Labor - USA
Mel Pritchard, San Francisco, Portside, September 17, 2004
I do not think there is some easy answer to the dilemmas of administration of a large national union. I come at this with the experiences of fighting a truly conservative bureaucracy in the Teamsters as a member of TDU at UPS. Though they [are] certainly for democracy, the did not care about race,gender or the public sector or had a clue how to deal with those dilemmas other than a naive trust in anti-bureaucratic forces in the IBT. I spent time in an AFT local while an adjunct lecturer at CUNY.
Marilyn Albert, RN, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Portside, September 15, 2004
Much of Steve Early's essay "Reutherism Redux: What Happens When Poor Workers' Unions Wear the Color Purple" rang true to me as a long time member of New York's health care workers union, 1199, which affiliated with SEIU several years ago. Early makes an important contribution to the discussion of the relationship between democratic practices within unions and the strength of the union and the labor movement in general. This is an issue which like-minded progressive trade unionists often don't agree about and that difference frequently can be attributed to whether one is a staff member/official or whether one is a rank and file activist.
Greg King, Boston, Massachusetts, SEIU Local 888, Portside, September 13, 2004
Just a couple of comments on Steve Early's article and Mel Pritchard's response. While I think that Steve makes a lot of telling points, my personal experience with SEIU has been somewhat different from what he describes. I watched what had been a good SEIU local 285, degenerate into something which served its officers and not the members. They had started out great, with democratic ideals which they seriously tried to implement. I know, because I was a rank-and-file activist, and for a while a Negotiating Committee member and an Executive Board member.
Mel Pritchard, West Valley College, Saratoga, California, Portside, September 11, 2004
I am a veteran of a SEIU staff in two CA locals: private sector building service local and a public sector local. I think the SEIU transformation from a semi-moribund AFL craft union to a powerhouse of labor is quite remarkable in US labor history. Not too many labor union have revitalized themselves in the past 30 years. But SEIU is very uneven in level of new thinking, capacity of union member intiative, ability of effective bargaining and other issues.
Steve Early, Labor Notes, September 2004
"Don't they realize if they really push this organizing, the labor movement is going to wind up being a movement of strawberry pickers and chicken pluckers?" - Anonymous 1997 AFL-CIO Convention delegate from the American Federation of Teachers, quoted in The New York Times.
Despite stepped-up union recruitment, farm workers and poultry processors still haven't taken over the AFL-CIO. But the old guard's fear of being swamped by low-wage workers - expressed by this AFT delegate seven years ago - has materialized in other ways (even while organizing among "strawberry pickers and chicken pluckers" generally flopped). Tens of thousands of janitors, nursing home workers, home health care aides, and hotel, laundry and food service employees are now in the forefront of union struggles around the country. Under the post-1995 leadership of John Sweeney, the AFL-CIO has demanded a "living wage" for the millions of African-Americans, women, and recent immigrants who work in such jobs. Progressive allies of labor, including minority community activists, have widely applauded this new focus on the "most oppressed." Many believe it represents a renewed labor commitment to social justice, empowerment of the poor, and greater diversity. ...
With the trade union movement in the United States representing a shrinking proportion of the working population and with unprecedented attacks on the well-being and liberties of workers and their families, an intense debate has unfolded in the last several years within the AFL-CIO, starting at the top and now reverberating throughout the ranks. Major changes in program and finances are proposed, and some are already being implemented. The outcome of this ferment will affect every working nurse in the US, whether currently organized or not, whether belonging to an affiliate of the AFL-CIO or not. A number of international unions and working groups have issued papers on these questions. Here are links to the basic documents and to some of the more widely circulated reactions:
“Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what you will!”
In 1886, workers across North America, typically forced to work fourteen-hour days, struck and marched behind that banner. Chicago was the epicenter of this earthshaking movement. When they gathered in Haymarket Square, a bomb was tossed by an unknown assailant, but the workers and their leaders were blamed, arrested, and many were executed. To this day, Labor vehemently opposes terrorism, but is still tainted with the accusation of supporting it by spokespeople of corporate rulers. In much of the world today, the first day of May is celebrated as the country’s official Labour Day. Nurses should be especially proud today as we fight mandatory overtime and unbearable working conditions!