Monday, April 14, 2008
lenin, over at Lenin's Tomb, summarizes the situation pretty well:
The Service Employees International Union turned their dispute with the California Nurses Association violent by attacking a labor conference April 12, injuring several and sending an American Axle striker to the hospital.
A recently retired member of United Auto Workers Local 235, Dianne Feeley, suffered a head wound after being knocked to the ground by SEIU International staff and local members. Other conference-goers—members of the Teamsters, UAW, UNITE HERE, International Longshoremen’s Association, and SEIU itself—were punched, kicked, shoved, and pushed to the floor. Dearborn police responded and evicted the three bus loads of SEIU International staff and members of local and regional health care unions. No arrests were made.
The assault took place at the Labor Notes conference, a biennial gathering of 1,100 union members and leaders who met to discuss strategies to rebuild the labor movement.
David Cohen, an international representative of the United Electrical Workers, asked protesters why they came. He said one responded, “they told us just to get on the bus.” The protesters included several members with young children, who had to be ushered away when SEIU tried to force their way into the conference banquet hall. Protesters were targeting Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the AFL-CIO-affiliated CNA. DeMoro was scheduled to speak but declined to appear after threats were made against her union’s leadership.
Despite being welcomed to the conference earlier in the day—and given space to debate supporters of the CNA and the National Nurses Organizing Committee about neutrality organizing agreements—SEIU international and regional staff shouted down speakers at workshops and panels throughout the event.
“Labor Notes has always been a space for open debate, but when a union decides to engage in violence against their brothers and sisters, we draw a line,” said Mark Brenner, director of Labor Notes. “Violence within the labor movement is nacceptable and we call on the national leadership of SEIU, including President Andy Stern, to repudiate it.”
It will be interesting to see if SEIU brings such tactics out here to California to challenge CNA on its home turf. I'd recommend that CNA labor representatives consider obtaining permits to carry mace in anticipation of such a development.
The SEIU leadership is increasingly bent on a model of business unionism, cutting sweet-heart deals with employers that rule out strike action and promise to increase the bottom line. It means imposing such templates from the centre and expecting local affiliates to comply. It also includes loyalty oaths being imposed on members by the leadership. Though anti-democratic and disempowering local workers, it seems to be a vision that inspires some admiration at Business Week. This has produced a rift in the organisation with a layer of workers demanding a more militant and democratic approach. So, it seems that several SEIU members were present at this conference, whose purpose was to establish a viable strategy for effective unionism. Also present were members of the CNA, who have long been in a dispute with the SEIU over its timid politics and strategy, with complaints summarised here. The SEIU, including the dissident faction led by Sal Rosseli, charges that the CNA aggressively undermines SEIU recruitment and organising efforts. Following a negotiated truce in which the two unions agreed to keep to respective geographical areas of strength, the war of attrition has continued, and the SEIU is now engaged in an aggressive campaign against the CNA and its national off-shoot, the NNOC. The SEIU dissidents are refusing to have anything to do with it, considering their tactics a form of union-busting. The SEIU leaders, and several hundred loyal members, clearly saw this weekend's efforts as a defense of the union's interests and long-term strategy. The current SEIU leader, Andy Stern, is adored in much of the media ("charismatic", "firebrand"), but doesn't appear to have much to recommend him. Promises of explosive growth thanks to a brilliant new strategy to one side, he seems to be a leader very much in the mould of his predecessor John Sweeney, and not a great deal different from past advocates of business unionism such as George Meany or Lane Kirkland.