It’s been a year of labor feuds, culminating in
‘s recent decision to trustee
United Healthcare Workers West
, a mighty, militant California local, and a move by
, the garment workers union, to break off from
. Then in mid-March, white flags shot up in one of the hottest of these wars between workers.
Just months ago, top officials at SEIU, the massive service employees union that represents hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers, tended to spit when they spoke about the
California Nurses Association
(CNA), calling it “elitists” (for organizing only nurses) and antiunion “reactionaries” (for trying to defeat SEIU organizing drives in hospitals where CNA wanted the nurses for itself). CNA director
Rose Ann DeMoro
, poised to head the largest national nurses’ organization in history, bitterly denounced SEIU’s “business unionism,” which turned workers into “commodities” and gave away the farm to employers and politicians on patient-to-staff ratios and healthcare reform. Yet on March 19, the two unions, which had gone toe-to-toe in hospitals in Ohio and Nevada, announced a joint organizing accord. Now they’ll go after nonunion hospitals together, with CNA organizing the nurses and SEIU the rest of the healthcare staff.
“The election of Barack Obama and the opportunity to transform our healthcare system, combined with the opportunity to give more healthcare workers a voice through passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), seems so profound, such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, that it made the leadership of both organizations feel there were more significant things to do than continue our competition,” SEIU president
told The Nation.
Major organizing targets include the nation’s network of Catholic hospitals, as well as the two biggest for-profit hospital chains,
Hospital Corporation of America
, both of which are concentrated in the right-to-work South. The agreement with SEIU, DeMoro said, is “a game changer.” If EFCA passes too, “it’s almost unimaginable what’s possible,” she added. “I can see hundreds of thousands of nurses and other healthcare workers organized in a very short period of time.”
As for their dispute over healthcare reform–the CNA is an uncompromising voice for single-payer, while SEIU has a record of supporting insurance company-friendly compromises–the two sides say they will campaign side by side for measures that encourage single-payer at the state level, while on Capitol Hill, as Obama’s reform effort takes shape, they’ll simply agree to disagree.
It’s nice to see that this extraordinary, historic moment has finally pushed some unions to take the high road.
THE EXECUTIONER’S LAST SONG:
In an immediate sense, New Mexico’s abolition of the death penalty on March 18 changes little. New Mexico has just two death row inmates, and Governor
–despite his belief that the death penalty is hopelessly flawed across the nation–says he will not commute their sentences. A majority of states still retain capital punishment on their books.
Yet despite this modest impact, could New Mexico signal a longer-term shift in the politics of execution? Unlike in New Jersey two years ago, New Mexico’s capital punishment debate comes at a time of economic crisis. The cost of capital trials and death row is suddenly a nontrivial matter. More important, the very real threat middle-class Americans feel from the economic crisis has, for now, eclipsed ever-more-distant panics over crime, which since the mid-’60s have made capital punishment such an appealing issue for the right. It may finally be possible, for instance, to ask whether capital trials, appeals and executions really serve the needs of homicide survivors, family members whose lingering distress and psychological suffering is identified in a just-published study in the
Journal of Traumatic Stress
as “a significant public health burden.”
What we are seeing is a quiet culture shift. That is why the issue found such momentum in the New Mexico Legislature this year; why serious abolition debates are under way in Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, Maryland and New Hampshire. In fact, with most executions now occurring in a tiny minority of states, the national death penalty consensus, which the Supreme Court perceived in restoring capital punishment in 1976, is over.
If nothing else, the new climate may make it possible for decent politicians who’ve lived their whole careers in terror of a death penalty misstep to step more boldly forward. That was certainly the case with Richardson, who in signing the repeal declared that more than 130 false death penalty convictions nationwide in the past ten years signal a broken system, and who acknowledged just how deep a rift the issue has opened with Mexico and other allies. In the Senate,
has introduced a federal death penalty repeal that–however unlikely to pass–offers another chance to test whether this fearsome issue has lost some of its sting.
PROPS, PRAISE, PRIZES:
The Nation won recognition for its commentary, criticism and investigative reporting. The
American Society of Magazine Editors
honored The Nation with two
National Magazine Award
earned her first nomination, for “Columns and Commentary,” which recognizes “excellence in short-form political, social, economic or humorous commentary.” Klein is the first Nation columnist nominated since
won in 2003.
was nominated for the second straight year in “Reviews and Criticism,” for his contributions to the magazine’s “Books & the Arts” section. The Nation‘s
won in this category for his film reviews in 2007. This is the second year in a row The Nation has earned multiple nominations.
James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism
for his November investigation, “A My Lai a Month,” which exposed evidence of civilian slaughter in Vietnam. The investigation was supported by the
Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute
. The Aronson is presented annually to “journalism that measures business, governmental and social affairs against clear ideals of the common good.” You can read the nominated (and winning) writers online at TheNation.com.