen. Bernie Sanders, is complete bullshit. It took less than a full day for GM to cut off healthcare and begin using it as leverage to try to force the UAW to agree to a contract that still doesn’t give back to workers for the sacrifices they made when the auto industry was going ass up. It’s not ass up anymore; GM pulled in $12 billion in pre-tax profits last year. (Dave Jamieson at HuffPost has a great explainer on the strike.)
Under a single-payer system, in which your healthcare is dependent on the fact that you exist in the United States rather than who you work for (or how long you’ve worked for them, or how many hours you work per week, or whether the company is big enough to be required to provide insurance to its employees), there would be no employer healthcare for GM—or any other company—to cut off. And instead of worrying about healthcare, that’s one less thing workers everywhere would have to bargain over when entering contract negotiations with their employers.
If Sanders and other Medicare for All proponents have to be subjected to the same damn questions over and over again about killing off private insurance, those opposing it have to answer this: what good is that private insurance that “unions fought for” when employers can just stop paying for it immediately in the event of a labor dispute? How can the likes of Joe Biden possibly look at a system that allows GM to remove healthcare from striking workers and say things should stay this way?