As I wrote in March, charismatic SEIU leader Andy Stern has been anything but shy about triggering the most far-reaching strategic debate in labor in more than a generation. And while I disagree with some of SEIU’s argument about what is to be done, I admire Stern’s call for dramatic structural changes, his openness to remake labor’s traditional ties to the Democratic Party and create new institutions and alliances for working people. His sense of urgency, even desperation about the future of labor is admirable and welcome.
On Monday, SEIU–along with its insurgent allies, including the Teamsters, Laborers and UNITE HERE –issued an unprecedented joint statement of principles, “Restoring the American Dream: Building a 21st Century Labor Movement That Can Win.” (Click below to find Andy Stern’s blog, and then scroll to the end where he encourages you to read the unions’ joint proposal.)
Together these unions represent 5.5 million members, and the majority of the major organizing unions in the private sector. (The UFCW was also involved in drafting the statement and will take it to their executive board meeting for endorsement; the proposal is also being discussed with the Carpenters Union.)
The joint plan, Stern is proud to report, has been sent to local unions–just another sign of how savvy SEIU and Stern have been in using the Internet to communicate with the rank and file.
I caught up with Stern in NY on Monday, where he was attending a Personal Democracy Forum conference on blogging and democracy. After doing one of his trademark podcasts, and on his way to meet with the NYT‘s Steven Greenhouse to lay out the AFL insurgents’ latest salvo, Stern quipped, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get the locals to vote on this? Someday.”
As veteran labor commentator Jonathan Tasini notes today in his blog, Working Life, “The main political point of this proposal–and the public comments of the insurgent leaders–is to express a no-confidence vote in the Sweeney leadership and turn up the hear for a change in leadership.”
Fundamental change is needed, but I still despair of the consequences of a split in the House of Labor –which is under such fierce attack by the most anti-labor Administration in modern history. Can a compromise be found? One that will bring about a revival of the AFL, create a federation that can truly change workers’ lives, and address the larger problem of how to revitalize a broader movement for economic democracy and social justice? I hope so.
We’ll soon find out when labor gathers in Chicago this July.
Andy Stern’s blog: www.unitetowinblog.org/print/2005/5/16/131154/400.