John Deere strike highlights many U.S. policy deficiencies

Glenn Hurst is a family physician in southwest Iowa and a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.

The United Auto Workers strike at John Deere is about fair wages and the value of work, but also about the corruption of our corporate welfare system and the devaluing of American lives. Sadly, the corporate value of workers mirrors the values of our own government.

The shift of the distribution of wealth in this country from the time of Ronald Reagan’s “trickle-down” economics clearly demonstrates how that policy failed Americans. Wealth consolidated at the top, and a minuscule portion barely trickled down to just the highest 10 percent of earners.

The rest of us are comparably impoverished. With no significant signal of a reversal of the corporate welfare system, it seems our government hardly values the lives of hard-working Americans.

Workers at John Deere are striking for better wages; for a portion of the wealth, they helped generate for their company. They strike to break the cycle of paycheck-to-paycheck living that too many Iowans endure in a country where 70 percent of all Americans cannot afford a $500 emergency.

They strike against corporate greed, which is demonstrated when a CEO’s worth is overvalued and is rewarded with 160 percent raise, all while those who build the product get a pittance, as at John Deere. That alone shows us how John Deere values the people who work there.

They are striking for their very lives, their health care. Corporate control over the health and wellness of workers should be considered an abomination. It is a benefit that should never be on the table for any American. But again, corporate values mirror our government’s values; health care is a bargaining chip.

Our lack of federal assurance that all lives deserve preservation, care, and comfort creates the environment where corporate powers use our very lives as leverage in labor contracting. We saw the attack on the health of Americans when elected officials like Senator Chuck Grassley voted to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, which expanded health care to so many Iowans through subsidies in the exchange, limiting exclusions of previous medical conditions and expanding Medicaid funding. Parents had been able to rest assured that their young adult children could maintain coverage on their parent’s insurance as they tried to launch into their own independent lives.

Now, corporate power has moved to limit access to care by offering insufficient insurance coverage to workers at John Deere. Past corporate limits had included the cessation of all benefits to retired union members when the contract they retired under expires, leaving retired workers, who sacrificed their bodies to make American goods, without their promised health benefits. 

In a Medicare for All system, no union member, no non-union employee, no unemployed or unemployable individual would ever go without access to health care. Health care is treated as a human right in a Medicare for All system. In our employer-based system, health care access is limited by insurance products and available only at the benevolence of the corporation. No one should have to bargain with their lives or their children’s lives for the right to fair wages and safe workplaces.

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