Healthcare workers on strike at Kaiser Santa Clara (Picture: Twitter/ @seiu_uhw)

Over 75,000 Kaiser Permanente health workers began the largest health strike in US history last week. The three-day action echoes fightbacks in Britain, and it is part of a growing wave of workers’ struggle in the US.

Those out at Kaiser Permanente include some nurses, radiologists, dietary workers, receptionists, optometrists, and pharmacists. The strikers are members of a coalition of eight unions that cover 40 percent of Kaiser Permanente’s total workforce.

Workers are demanding higher pay, action to tackle chronic staff shortages and protection against outsourcing. And they want earlier notice when management calls remote workers back to in-person work.

“They’re not listening to the frontline health care workers,” said Mikki Fletchall, a nurse from California. “We’re striking because of our patients. We don’t want to have to do it, but we will do it.” Unions are calling for a $25 (£20.60) an hour minimum wage. 

They also want increases of 7 percent in the first two years of their next contract and 6.25 percent in the two years afterwards. “Workers are really being squeezed right now,” said Renee Saldana, a spokesperson for the SEIU-UHW union.

“They went through the worst global health crisis in a generation and then they come out and they’re worried about paying rent. They’re worried about losing their house. They’re worried about living in their cars.” 

Kaiser Permanente is “non-profit”. But it has reported more than £2.5 billion profits in the first half of 2023 and has paid at least 49 corporate executives a salary of over £820,000 a year. Kaiser chair and CEO Gregory Adams grabs about £13 million a year.

Meanwhile the auto workers’ strike hitting all of the “big three” companies—Ford, GM and Stellantis—continues. The number of US strikes with 100 or more workers involved that have lasted a week or more has risen to 56 in the first nine months of this year.

That’s according to a database by the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations. The figures are up 65 percent from the same period in 2022. But, just as in Britain, the trade union leaders are holding back the full struggle.

The UAW union has so far called out only 15 percent of the auto workers it could mobilise. And it failed to add a single striker to that total in its update last Friday. But in another sign of the militant mood, 4,000 Mack Trucks workers began a strike on Monday.  The workers threw out a deal recommended by the UAW by some 73 percent.

Shifting the balance of class forces, and making the most of the ruling class crisis, means intensified struggle. It also means grassroots alternatives to the union leaders when they fall short, and socialist organisation

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