Workers with the United Auto Workers at General Motors plants and warehouses nationwide have been on strike for a week. It’s the union’s first national strike in 12 years. On Sunday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and former Vice President Joe Biden joined the U.A.W. picket lines in Detroit, Michigan, and Kansas City, Kansas, respectively.
While with workers in Kansas, Biden praised the autoworkers efforts during the recession. “We didn’t bail out GM, U.A.W. bailed out GM!” Biden said to the crowd, according to The New York Times. The former veep also called out the high salaries of executives (CEO Mary Barra’s compensation package was worth a little under $22 million in 2018, according to Reuters) while he supported the workers. The critical lines, as reported by the Times:
“You’re making a hell of a sacrifice.”
“There’s only one reason we have a middle class, and it’s spelled ‘U-N-I-O-N.’”
Those are great lines for an inspirational stump speech, but I really hope Biden walked away with more than just a positive review from his top aides.
I hope that Biden did more than just walk the picket line. I hope Biden listened to workers whose employer-sponsored healthcare was taken away after less than one day in an attempt to force striking workers to stop exercising their collective bargaining rights. To justify the move, General Motors spokesman Jim Cain said, “While on strike, some benefits shift to being funded by the union’s strike fund, and in this case hourly employees are eligible for union-paid COBRA so their health care benefits can continue.”
Since General Motors took away their employees healthcare as a strong-arming tactic, the union picked up the tab. In a letter to all local chapters, the letter said the union “will provide medical assistance or a COBRA option, if necessary for you and eligible family members.”
Who doesn’t love that employer-sponsored health insurance that can be taken away at the whim of your bosses? I mean, who ~really~ likes to know that their health insurance will be there? Because that’s what candidates like Biden are arguing when they trash Medicare-For-All and single-payer systems.
Biden shouldn’t just get to go to a picket line for a photo op. Biden should have to answer for, what Splinter’s Paul Blest aptly called, smearing Medicare-For-All. Biden should have to answer as to why instituting a public option is ambitious enough for him.
A part of being president is listening and learning from your constituents. If the union workers that make up the middle class are as important to Biden as he says they are, he should do more than just recognize the “hell of a sacrifice” laborers are making on the picket line. Promise to do something bold for them. Promise to make sure they will have health coverage provided through the government so bosses can’t hold the middle class hostage.