"Andy Stern is not shy about speaking his mind," veteran labor reporter David Moberg wrote in our recent cover story, Can't Workers of the Word Unite? In these last months, Stern has been anything but shy about triggering the most far-reaching strategic debate in labor in more than a generation.
But while Stern's call for dramatic structural change, his openness to remake labor's traditional ties to the Democratic Party and create new institutions and alliances for working people, and his sense of urgency, even desperation, about the future of labor is admirable and welcome, much of SEIU's argument about what is to be done is less persuasive. (For more on Stern and the recently dissolved New Unity Partnership's (NUP) reform proposals--and my take on the arguments--see below.)
The insistence on the need for change at almost any cost was at the heart of Stern's talk to a packed early Monday session at the Harvard Club--organized by the Drum Major Institute and its indefatigable Executive Director Andrea Batista Schlesinger. The charismatic 54-year old leader of SEIU, the AFL's fastest growing affiliate, acknowledged that if his (and NUP's) candidate--John Wilhelm of UNITE HERE--isn't elected (and John Sweeney ousted) at the AFL's quadrennial convention this July, it's the endgame.
Excerpt from DMI "Marketplace of Ideas" Series with SEIU President Andy Stern. March 14, 2005. New York City, New York.
Hon. Carl McCall: President Stern I have a practical question. One of the things you've done is that you've challenged the leadership of the AFL-CIO and you've suggested to them that they adopt some of the very interesting ideas that you've presented today. I was just wondering if you could comment on what is the end aim. Is (it) to extract from John Sweeney certain commitments to move in the direction you've suggested, or do you plan to run a candidate to oppose him?
Andy Stern: I think in any situation there are always two ingredients to change, one is what we're trying to talk about, "What do you believe in?" and then "who are the leaders that actually believe in what you believe in?" Because we have lots of people who say we're all for the same thing and then they get there and we're not sure what the same thing we all were for is. So I'd say the key, the first discussion is what do we all believe in. I'm not sure we're ever going to reach an agreement, so we may never get to the second question, which is "who is a leader that embraces what we agree in?" We made a decision rightly or wrongly that we will either be part of or partners with the AFL-CIO, but we don't want to be part of a labor movement that isn't willing to make changes that give workers a chance. We believe, as I said earlier, that we have fake unity not real unity, maybe what Democrats have. We're all Democrats but you can vote for the bankruptcy bill, you can vote against minimum wage and we're all Democrats. So, to us it's either time to change the AFL or build something stronger. A lot of building something stronger isn't building another labor movement, it is answering some of these questions of how do we relate to community organization, how do we build a progressive infrastructure, how do we build relationships with other membership organizations? Whether they be all the groups that work together in America Votes. How do we build the Working Families Party or other institutions that represent a differentâ€¦so for us building something stronger isn't necessarily building a parallel labor movement. It's about joining with people that share a common set of values and trying to figure out what we should do regardless of what happens. How we work together to win for working people, to see work rewarded, to have a country that has a little more tolerance, a little more belief in science and progress and democracy, in the good sense of the word, more than we have today. So for us we want to make the change, if we make the change it needs a leader that embraces the change but at the same time we all have to build something stronger because we're losing. None of us, no progressive institution, no party, no labor movement, at this moment in history is strong enough on their own.
The music of St. Patrick's Day, if it is political at all, tends to pick at old wounds and recall even older fights. That doesn't make it bad â€“ a good many of the old rebel songs are brilliant -- but it can make the tunes a tad redundant.
There is nothing redundant about Damien Dempsey, however. The 28-year-old Dublin songwriter, whose first U.S. album, Seize the Day (Attack) was quietly released last fall, explores the harsh realities of contemporary Ireland with an eye and an ear that owes as much to Bob Marley as it does to the Clancy Brothers.Dempsey's music is Irish to the core â€“ as Shane Mac Gowan of the Pogues says of his Celtic comrade, "He sees the beauty that is Ireland and that is Ireland's past and that can be Ireland's future." Yet, just as Marley made the Jamaican experience universal, so Dempsey sings a global song.
Seize the Day is packed with remarkable tunes, but the standout is "Celtic Tiger," an unblinking examination of the growing gap between rich and poor in Ireland that takes its name from the label attached to that country's "new economy." But it could have been written about any developed country where the promise of globalization is turning out to be a nightmare for those who did not begin their journey on the upper rungs of the economic ladder.
We've spent considerable time at The Nation detailing the increasingly muddy ethics trail being traveled by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. And, every day, new details come out demonstrating that DeLay is the most corrupt politician in Congress.
DeLay has violated ethics rules, virtually at will; abused his position as Majority Leader to trample on the legislative process; used illegal corporate contributions to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Texas voters with his anti-democratic re-districting scheme and used tax dollars and government resources for partisan political gain.
Some Republicans are even beginning to worry that he may be a liability. A GOP political consultant close to top lawmakers, including DeLay, told the Washington Post over the weekend: "If death comes from a thousand cuts, Tom DeLay is into a couple hundred, and it's getting up there. The situation is negatively fluid right now for the guy. You start hitting arteries, it only takes a couple."
LONDON -- George Bush's favorite European is having a hard time emulating the American president's strategy of exploiting the war on terror for political gain.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose willingness to go along even with the most illegitimate and dangerous of Bush's mad schemes has made him a hero to American conservatives, is paying a high price for being what his countrymen refer to as "Bush's lapdog."
Blair's attempt to enact a British version of the Patriot Act created a political crisis last week. Day after day, Blair battled with dissidents from his own Labour Party in the British House of Commons and House of Lords, as well as the country's opposition parties, over basic civil liberties issues. While Blair eked out a victory in the Parliament, he repeatedly failed to win the approval of the House of Lords, where his own mentor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, one of the country's leading legal minds, sided with the foes.
On Tuesday, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers scored aprecedent-setting victory for America's beleaguered farm workers.
After three years of a CIW-led boycott against Taco Bell, Yum Brands Inc.--the world's largest fast-food corporation and the chain's parent company--agreed to improve working conditions of the Florida tomato pickers and increase their wages by paying an extra penny per pound oftomatoes picked.
The average American farm worker lives far below the poverty line,(barely) subsisting on $7,500 a year. Currently, the market price for tomatoes hovers around 32 cents per barrel, roughly the same amount it stood at thirty years ago. For the tomato pickers, the penny-per-pound increase provides a significant income boost. For America's farm workers, CIW's victory is a groundbreaking step towards a more socially responsible fast-food industry.
As Jesus said to render unto Caesar
A portion of thy grain or of thy stock,
Our policy's to render unto Caesar
In hopes that he'll apply electric shock.