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- Unions are becoming more popular and as that popularity grows so will labor strikes.
- 2019 showed this perfectly during the United Automobile Workers (UAW) strike of General Motors.
- The fight is also an example of the growing disparities in our economy under President Donald Trump and reflect why we need unions in the first place.
- Margarida Jorge is the Executive Director of Health Care for American Now (HCAN).
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
As this decade comes to an end, it’s imperative that we reflect on the growing power of unions across the country.
According to Gallup, union approval is at a near 50-year high, with 64% of Americans approving of labor unions. That more than half of the country approves of unions not only signals organized labor’s enduring strength, but also highlights growing public recognition that we need unions today more than ever.
The United Automobile Workers (UAW) strike of General Motors — one of the most successful union movements of the year — is evidence that workers can leverage increased strength through unions. The successful strike showed many across the country that joining unions and demanding essential benefits like healthcare and higher wages is well worth the fight.
The 40-day strike which started mid-September by roughly 50,000 members of UAW working at General Motors was about much more than corporate profits and stable jobs that can support families.
It was about the right to affordable healthcare, the ways that Trump continues to tilt the economy in favor of corporations and billionaires at the expense of working Americans, and the significance of unions and collective action.
And for that reason, every person in the country should pay attention to the lessons of the strike as we head into a new decade of labor fights.
Business financial make money capital trading GM was doing its best to slim down healthcare benefits
For the last three years, GM’s profits have soared — the company has made $35 billion in profits since 2015 — but the benefit of those profits haven’t extended far beyond their corporate executives and shareholders. Indeed as part of the negotiations with UAW, GM tried to force workers to pay 500% more for their healthcare, a move that was ultimately turned back by the union
A decade ago American workers helped bail out the Big Three automakers — GM, Ford, and Chrysler — losing $11.2 billion in the process to save an industry that employs millions. Then the 2017 Republican tax plan gifted GM another $157 million in tax breaks in 2018 alone. Instead of investing those tax savings back into the jobs that American tax dollars worked to salvage in 2009, GM announced it was laying off 14,000 workers right before the holidays in 2018.
At the same time, instead of providing better benefits or pay raises to its workers, the company spent roughly $100 million to buy back GM’s own shares.
After GM workers went on strike calling for fair wages, job security, and rejecting the 500% increase to their healthcare costs, the corporation initially dropped the workers’ healthcare altogether and with no warning.
While GM restored their coverage during the strike, the company’s shameful action put worker’s healthcare at risk.
In Nashville, the wife of a GM worker woke up after surgery to find out that her healthcare had been canceled while she was being operated on. GM’s decision to reinstate healthcare was likely motivated more by public pressure and the company’s concern for its reputation bottom line rather than with workers’ health or well-being.
Business financial make money capital trading GM’s attempts to slice healthcare mirrors Trump’s actions
GM’s attempts to make their healthcare plans less affordable were abhorrent, but not surprising given what we’ve seen from Washington under President Donald Trump’s leadership. After all, the president’s first priority when he got elected was to take healthcare from millions of people by repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA.)
By including the repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate in their 2017 tax reform bill, Republicans guaranteed that their tax bill would result in more people without health insurance and increase the cost of coverage for millions of Americans.
This provision of the tax law gave Trump and the GOP an opportunity to take the ACA — which the Supreme Court had already ruled constitutional — back to the courts with the Texas v. United States case.
If courts rule in the Republicans’ favor, the ACA and its coverage protection for people living with pre-existing conditions would be overturned, possibly leaving as many as 20 million more Americans without healthcare. The ACA increased taxes on the wealthy and corporations to provide coverage and lower costs for low and moderate income Americans. Striking the law would shift billions back to rich annually, including $45 billion to households making over $250,000 a year and $34 billion to households making over $1 million yearly.
During debate over the Republican tax bill, we heard members of Congress argue that their tax plan would help American workers and protect their jobs. But what’s happening today at GM makes it clear once again that corporations, millionaires, and billionaires are the only ones benefiting.
Trump touted the new law again and again as economic stimulus for the working class, but so far the average workers’ bonus from the bill has been 1 cent while the cost of groceries, rent, and healthcare keep going up.
Business financial make money capital trading The GM strike is a lesson for the rest of America
From ceaseless attacks on affordable healthcare to stagnant wages and corporate tax giveaways, the Trump economy hasn’t changed workers’ lives for the better.
That’s why the UAW’s strike against GM isn’t just about their members. It was a model for how all Americans have to confront corporate power to ensure every family in the country can make a living and get affordable health care.
The GM workers’ fight for better healthcare matters to every single American. They are an example of how we, together, we can successfully take on the corporate callousness and greed that Trump and Republicans have only further enabled in order to protect our families and improve our jobs. All Americans need to stand with them and say no to hikes in healthcare costs whether at their own job or in response to the Trump administration’s actions.
This fight was about more than GM. It was about the kind of country we want to live in and whom we prioritize: a handful of corporate executives and shareholders or thousands of rank and file workers.
Like the recent strikes we’ve seen from teachers and telecommunications workers, this one affirmed a lesson that unions have conveyed time and time again: when workers unite and fight for the benefits and fair treatment they deserve, they can win.
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Margarida Jorge is the executive director of Health Care for America Now (HCAN), the national grassroots coalition that from 2008-2013 ran a campaign to pass, protect and promote the Affordable Care Act (ACA).