Eliseo Medina, Who Reshaped Labor and Immigrant Rights Movements, Retires from SEIU

by Randy Shaw

Medina

Today is Eliseo Medina’s last day as the Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU International. Medina is retiring from his job, though not from immigrant rights activism, after nearly fifty years working for social change. Medina helped expand Latino union membership, and increased Latino voting and political empowerment. He secured SEIU resources to implement Latino voter outreach strategies that effectively changed the course of national politics, and played a leading role in broadening a network of immigrant rights groups into a national labor and church-backed movement.Medina’s activism began in 1965 at age 19 as an organizer with Cesar Chavez and the UFW. He was trained by the legendary Fred Ross Sr., who also mentored Chavez. Seen by many as Chavez’s successor, Medina abruptly left the UFW in 1978 over concern with the group’s direction. His departure began a mass exodus of the UFW’s key organizing talent, whose future endeavors became the subject of my previous book, Beyond the Fields. Medina’s legacy has parallels to Chavez, whose later failures left some to wrongly downplay his historic achievements. In Medina’s case, his support for SEIU President Andy Stern’s takeover of the California-based SEIU-UHW in 2009 and his refusal to publicly oppose Stern’s attempted seizure of UNITE HERE also that year alienated some of his former admirers into adversaries. Yet as with Cesar Chavez, Eliseo Medina’s rich life must be evaluated over the course of his career. Medina is among the most influential social change activists of his time, and his story should be known.In today’s United States, labor unions and Latino voters are two key pillars of progressive politics. Yet when Eliseo Medina worked for the UFW from 1965-1978, the situation was very different. The UFW was the only union that prioritized grassroots electoral outreach, and among the few groups focused on registering Latino voters and getting them out the vote. Continue reading

Jerome Brown Reviews Two Reviews of Jane McAlevey’s Rising Expectations

by Jerome Brown

Jerry Brown

McAleveybook

Talking Union previously featured Sarah Jaffe’s interview with Jane McAlevey. Joe Burns’ review of McAlevey’s book can be found here. Steve Early’s review of McAlevey’s book can be found here. McAlevey’s response to Early can be found here. We encourage further discussion.–TU

I am submitting this as a review of Joe Burns’ review of Rising Expectations and of Steve Early’s critique of McAlevey which in many ways is parroted by Burns.

I am writing as someone who was directly involved in the unusually effective changes led by Jane McAlevey in Local 1107, SEIU Las Vegas and as someone who watched with real sadness the subsequent undermining and failure of that Local. I am the retired president of 1199 New England, a union with a proud history of militant rank and file activity and high standards in the public and private sector. The growth of Local 1199 in Connecticut from 900 members when I assumed staff leadership in 1973 to 23,000 members when I retired required the dedicated efforts of many leaders and members. McAlevey identifies me as one of her mentors in the labor movement and I am happy to wear that description.

I disagree with some of the examples of SEIU skullduggery recited by McAlevey–most particularly her description and demonization of Sal Roselli and UHW under Sal’s leadership. But on most of the facts supporting her narrative, McAlevey is right on target. Yes, SEIU made private deals with national hospital chains, deals that gave away worker rights to strike and even rally. And these deals were never explained to or ratified by the members. Yes SEIU undermined and then disrupted member activism,threatening Jane and the Local with trusteeship if it dared engage in job actions against these employers. And yes, the SEIU and the AFL-CIO failed in Florida during the 2000 presidential election and failed in any number of other crises because they did not motivate, support or really believe in militant membership activity.

Continue reading

Joe Burns Reviews Rising Expectations

by Joe Burns

McAleveybook
Raising Expectations, by Jane McAlevey is a memoir of a progressive activist and non-profit foundation official who gets recruited into the labor movement and thrust very quickly into leadership positions. The book relates McAlevey battles with employers, other labor officials, and ultimately with her own membership.

Raising Expectations purports to tell the tale of how McAlevey was “bounced from the movement, a victim of the high-level internecine warfare that has torn apart organized labor.” The reality, however, is far more complex. For Raising Expectations raises interesting questions about the relationship between middle class labor leaders and the workers they seek to lead.

Continue reading

Response to Steve Early’s Review of Raising Expectations

Talking Union recently featured Sarah Jaffe’s interview with Jane McAlevey. We followed with Steve Early’s review of McAlevey’s book.  Here is McAlevey’s response to Early. We encourage further discussion.–TU

McAleveybook

 By Jane McAlevey

The editors have graciously offered me the opportunity to respond to Steve Early’s review of Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell). I want to respond to Early’s review, which focuses primarily on about ten percent of the book, but also to give people some idea of what the other ninety percent is about.

It will be no surprise to knowledgeable readers that Steve Early’s review is heavily focused on the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).  In Early’s The Civil Wars in US Labor, he declares himself as not only a partisan, but as among the biggest cheerleaders of the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).
However, in his review of my book, Early keeps his sympathies under the table. This does a disservice to readers who try to make sense of all this. Readers of his review of Raising Expectations might get the impression that my book is all about his interest, NUHW. Not at all. My book is about organizing, and how to rebuild the US labor movement in a time of tremendous difficulty and multiple setbacks.

In my book, I clearly identified myself as someone who tried to steer an independent course amidst complicated turf wars–the issues that matter most to Early.  That’s apparently enough for Early to direct a lot of criticism at me, some of it directly on NUHW matters, some of it spillover about somewhat related points.  (I am not, it might be noted, alone as an object of Early’s criticisms.)

Continue reading

Bidding Adieu to SEIU: Lessons for Its Next Generation of Organizers?

