Labor’s Hail Mary Pass

By Harold Meyerson

This is a maddening time for anyone concerned about the lives of working-class Americans. The frustration and anger that suffused AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka’s declaration last week that labor would distance itself from the Democratic Party was both clear and widely noted. Not so widely noted has been a shift in the organizing strategy of two of labor’s leading institutions — Trumka’s AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union — that reflects a belief that the American labor movement may be on the verge of extinction and must radically change its game.

It took a multitude of Democratic sins and failures to push Trumka to denounce, if not exactly renounce,the political party that has been labor’s home at least since the New Deal. In a speech at the National Press Club last Friday, Trumka said that Republicans were wielding a “wrecking ball” against the rights and interests of working Americans. But Democrats, he added, were “simply standing aside” as the Republicans moved in for the kill.

The primary source of labor’s frustration has been the consistent inability of the Democrats to strengthen the legislation that once allowed workers to join unions without fear of employer reprisals. American business has poked so many holes in the 1935 National Labor Relations Act that it now affords workers no protections at all. Beginning with Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, every time the Democrats have held the White House and strong majorities in both houses of Congress, bills that strengthened workers’ rights to unionize have commanded substantial Democratic support — but never quite enough to win a Senate supermajority. And during that time, the unionized share of the private-sector workforce has dwindled from roughly 30 percent to less than 7 percent.
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Drawing Lessons from the Settlement of the SEIU-UNITE HERE Conflict

by Paul Garver

Talking Union has now posted statements by SEIU and by UNITE HERE on the settlement of their conflict

We have also posted opinion pieces by Randy Shaw and by Amy Dean setting forth their thoughts on the implications of the SEIU-UNITE HERE conflict and its settlement.

In addition, we recommend you read the detailed and balanced analyses by David Moberg (In These Times blog) and by Harold Meyerson in the American Prospect.

We welcome your comments and contributions on this important topic.

With New President Will SEIU Change?

Mary Kay Henry

by Paul Garver

For once, there is agreement between the Andy Stern/Anna Burger leadership team and their harshest critics on the left of the labor movement. In an interview with Washington Post writer Alec MacGillis, Stern referred to both Mary Key Henry and Anna Burger as his “lifelong partners,” either of whom would make a good president for SEIU. Either will “build on what’s happened here, not tear it down and change it.”

Anna Burger agrees. In a gracious letter withdrawing her candidacy, she referred to Mary Key as her ‘union sister,” with whom she will remain a close working colleague for the benefit of SEIU members and all working people. She wrote that “The media is just wrong when they suggest that this contest represents a shift in SEIU’s priorities or a rejection of the Stern/Burger agenda.”

Labor Notes editorialized that the contest was merely about “which successor to Stern’s throne would best carry on its mission to quickly expand the union by offering value to corporations.” Steve Early, in a detailed and informative posting on the Working In these Times blog, outlined Mary Kay Henry’s history as a loyal staff officer with no rank-and-file experience in SEIU who played over the years such a prominent role in the conflicts within SEIU’s healthcare unions in California that would make it especially difficult for her to resolve SEIU’s disastrous civil war with the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

But other commentators find reasons to believe that SEIU might undertake a modest course correction in the near future. I recently outlined a minimal reform program for SEIU on this blog.
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What Future for SEIU After Andy Stern Resigns?


by Paul Garver

Articles and editorial comments in the Left and liberal press display a wide spectrum of reactions to Andy Stern’s divided legacy as SEIU President. I will analyze these reactions, note where they diverge and converge, and propose some modest course adjustments for a union that is too big, and too important to the movement, to be allowed to fail.

