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May Day 2028 National Strike: Focus on Medicare for All

Prominent labor leader Shawn Fain has proposed a national strike of unionized workers four years from now, to highlight and advance the needs of workers and their families. This riveting vision will be super-charged with a focus on unified public funding of health care.

April 5, 2024

The UAW’S 2028 National Strike Should Center Medicare for All
JACOBIN
March 31, 2024
By Jonathan Michels & Will Cox

United Auto Workers president Shawn Fain has called on unions to come together for a national strike on International Workers Day, May 1, 2028. This is a radical idea – and elevating Medicare for All as a central demand would give workers across sectors a reason to join in.

Shawn Fain’s call to utilize labor power – four hundred thousand working members and six hundred thousand retirees make up the UAW alone – for the “good of the entire working class” is a major departure from business-as-usual unionism and represents a potential game changer for social movements to secure public goods, including Medicare for All, that extend beyond the shop floor.

The struggle for single-payer health care is part of a larger conflict between the working class and the billionaire class. Incremental reforms have gotten the single-payer movement nowhere, while legislative lobbying has proved insufficient. Nothing short of a nationwide campaign of rank-and-file workers – union and nonunion alike – willing to confront capital will be strong enough to secure transformative health reform.

In order to win, single-payer activists must embrace this once-in-a-generation opportunity and join in solidarity with workers in ways many never have before.

A general strike as envisioned by the UAW will take cooperation from other unions willing to align their contract expiration dates with April 30, 2028.

Fain frames workers as warriors locked in a struggle against the billionaire class, with economic equality and security for the working class hanging in the balance. This kind of class rhetoric shows an understanding among UAW leadership that there are some issues, such as the financing of high-quality health care, that are too burdensome for any one union to reasonably carry alone. Though it is still too early to tell, we could be witnessing union officials taking the first steps away from maintaining private welfare states for members and toward securing social goods for the benefit of all.

Of all the social reforms before the American public today, single payer is not only the most popular – a 2020 Fox News exit poll showed a staggering 72 percent of Americans want publicly funded health care – it also has the potential to be the most transformative.

Meanwhile, the only effective path to winning a transformative national health program is through our collective labor power. Any movement of workers willing to connect their struggle to a larger class struggle, and especially the struggle for single payer, is imperative. 

There doesn’t need to be a general strike in 2028 to build the kind of worker-led movements in the United States that shook the halls of power even before unions were officially made legal. It is the process of organizing and building solidarity that is much more important than the turn out for a single event, march, or rally.

In order to win public goods, the union movement will have to become a mass movement.

The Medicare for All movement will need union and nonunion workers to build class-conscious organizing committees that draw strength and inspiration from unions, and that carry their fight into the community.

The starting point is when workers become aware that their interests are opposed to their bosses’ interests – and this should also frame how people organize for a universal national health program. Likewise, single-payer activists need to frame their fight as a class-conscious struggle. It’s going to affect all of us, so it’s going to take workers from every sector – from the factory worker to the academic, from physicians to food service workers.

You need a broad social coalition and labor needs to be out front.

Solidarity is not reading the news and telling your friend, “I hope the workers win.” It’s putting yourself on the line. The defining feature of the working class is that they must sell their labor in order to survive. That describes almost all of us.

Whether on a picket line or at a rally, it is imperative that single-payer advocates plug into rank-and-file organizing campaigns and make themselves available. We should see clinicians in white coats and nurses and health care workers in scrubs standing shoulder-to-shoulder with sanitation workers, autoworkers, and teachers. Anywhere workers are standing up, single-payer supporters should be there, too.

Only then will it become clear that we are part of the same struggle.

 

Comment by: Don McCanne

How long have we been doing this?  (a long time)

How close are we to our goal?  (not very close at all)

Do we anticipate a legislative solution? (not soon, but we should forge ahead anyway)

Do people want something done with our health care system?

There does seem to be wide agreement that our system is not working as it should be. Medical debt is a major problem faced not only by the uninsured but also by the insured who have difficulty paying premiums, deductibles, copayments, and disallowed charges. People frequently find that they cannot afford the care or medications they need.

People do not oppose government participation in health care since many enroll in Medicare, Medicaid, VA health, and other government programs as appropriate. Polls indicate support for publicly funded programs. Politicians promote government programs. Biden is supporting the ACA plans, and Trump is supporting government plans “better than Obamacare” though he hasn’t stated what that would be.

The point is that when the public realizes that we can have a plan that will ensure access to health care for everyone while keeping it affordable for everyone, eradicating the problem of medical debt, maybe it is time for mass public action. The JACOBIN article suggests a date of May 1, 2028 (and it is well worth reading the fairly long article in its entirety), but actually the organizing can begin right now.

Yes, there is a political divide in our nation. But the divide here is not so much left and right as it is all of us workers on all levels and the billionaires. We want health care for all the people, and, yes, we’ll include the billionaires.

About the Commentator, Jim Kahn

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Jim (James G.) Kahn, MD, MPH (editor) is an Emeritus Professor of Health Policy, Epidemiology, and Global Health at the University of California, San Francisco. His work focuses on the cost and effectiveness of prevention and treatment interventions in low and middle income countries, and on single payer economics in the U.S. He has studied, advocated, and educated on single payer since the 1994 campaign for Prop 186 in California, including two years as chair of Physicians for a National Health Program California.

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