Talking Union recently featured Sarah Jaffe’s interview with Jane McAlevey. Here we present Steve Early’s review of McAlevey’s book. McAlevey’s response to Early can be found here. We encourage further discussion.–TU

By Steve Early

McAleveybook

A review of Raising Expectations (And Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting For the Labor Movement, by Jane McAlevey with Bob Ostertag. New York/London: Verso Books, 2012. 318 pp. $25.95 (hardcover)

Few modern unions have done more outside hiring than the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), America’s second largest labor organization. Beginning in the mid-1970s and continuing unabated today, SEIU and its local affiliates have employed tens of thousands of non-members as organizers, servicing reps, researchers, education specialists, PR people, and staffers of other kinds. While most unions hire and promote largely from within (i.e. from the ranks of their working members), SEIU has always cast its net wider.

It has welcomed energetic refugees from other unions, promising young student activists, former community organizers, ex-environmentalists, Democratic Party campaign operatives, and political exiles from abroad. (One prototypical campus recruit was my older daughter, Alex, a Latin-American studies major who became a local union staffer for SEIU after supporting the janitors employed at her Connecticut college.)

Continue reading

Labor Needs a New Generation of Leadership

by Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw

The United States labor movement has declined for decades, but what separates Labor Day 2011 from the past is the lack of prospects for change. The once bright hopes for major federal labor law reform that accompanied Obama’s election are dead, and now labor sees it as a major victory just to keep collective bargaining and a functioning National Labor Relations Board.

Continue reading

Labor’s Revival Depends on Workplace Organizing, Not Electoral Politics

by Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw

Organized labor is in crisis. And some, including longtime labor commentator Harold Meyerson and SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, believe unions should undertake a strategic shift and prioritize electoral politics over workplace organizing. Meyerson recently wrote in the Washington Postthat weak labor laws have “forced” unions to “go outside the workplace,” and touts SEIU’s plan to canvass door- to- door in 17 cities in order to build a “mass organization for the unemployed and underpaid.” According to SEIU’s Henry, “we realized we could organize one million more people into the union and it wouldn’t in itself really change anything. We needed to do something else — something more.” But after unions invested over $300 million in the 2008 elections and got little in return, prioritizing resources outside the workplace is a doubtful strategy for building worker power. And while SEIU has lost confidence in the power of workplace organizing, UNITE HERE, the National Nurses United, the ILWU, IBEW, NUHW, UFCW, CWA and many other unions have not.

Continue reading

A “Union of Their Dreams” Becomes a Nightmare:Has UFW History Been Replayed in SEIU?

by Steve Early

Steve Early

No modern American union boasts a larger alumni association or a bigger shelf of books about itself than the United Farm Workers (UFW).

Even at its membership peak thirty years ago, this relatively small labor organization never represented more than 100,000 workers. Yet, in the 1960s and ’70s, the UFW commanded the loyalty of many hundreds of thousands of strike and boycott supporters throughout the U.S. and Canada. While the union is now a shell of its former self, the UFW diaspora — from young organizers who flocked to its banner to key farm worker activists shaped by its struggles — remain an influential generational cohort in many other fields: public interest law, liberal academia, California politics, labor and community organizing, social change philanthropy and the ministry. Like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) several decades later, with its “Justice for Janitors” campaigns, the UFW generated widespread public sympathy and support because it championed low-paid, much-exploited workers — people of color courageously struggling for dignity and respect on the job. Its original multi-racial campaigns were inspiring and their legacy is lasting.

Continue reading

What Kind of Workers’ Movement?

by Paul Garver

Carl Finamore already reviewed Steve Early’s The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor for Talking Union.  I’d like to comment further on this important book, focusing on the issue of the organizational structures needed to rebuild the workers’ movement in the current context.

Should we be reflecting on our own weaknesses and sources of disunity while an implacable external enemy is threatening our very existence?  We are in a war for the very survival of public sector unionism, as right wing ideologues financed by billionaire foes of all working people are assailing this bastion of any conceivable progressive revival in the USA. We are encouraged that private and public sector unions stand united, while communities and campuses are mobilizing in their support.  But even in a hot phase of the class war there are lulls in the battle that permit some reading and reflection.  Reading Early’s book help us understand that our own weaknesses and dysfunctional behavior contributed to our current crisis. Continue reading

Labor’s Tangled Web: A Review of Civil Wars in U.S. Labor by Steve Early

by Carl Finamore

Steve Early, The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor

Steve Early, The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor

“There are no shortcuts in politics,” bellowed a respected, much-older labor veteran as we young militants sat around hoping to pick up a few things. “No gimmicks, no tricks, you only end up fooling yourself.”

In his book, only working class people themselves could solve the enormous social problems of war, poverty and discrimination. He emphasized that no matter how difficult it is to achieve, politics should be measured by how it helps or hinders the direct involvement and political empowerment of working people. There was no getting around it.

That was some 40 years ago but I never forgot it.

This conversation from so many years past still resonated with me after reading Steve Early’s new book, The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor. In fact, some pages seem taken straight from my mentor’s own voluminous book of experience, as when Early concludes that “instead of unions that are top down and top heavy, too employer friendly and detached from their base, we need more that are lean and mean at the top, plus strong, broad and deep at the base.”

But Civil Wars does not simply offer a radical critique of current union policies. It does much more. It vividly describes, analyzes and contrasts actual labor experiences of the difficult and tumultuous recent past.

All is presented through the practiced eyes of an experienced journalist who served as both a labor organizer and union staff person for over 30 years.

Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,175 other followers