The articles and comments cited are:

Beyond Chron: Randy Shaw, “SEIU’s Post-Andy Stern Era”
Counterpunch: Steve Early, “Who’s Going to Pay the Tab Left Behind by Andy Stern?”
In These Times: Bill Fletcher, Jr. and Nelson Lichtenstein, “SEIU’s Civil War”
Labor Notes: Mark Brenner, Mischa Gaus, and Jane Slaughter, Andy Stern’s Legacy: Right Questions, Wrong Answers
Katrina van den Heuvel, “SEIU’s Andy Stern Steps Down”
New Republic:
John Judis, “Andy Stern’s departure is another sign of labor movement’s decline”
New York Times:
Steven Greenhouse, “Andy Stern to Step Down as Chief of Politically Active Union”
Washington Post:
Harold Meyerson, “Andy Stern: A union maverick clocks out”
Washington Post: Alec MacGillis, “At the peak of his influence, SEIU chief set to leave a mixed legacy”

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Labor, the Left, and Progressives in the Obama Era: April 6 in DC

After the success of health care reform, what’s next on labor’s agenda? How can the labor movement grow and engage with a progressive movment that speaks to the Obama era? What is the role of younger workers, workers of color, and women? Is there a new “New Deal” on the horizon?

Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed, Christopher Hayes, Washington editor of the Nation, Gerry Hudson, executive vice-president of the SEIU, Michael Kazin, co-editor of Dissent, Harold Meyerson, columnist for the Washington Post, and Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO will speak.

Georgetown labor historian Joseph McCartin will moderate.

Tonight @ 7 p.m.
McShain Lounge in McCarthy Hall
Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

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Harold Meyerson: Never Ending Labor Wars

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson brings us up-to-date of the wars between SEIU and UNITE HERE on the American Prospect website. After noting that both John Wilhelm of UNITE HERE and Andy Stern of SEIU (joined by Bruce Raynor and Edgar Romney of the UNITE HERE breakaway United Workers) had made favorable reference to an arbitration proposal by UFCW President Joe Hansen, Meyerson asks if there is a basis for an end to the fued might be at hand.

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Harold Meyerson: Card Check and Gut Check

by Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

If our nation was governed by business’s version of democratic choice, we would hold elections to determine the winner, but nearly half the time the incumbent would remain in power even if he lost. In its campaign to derail the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), business has fearlessly depicted itself as the defender of elections and the secret ballot as well as the foe of the dread “card check” — the process, championed by unions and included within EFCA, that would allow workers to sign union affiliation cards rather than compelling them to go through a ratification election in which harassment and firings of workers are all too common.

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Harold Meyerson: Impact of SEIU vs. UNITE HERE on LA

meyersonharold2Harold Meyerson’s latest column for the Los Angeles Times takes a look at how the struggles inside–and between–SEIU and UNITE HERE could impact labor in Los Angeles.   Meyerson notes that internecine fighting among a number of unions threatens to damage the labor movement.  He writes that “the city where it could do the most harm is Los Angeles.”

Meyerson ends on an optimistic, but concerned, note.

Over the last two weeks, fortunately, the unions seemed to have pulled back from the specter of all-out civil war. The SEIU stopped its campaigns within the three hotel locals. The new national leadership of Unite Here (that is, the leaders of the hotel side) agreed to settlement terms suggested by an independent arbitrator, and though the SEIU-Unite leaders rejected those terms, talks continue. In Los Angeles, the SEIU leaders met Tuesday with Durazo, and the County Federation is still in one piece.

Read the whole “Labor on the Brink” column.

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Harold Meyerson on Labor, the election, and Working America

Harold Meyerson has a must read article on labor and the elections in the Fall issue of Dissent.   It has lots of very important things to say on the divisions and tensions in the labor movement and the critical importance of this election, including an explanation for the forming of the “alliance” of CWA, UAW, USW, and the IFTPE

As we say in the blog speak, read the whole thing.  But there are two paragraphs on Working America, the AFL-CIO’s community affiliate that are of special import. Continue reading

Harold Meyerson: Why Were We In Vietnam?

Harold Meyerson is on-target in his latest Washington Post column where he examines the growing number of corporations that are looking for cheap labor not in China but in Vietnam.

According to a report by Keith Bradsher in the New York Times last month, such multinational companies as Canon (the printer and copier maker) and Hanesbrands (the North Carolina-based underwear empire) are expanding or building factories in Hanoi, where they churn out products for Wal-Mart and other American retailers. Foreign direct investment in Vietnam increased 136 percent between 2006 and 2007, while it increased just 14 percent in China. Continue reading