Workers Struggle to Defend Health Insurance

December 1, 2003

More than 70,000 supermarket workers, at 850 stores across Southern California, are waging a determined struggle to defend their health insurance.

In early October, workers at the Safeway-owned Vons and Pavillon grocery chains, went on strike, rejecting a master contract offered by several regional companies which would have slashed workers' health insurance by 50% to 75%. The next day, the Kroger-owned chains of Ralphs groceries and Albertsons markets, also parties to the master contract with the United Food and Commercial Workers, illegally locked out their workers.

The proposed cuts would both gut workers' health benefits while making them unaffordable for most supermarket workers who earn between $12-$14/hour. The new insurance package would eliminate dental care, vision, well-baby care and preventive office visits while forcing workers to pay as much as $10,000 on a $20,000 hospital bill.

For the last two months, the workers have kept up militant, round-the-clock pickets and on November 24, the workers extended their picket lines to the food chains' distribution centers. Teamster truck drivers and warehouse workers immediately honored the picket lines. The supermarket capitalists are trying to keep their business going by hiring replacement (scab) workers.

Not only in Southern California but all across the country, workers are confronting attempts by the capitalists to drastically cut health insurance. Every year 2 million workers are losing health coverage while millions more are paying more while getting less and less care.

Thus, strikes and other struggles are the order of the day. In the course of waging such vital struggles and supporting the struggles of other workers, we must also come out in a nationwide political movement which aims at a fundamental reform of the health care system so that everyone is guaranteed free, comprehensive health care as a human right.