Sunday, May 11, 2008

SEIU & Obama

Andrew Stern’s Service Employees International Union supports Barack Hussein Obama and Forbes announces SEIU Local 1199 President Dave Regan from Ohio is the Democratic Party superdelegate that should tip the nomination to Obama. As a superdelegate, the fact Clinton won Ohio is a non-factor.

Obama is now open to the wishes of Andy Stern as he attempts to revitalize private sector unionism internationally. In the summer of 2005, Stern takes his union and leaves what he perceives as the stagnation of the AFL-CIO. Since then, his efforts to rebuild unionism have been controversial in the labor community, in large part because of his willingness to partner with business management.

Where Andy Stern is taking the SEIU: Stern has not been shy about this focus on corporate partnerships. On Jan. 22, 2007 he told the Wall Street Journal, "We want to find a 21st century model that is less focused on individual grievances, more focused on industry needs." In 2006, he told the McKinsey Quarterly, "Employers live in a competitive environment and have to meet certain shareholder expectations, and labor can play a role in helping to meet them."

The basis of his thinking is that private sector union membership is so low, that building membership is more important than membership benefits or membership input into decisions. Needless to say, this prioritization has some members upset to the point of open rebellion, in specific, California based United Healthcare Workers (UHW).

Roots of the crisis in the SEIU: The SEIU International contends that the low numbers justify an organize-at-any-cost method that surrenders many members' rights. This method of organizing, which offers concessions and support of pro-business legislation for the employer's blessing to organize, is being challenged by Sal Rosselli, president of the union's second largest local.

Since the Obama arm of the progressive movement is driven by theory, UMass Sociologist Dan Clawson jumps into the conflict to explain the theory behind the actions.

Labor Wars: Any time an individual or organization gets held up as a model of success it invites others to launch criticisms, and that's certainly been the case for SEIU, which may simultaneously be the most admired and the most criticized of all unions today. Those criticisms focus above all on SEIU's top-down staff-driven model, and the consequent lack of democracy, combined with the argument that this sometimes leads SEIU to collaborate with employers.

If our purpose is to build long-term power, one central issue is union density. If 95 percent of an industry is non-union, the 5 percent that is union is very limited in what it can win, because any agreement that involves substantial extra costs to the employer may force the employer into bankruptcy. … On the other hand, if the industry is 95 percent unionized, employers have less worry that a union gain will put them at a competitive disadvantage…. Given this, it might sometimes be sensible for a union to accept a not-very-good contract in order to increase union density, as part of a long-run strategy to raise density in an area, knowing that the greatest gains would come only with high density.

The charge is that in effect, Andy Stern has cut a deal with the employer not to insist on substantial pay raises, in exchange for the right to sign up new members. SEIU nationally responds that UHW is willing to put the interests of current workers ahead of the unorganized, that UHW would cut a deal with the employer for a current pay increase and in exchange accept conditions that made it harder to bring in the unorganized. This, SEIU nationally says, is "just us" unionism (instead of justice unionism), making unions into a narrow interest group concerned about the interests of the small number of people currently in unions, instead of the interests of all workers, including those not yet in a union.

Clever phrasing: “Just Us” unionism vs. “Justice” unionism. The socialism in one state model is perfectly willing to live with the job security of the former, but the theoretical worldwide solution to the woes of labor call for justice, even if justice takes times to reach critical mass. The difference is going to be a very narrow tightrope for Obama to walk. Workers of the World Unite!