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by Richard mellor
Wednesday, Jul. 14, 2004 at 7:29 PM
To Many young activists, SEIU is considered the progressive Union. But, in the last analysis, the policies of SEIU's leadership are no different from those of any other AFL-CIO Union. They fail to take on the employers in a serious way and refuse to break politically with the Democratic Party.
Andy Stern and SEIU Offer the Same Worn-Out Policies
Getting Democrats Elected and keeping the Employers’ Profits Safe, Makes SEIU Just the Same Old Story
By Richard Mellor
Retired Member, AFSCME Local 444 Oakland CA
The Service Employee’s International Union (SEIU) held its convention in San Francisco in mid June where Andy Stern, the Union’s president, unveiled what he described as “a radical new way to think about organized labor” (1) This is promising. After all, Union membership is at an all-time low with just 12.9% of the workforce in Unions, and were it not for the public sector, this statistic would be even more dismal.
About time I thought to myself when I read the news. We have lost strike after strike due to the disastrous policies of union leaders like Stern with the southern California grocery workers the latest victims despite their heroic resistance to the employer’s attacks. With mouth-watering anticipation I delved more in to Brother Stern’s new radicalism and prepared myself for the congratulations that I would offer him on his change of direction.
Alas, my hopes were dashed once more. The new radical way to think about Organized Labor is nothing more than another way of increasing the dues base of the Union more efficiently. What Brother Stern has instituted, no doubt with advice from his allies in the Democratic Party and liberal academia, is an Internet connection. There is nothing wrong with utilizing the Internet to unite workers and working class communities. But what is the goal of this project?
SEIU, which initially endorsed Howard Dean for President, “is drawing on his campaign’s extensive Internet network of supporters to build the new group”, reports the Associated Press. More importantly, the project gets the nod from the “experts”. “Organized Labor, needs to reach in the bag and look for as many different ways to reach workers and speak to their needs as possible”, says Bob Bruno, an associate professor of labor and industrial relations at the University of Illinois. Well, there you have it. Those disloyal union members who say the Union isn’t doing enough for them need to pay more attention to the experts.
The average Union member will not be fooled though. In the last analysis it is objective reality that rules. SEIU’s website proudly boasts that John Kerry, the billionaire politician who advocates sending 40,000 more working class youth to Iraq, has joined PurpleOcean.org. Senator Kerry and the Democratic Party welcome this project, as it is another way to harness the power of the labor movement for their legislative agenda. It will also make fund-raising easier and collective e mailing to members of congress more efficient. The new organization, that is called an affiliate, will not be used to mobilize workers and our communities to shut the employers down through strikes and other direct action. It will not be a vehicle for making strikes more effective, or for fighting cuts in health, education, housing or other public services.
At the same time Brother Stern was boasting about his Union’s new radicalism, San Francisco City workers who have taken cuts over the past couple of years, settled contracts containing further cuts. There was no serious attempt whatsoever on the part of the Union leadership to mobilize the power of labor to stop these cuts. During the week of the convention the San Francisco Chronicle reported that city workers had agreed to put 7.5% of their paychecks (a hefty cut in disposable income) toward their retirement which was previously fully paid by the employer. (2) The largest Union in the group whose leadership meekly accepted these concessions was SEIU. I wasn’t at the SEIU convention but I would bet my bottom dollar that Andy Stern said nothing from the podium about this attack on workers, if he did, he most likely praised management and the Local’s involved for working things out.
Gavin Newsome, millionaire Mayor of San Francisco and so-called friend of labor (friend of labor’s leaders) is very pleased that attacks on the working people of his city are received so calmly. Despite the support he received from Unions in his successful bid for the S.F. Mayor’s slot, he quickly gave a public reminder to the heads of Organized Labor about the realities of life. “I never made one commitment to any public employee Union with regard to consideration of contracts or negotiations as relates to my refusal to consider layoffs or rollbacks or whatever.” (3) Newsome warned early on that he would attack city workers and the best the Union leaders come up with is to get Newsom’s pal Kerry elected, and with a revolutionary new method; the Internet.
