The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Report by Andrea Kirby

Nov 27, 2023

I’m a Blue Cross worker. I’m currently on strike. On September 13th, approximately 1,100 Blue Cross Blue Shield workers across the state of Michigan went on strike. Workers at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan have been on strike now for 67 days.

Now, I would love to tell you that it’s been all peaches and cream or unicorns and sprinkles, however, you want to envision it, but it hasn’t…. Most of the workers at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan were unaware of the UAW elections or its candidates; but when it was all said and done, we did have a new leadership team and they presented a militant fighters’ approach, which sounded like it was something new.

But that same excitement didn’t stick around for long. It wasn’t around when the Blue Cross strike started. Workers weren’t prepared. The militant words of the International leadership didn’t change how the Blue Cross Blue Shield strike was being handled. The 2023 Blue Cross strike started just like any of the other long-standing traditions of the strikes. Nothing was new. Workers did not make the decision to go on strike; rather, they voted to authorize International to call a strike. There were few or no meetings held, and no solid information was given out about the progress of bargaining until the final contract was presented to workers for approval. Workers are just assigned picket duties for several hours a week, and that’s the extent of their strike assignments.

Now, this is a stark contrast to the first Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan strike that occurred in 1987. In 1987, almost 4,000 Blue Cross workers went on strike for almost 12 weeks, 84 days. From the very first day of that strike, workers in Detroit organized daily meetings where strikers would come together to discuss problems of the strike, get information about bargaining, and decide on their activities on how to strengthen their strike.

On the night the contract expired, over 900 employees got together to decide on what their last offer was going to be, and they decided how they were going to prepare to strike. The International representatives came to them and told them that they didn’t need to do that; it wasn’t even legal, but that didn’t stop the workers. They met to elect a strike committee; they published a strike bulletin so everyone could know about the changes and everything going on at the same time; they organized activities to make signs and banners, get coffee and donuts, set up strike headquarters, and so much more.

Workers faced opposition from the International apparatus, who threw hurdles in front of the strikers any time they could. They initially told workers that they couldn’t meet, they tried to close up the local, they threatened to freeze their strike wages, and they also had personal attacks on the union president. But that didn’t stop the workers. They continued to meet, organize, and strike for what they wanted. So when the company came with their multiple final offers, workers already knew what they wanted, and they sent it back.

Now, these weren’t easy decisions; workers were facing shutoffs, repossessions, and other hardships, but they helped each other, and they used the resources that were available to them. In the end, the workers were able to hold the company back from all the concessions that the company wanted to pass—which was a cut in sick time and an offer of bonuses, not wage increases; the company even wanted to cut the long-term benefits by 50%.

Over the years, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan leadership has continued its attacks. In 2005, we had a statewide membership of over 3,300 members. In 2015, it was down to 1,800, and now we’re down to 1,100. Most of the union work has been outsourced to other companies, but a lot of it has been given to other non-union workers. In 2015, Blue Cross Blue Shield had one outsourced call center; today, they have four.… A former Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan rep was quoted saying that they outsourced because "their price is attractive compared to our internal cost per call. It helps us reach our aggressive cost containment targets."

Now, fast forward 36 years, Blue Cross is on strike again. Now, this time, a lot of things are different than in 1987. Strike authorization was taken four days before the expiration of our contract. Workers were told via text or email that they were on strike. We had no picket practice; we had no strike sign-up sheets; we had no information. Simply put, we were not organized.

On the strike line, it hasn’t changed much since day one. One or two other strikers have made their own personal signs. Most of our signs just say, “UAW on strike.” We’ve only had two meetings since we went on strike: on the day we went on strike and the other on November 1st, 49 days later.

Workers have been in the dark. The meeting on November 1st gave us no bargaining updates. It gave us no instruction on how to conduct the strike line. Many workers who attended it said it was a waste of time, and it was. Workers have had no control over the strike.

What we are witnessing is what happens when people are not organized. When it comes to the fight at your front door, and you are not organized, people are frustrated. They have unreasonable expectations. They attack each other. They can’t remain focused on their goals.

Now, we don’t know how the Blue Cross strike is going to turn out. Workers are smart. They have the ability to come together and accomplish a lot of great things. But this strike can teach us something before its conclusion. We can learn the importance of being organized before the fight comes to our door, which, in this case, is our next election. We cannot wait till the spring or summer of next year to start talking about the need for the working class to have its own party, the Working Class Party. We cannot look for someone else to fight for what the working class needs, only the working class.