On strike at a market near you

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Enough with the strikes already. Where do these guys think they are? France?

At least in Paris the strikes have a certain predictability to them. No chaos, not even much inconvenience. They seldom last more than a few days and the outcome seems already assured. Picketing is carried out with the grace and precision of a dance. That is, except for striking show business workers who invaded the set of a popular French talent show last week. Obviously not ready for prime time, they rushed onstage with a banner (upside down) reading “Switch of Your TVs” and one seized the mike to read a statement but suffered stage fright and fell silent. The station switched to a movie.

Of course, French workers don’t have to strike over health care, as our MTA and grocery workers are doing. The French seem to have that all worked out. Employers don’t pay, the government pays. Out of everyone’s tax Euros. No such thing as uninsured workers or private insurance with escalating premiums. It works for them, but there’s no reason to think this country will ever have universal health care. Ask the junior senator from New York. The giant corporate insurers, HMOs and drug companies would never permit it and, besides, it would mean raising taxes.

Quelle horreur!

And look how much resistance there is to even a slight tweaking of Medicare, much less an overhaul, to make the wealthy pay a slightly higher premium than the rest of us. Can we silver-haired folks go on strike against rising Medicare premiums and co-pay rates? Against the closing of trauma centers, hospital emergency rooms and health clinics that were helping to keep people well?

Of course not.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not whining about my supplemental premium to (nonprofit) Kaiser going from nothing to $60 a month and co-payments doubling in three years. Medicare is my friend and I’m glad to have it. In fact, I paid for it in withholding taxes during my long working life.

But I remember never having health insurance because I couldn’t afford it. I had to stay well because I was afraid to get sick. After one of my kids had an emergency appendectomy, I realized the folly of that logic and took out a family policy with Blue Cross. It cost a whopping $250 a month (this in the early ’70s), and the paperwork and hassles over what they covered and to what extent and which doctor one could see were overwhelming. When my kids got too old or moved to jobs away from home, I dropped Blue Cross and its “preferred providers,” going bare for a couple of years until I realized all my doctors had retired or died. At that point, I joined Kaiser. People I actually knew gave it a good rating, so I figured I had nothing to lose. I’ve not been disappointed.

Still, I support the MTA and grocery clerks in their efforts to get better health benefits from their employers even though what they already have seems like a pretty good deal to me. So I passed up Vons on my way home the other day when I saw the pickets, thinking I could get everything I needed at Trader Joe’s. Wrong. There were trucks being unloaded in the parking lot and boxes stacked everywhere, but the shelves were bare. I mean, Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard bare. Not one banana. Not a single loaf of bread. The dairy case, stripped. No milk for the kids. No cheese or lunch meat for their lunch boxes. I grabbed two boxes of Genisoy bars, my daughter’s current breakfast of choice, a few packages of frozen chicken, fish, spinach and broccoli, and three bottles of Two Buck Chuck’s Chardonnay. They would be fully restocked on Wednesday, they said. Apparently so many people honored the supermarket picket lines, they sold out of everything. Well, Wednesday was not an option for me, it was already 7:30 and there were only two other markets between the mountain and me.

I chose Pavilions, where two very tired strikers carried signs on sagging shoulders. I darted inside before they could accost me. The aisles were empty and the shelves were full. Still, I bought only what I absolutely needed to last the week. I even passed up a quart of Starbucks Low Fat Latte ice cream. That’s major support. I smiled at the two bedraggled pickets hoping they’d forgive my transgression.

Wednesday I have an appointment at Kaiser. I’ll be thinking about the workers and their health care when I fork over my $20 co-pay. If the strike’s not settled, I’ll buy everything at P.C. Greens, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Whatever I can’t find there, I’ll do without.

Maybe Howard Dean will tell us again how he solved the health care crisis in Vermont. If anybody’s listening. Can you hear him now?