Oct 20, 2003
Ten years ago, two-thirds of workers in the United States had some level of health care available through their workplace. Today, less than half of us do. And even if we do, our health care premiums have gone up 75%.
United Auto Workers Union president Ron Gettelfinger recently made the point that health care in this country is so broken, it cannot be fixed contract by contract. This may be a self-serving justification for the fact that the UAW just gave up concessions on medical coverage in its new contract.
Gettelfinger's point is nonetheless true.
Medical care in the U.S. is a chaotic patchwork, twisted beyond reason by all those who compete to make profits out of human need. Health care delivery in the U.S. is the most costly in the world and yet delivers the least care for society as a whole.
Could it be otherwise, with so many interests extracting profits at every level? Layers and layers of hospitals, doctors' associations, drug manufacturers, medical equipment suppliers, insurance companies and yet more insurance companies, all uncoordinated, all competing, all doing nothing whatever to deliver care – unless they are first assured of a profit. More and more, health care is available only to those who can pay the bill.
Gettelfinger proposes that we have to elect Democrats who will implement the health insurance "reforms" that Clinton proposed.
In fact, the reforms that Clinton proposed would not extend medical coverage to everyone as a right – and they certainly wouldn't take the profit out of the health care system.
Society is so advanced technologically, and has so much wealth at its command, that health care can and should be treated as a basic human right. The care of everyone in society could be guaranteed out of the government's current revenues, in a coordinated, efficient, and up-to-date system, costing far less than today's profit-riddled, limited-coverage chaos.
But to have the medical system the population needs, the population will have to fight to take this government money away from all the corporations, like Halliburton and Enron, and the wealthy people who get it today – and that won't be done by asking the politicians for help.
The politicians have certainly come up with money for social needs before – but only when popular movements arose which left them little choice. When faced with the workers' movement in the 1930s, the politicians found money – in the depths of the Depression! – for Social Security, public welfare, jobs programs and unemployment compensation. The force of the great social movements of the 1960s "persuaded" the politicians – Republicans and Democrats alike – to not only revoke legal discrimination, but also to find money for jobs programs, Head Start, Medicare and Medicaid, upgraded public education, improved social welfare programs and public housing.
If these programs have been going down the tubes in recent years, it's because the social movements have subsided.
Today the increased cost of health care looms more and more as the biggest issue in union contract negotiations. Workers recently went on strike against supermarket chains in California, Missouri, Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky, largely because the bosses demanded huge increases in workers' co-pays. In Michigan, workers in the three Detroit casinos have voted 95% to authorize a strike, with the health care issue front and center.
In the strikes and threats of strikes today, it's clear that workers in every industry, in every region, are demonstrating their desire to have the health care problem solved. And while it can't be solved contract by contract, the fights that some workers have started to make can be the beginning of a much broader movement – if other workers join in and it goes beyond a fight carried out only over union contracts.
The working class has the power – if it uses it – to take control of the health care system out of the hands of the corporations and the wealthy class that owns them.