Stern's SEIU fascism gets cool review

Union members and labour activists attending the Labor Notes conference dinner on April 12 were attacked by bus loads of staff and members of the Service Employees Industrial Union (SEIU) — wearing purple SEIU t-shirts — who forced their way into the conference venue in Dearborn, Michigan. In the ensuing melee a number of people were injured.

Related video: "SEIU's violent eruption up-close, on-scene"

Labor Notes is a labour movement magazine that seeks to build union militancy, rank-and-file solidarity and has acted as a networking tool between reform groups in the US union movement. Since 1981, bi-annual conferences have been held to bring union activists together.

The 2008 conference, aimed at examining approaches to “Rebuild Labor’s Power”, attracted more than 1000 people from 21 countries, the largest conference since 1997.

The SEIU’s attack is a consequence of the growing bitter dispute between the SEIU and the California Nurses Association (CNA), and its affiliate the National Nurses Organising Committee, over the organisation of nurses in Catholic Healthcare Partners (CHP) in Ohio.

The SEIU had negotiated for the CHP to approach the National Labor Relations Board to hold a union recognition ballot for registered nurses at nine of its hospitals in March. The SEIU was to be the only choice on the ballot.

Such a ballot would ordinarily be precipitated by a union membership card check to indicate that the union had support among the workforce. Such a check did not occurr. In response the CNA, which has also sought to organise nurses at the CHP, launched a campaign for nurses to be given a genuine choice in the union they join.

On March 12, days before the scheduled ballot, the SEIU announced that the ballot had been cancelled and launched a public attack on the CNA, accusing it of union-busting.

The attack on the Labor Notes conference was aimed at disrupting the speech by CNA director Rose Anne DeMoro during the conference dinner. As there had been rumours of an attack on the conference, DeMoro cancelled her speech.

DeMoro had been invited to speak on CNA’s work to achieve the establishment of single-payer health insurance (where the government or a separate sub-contracting agency provides a universal system of health insurance) and successful campaign to win improved nurse-patient staffing ratios in California, which are the best in the US.

Mark Brenner, director of Labor Notes said “Labor Notes has always been a space for open debate, but when a union decides to engage in violence against their brothers and sisters, we draw a line. Violence within the labour movement is unacceptable and we call on the national leadership of SEIU, including President Andy Stern, to repudiate it.”


Barack sets forced-labor unionism agenda

Barack Obama spent Tuesday courting union workers and veterans, both important constituencies in Pennsylvania, which holds its Democratic primary next Tuesday.

Obama, addressing the Building Trades National Legislative Conference in Washington, said, "Your voices will be heard." The Illinois senator promised that if he's elected he'll support union measures not backed by the Bush administration: the Employee Free Choice Act, giving unions more power to organize; federal government use of "project labor agreements"; and tax policies to discourage sending jobs overseas and reward the creation of U.S. jobs.

He said federal infrastructure projects should use union laborers who were paid prevailing wages and good benefits. "It's time we had a president who didn't choke saying the word 'union,'" he told a crowd that roared in agreement. "It's not that hard: union. See? It won't hurt you. We need to strengthen our unions, not weaken them, not tear them down. We need to build them up."

At a meeting with veterans and military families later in Washington, Pa., Obama repeated promises to improve mental-health care and brain-injury treatment for veterans.

He voiced veterans advocacy groups' criticism that the Bush administration has restricted definitions of casualties compared with past wars so that the numbers being reported are "tens of thousands" short. He said he'd change that so as "to honor the full measure of sacrifice of our troops, and to prepare for the cost of their care."

His rival Hillary Clinton on Tuesday laid out an ambitious agenda for the first 100 days of her presidency, if she's elected, that includes signing legislation that President Bush vetoed, seeking a moratorium on home foreclosures and beginning the process of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

Speaking at an American Society of Newspaper Editors luncheon in Washington, Clinton said that she'd ask Congress to eliminate some of Bush's tax cuts -- replacing them with reductions targeting the middle class -- and press Canada and Mexico to renegotiate parts of the North American Free Trade Agreement. "In short, starting from Day One, the Bush-Cheney era will be over in name and practice," the New York senator said.

Clinton said she'd start with bills that Bush had vetoed, beginning with measures to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program and the use of embryonic stem cells for research.

"We will provide health insurance for millions more of our children as a down payment on achieving health care for all Americans with no exceptions," she said.

Clinton told the editors that she'd convene a meeting of mortgage lenders, banks, community organizations and regulators to negotiate an immediate freeze on foreclosures. "So many Americans are hurting, the projection is that more than 2 million American families will be foreclosed on this year."

She vowed to restore "fiscal sanity" to Washington by cutting taxes for middle-class families by $100 billion a year and ending tax breaks for oil companies, drug companies, insurance companies and Wall Street firms, saving $55 billion annually.

On climate change, Clinton said she'd convene a summit within her first 100 days to negotiate an international climate-change treaty to replace the Kyoto accords and include China, India and other rapidly developing greenhouse gas-emitting nations.