A couple of months before the SEIU convention there were reports in the San Francisco area papers describing the ongoing struggle between the state employee unions and the Schwarzenegger administration. The California State Employees Association (CSEA) that represents some 90,000 state workers is an SEIU affiliate and California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was looking to close part of the states’ $15 billion budget gap by not honoring pay raises to state workers. This is despite the fact that the contracts had already been signed. What did Stern have to say about this? What was the Democrat’s alternative?
One person had something to say about it. “We have confidence that the Democrats will stand by us”, said Jim Hard, a CSEA (SEIU) official. (4) It is hard (no pun intended) not to laugh at Brother Hard’s statement. I had a good chuckle to myself when I read it. Brother Hard, as the quote above reveals, is confident the Democrats will “stand by us”. The members who pay the dues however do not share Brother Hard’s faith in the Democratic Party, shared by the entire AFL-CIO leadership. No serious thinking worker, Union or non-Union, thinks for one minute that the Democrats will “stand by us”. They haven’t stood by us so far. Why should they start now? But when Brother Hard or any Union official talks about “us” with regards to the Labor Movement, they are not talking about “us” the members but “us” the leaders. The AFL-CIO hierarchy is hoping that the Democrats will salvage what little credibility the leaders of the Labor Movement have among their members by softening the blow, by implementing some form of damage control; after all, the CSEA donated $988,000 in the 2003-4 election cycle to political candidates, all of them Democrats. The AFL-CIO spent $10 million of working people’s money in a failed effort to keep former California Democratic Governor Gray Davis in power; surely there will be a reward. It is no wonder the U.S. workers have abandoned electoral politics in droves.
No, Purpleocean.org is just another desperate effort on the part of a section of the AFL-CIO leadership to help the employers stay competitive. SEIU is part of the New Unity Partnership, various Unions that include the International Brotherhood of Carpenters whose President, Doug McCarron, (Cash McCarron to those that really know him) claims that workers are not the creators of wealth but employers are, Unions are not necessary but employers are. Doug McCarron is a good friend of millionaire businessman, Richard Blum, Dianne Feinstein’s husband. They both sat on the board of Tudor Saliba, one of the largest construction firms in California.
A new radical idea would be abandoning the Team Concept that SEIU and all AFL-CIO Unions support with such disastrous consequences for working people. It would mean abandoning the Democratic Party and building a working class alternative that would fight for workers’ interests not the employers. It would mean mobilizing the power of workers and our communities and using that power to shut down struck employers through occupations, mass picketing and violation of anti-union laws and injunctions; this is how the Unions were built in the first place. In other words, it would mean challenging capitalism itself, rejecting what the employers and their politicians say is realistic. It would mean rejecting market forces and building an alternative society based on solidarity, cooperation and the collective ownership, production and distribution of society’s wealth by the people who produce it; the working class.
Andy Stern is no different from the entire leadership of Organized Labor in this country. He sees the Unions as employment agencies and himself as the CEO of one of the largest, His job is to supply labor at the cheapest and most competitive price. This view and the policies that flow from it has resulted in defeat after defeat for working people and will continue to undermine our living standards while driving some of the most loyal members from unionism. We may well see further decline in union membership in the short term due to these policies. But alongside this we are seeing an emerging resistance to these policies in many Unions including SEIU and the UFCW. Alongside this we are also seeing new formations outside of these traditional structures that will inevitably draw the ranks of Organized Labor in to the struggle and assist the process of transforming the Trade Union movement. There is plenty of room for optimism as U.S. working class finds its feet in the struggles ahead and the best traditions of U.S. labor emerge once more.
(1)Major Union Takes Organizing Drive to Web (AP 6-23-04)
(2) Cost Cutting Pacts Okd With Workers (SF Chronicle 6-23-04)
(3) Newsome Warning on SF Budget (SF Chronicle 12-13-03)
(4) Cuts to Democratic Allies Key to Balanced Budget (SF Chronicle 4-15-94)
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