Debating Labor's Future
Q. Andy Stern, is it really possible to make a revolution like this overnight, at one convention? Is there room for compromise here, or is the drawing up of the amendments and bringing them to the July convention just a prelude to secession?
: You can't compromise on having a strategy that rewards people who go to work every day. We need a strategy that works. We can't take a little bit of this and a little bit of that and say we are all together--we are going to lose that way. If we start a new federation, it will have the values we have. We didn't write these constitutional amendments to create a double standard but with the clear understanding that, if we start a new federation, these are the values and the ways we would operate.
Q. If your amendments are not passed at the convention, how likely is it that SEIU will leave the AFL-CIO?
: I would say right now it is fairly certain. We have a different strategy about how workers are going to be successful in this economy. We clearly are influenced by the fact that we have grown by 900,000 workers in nine years, by the fact that we are winning healthcare coverage while other workers are losing it.
Q. Some people feel that some members of the Change to Win Coalition look down on unions that have been struggling to organize instead of looking for ways to assist them and that for many unions, such as those in the manufacturing sector, the ability of employers to move production or outsource jobs to other countries makes it very tough to figure out what to do. How would you respond to that? How can the power of the manufacturing unions be revived?
: The Steelworkers have made a choice to have an organizing strategy that is based on organizing any worker who is willing to pay dues in total defiance of what built the strength of that union, which was organizing workers in steel. That is their choice, and one reason they have been unsuccessful is that they don't have a long-term core industry strategy. Our union went and talked with them about organizing the security industry, which is one of our core industry focuses. They represent about 10,000 security guards in Canada. Since we are mostly focused on organizing security guards in commercial buildings, we offered to work with them to organize security jobs at industrial facilities. But they saw this as an attempt to distract them from organizing healthcare workers. There are problems for manufacturing unions who have to find ways to organize industries that are going to stay in this country, but for Steelworkers to go after nurses and public sector workers is just the wrong choice. Going after all different kinds of workers is not a successful strategy. Focus matters.
: There is no question that both bargaining and organizing in the manufacturing sector, where capital has become so mobile, is extraordinarily difficult. On the other hand, there are millions of manufacturing jobs in the United States. I think we need a strategy that does the utmost we can do politically, legislatively and through corporate strategies to diminish the flow of manufacturing jobs out of the country, and we need a strategy to organize the manufacturing jobs that are here. In terms of the arrogance issue, none of us feels arrogant about the changes that need to be made. The challenges that every union and worker faces are daunting. Nobody in the Change to Win Coalition believes we have the sure-fire recipe and that if only everybody else would sign on, it would be lovely.