On Iraq, she vowed to convene a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other Pentagon officials to begin drawing up plans to withdraw troops "responsibly and carefully" starting within 60 days of her inauguration.

She also promised to close the detention center at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


Socialists: UAW strike revitalizes class warfare

“It’s a historical struggle here in Detroit, in a city with all these mass layoffs and people losing their homes. The workers here at American Axle are keeping some energy in our movement and revitalizing the class struggle. So we feel it’s very important to be out here to show them support,” said Dante Strobino, an organizer with United Electrical workers Local 150 and a member of the youth organization Fight Imperialism—Stand Together (FIST).

As Strobino spoke to this Workers World reporter on April 12, the chants from an impromptu rally at UAW Local 235 rang out for blocks.

Led by Black women workers from SEIU United Healthcare Workers West, hundreds chanted before heading back to their vehicles: “Tell the whole damn world, this is union territory! On strike, shut it down, Detroit is a union town!”

Three buses and car caravans from a Labor Notes conference in Dearborn, Mich., had traveled to the site of the world headquarters of American Axle in Hamtramck.

Another group of 50 people from UAW Local 211 also came in solidarity.

Led by strikers, the supporting unionists fanned out in groups to various picket lines where they were greeted with hearty handshakes and cheers.

The internationalist spirit and power of workers from around the world electrified everyone.

“I’m ecstatic. It’s amazing to have members from different locals and different countries—Germany, Brazil, Colorado, Japan and Australia,” Bill Alford Jr., vice president of Local 235, told Workers World at the union hall.

“I had workers from Brazil telling me that they are going to picket American Axle there. It’s just wonderful to see folks up and down the street. They basically came in, took control of the street and let everyone know they were here. They had their own chants and their own songs to support my brothers and sisters on strike.”

Alford said workers from UAW locals at Delphi, Dana Corp., General Motors, Ford and Chrysler in the U.S. and Canada, plus other unions and community organizations, have been walking the picket lines, donating provisions and funds and participating in outreach on a daily basis.

Local 235, which represents over 1,900 Black, white, Arab and Latin@ workers, is now also operating an “adopt-a-worker” program where workers not on strike pledge a one-time or ongoing monetary contribution for a sister or brother on strike.

Fighting for all workers

Over 3,600 workers at five American Axle plants in Michigan and New York have been on strike for almost two months. Charging an unfair labor practice, the UAW says the company refused to open its books in a serious manner.

American Axle wants to cut the workers’ pay in half, eliminate pensions and gut benefits—despite the fact that the company made $37 million in profits last year. CEO Richard Dauch himself made $10.2 million last year, while the workers make on average about $45,000 to $50,000 before taxes.

The online Living Wage Calculator estimates that a family of four living in Dearborn, Mich., needs a gross income of $48,249 to cover basic expenses—and this estimate was for July 2007, before the recent steep rise in energy and food prices.

The company has run ads to recruit scabs and is reportedly training them at various sites in Michigan, New York and elsewhere. It recalled 400 laid-off workers in late March in an attempt to make them lose their unemployment benefits and to encourage them to scab, but they reported for work and then walked right out to the picket line.

A total of 30 GM factories have been fully or partly shut down, with more than 40,000 workers now on layoff. About 80 percent of American Axle’s products are sold to GM. American Axle also produces parts for Toyota, which are being made inside the plant in Detroit by management scabs.

American Axle, the UAW International and the local’s bargaining teams are in ongoing talks. The company has barely moved on its original “proposal” and has thus far rejected outright two contract proposals made by the UAW, saying the concessions offered weren’t enough and that, if the union didn’t agree to American Axle’s demands, it would move its plants. The UAW rejected a mediation request by the company on April 13.

The rank and file continue to fight, refusing to accept any concessionary contract similar to those implemented at Delphi, Dana Corp. and the Big Three. Such agreements would drive the workers into poverty with buy-outs, buy-downs and a two-tier wage structure.

Those on the picket lines are clear that they are fighting for all workers. If American Axle, an extremely profitable company, can get away with massive concessions, that would open the door for an even bigger bosses’ onslaught in the auto industry as well as in other sectors.

In the midst of the American Axle strike, UAW locals at three Michigan factories—in Flint, Lansing and Warren—issued five-day strike notices the week of April 6, telling GM the union will go out if local contracts aren’t agreed to soon.

Revitalizing international class struggle

FIST organizer Strobino added, between chanting at the union hall: “We’re under attack. We’re getting shipped over to Iraq. Our schools are underfunded. A lot of folks can’t even afford to go to college. A lot of them go straight to the work force right out of high school. It’s brought on by the bosses spending trillions of dollars on this imperialist war that could be going to fund people’s needs, give people’s homes back, give money for some good union jobs, for health care, for getting real education. So the war is very connected to the struggle here, too.”

Quynh Nguyen, a student at the University of Minnesota and a member of Socialist Alternative and Education for Social Change, said, “I think it’s important to support the workers—this strike is crucial,” as she hoisted a UAW placard while walking the picket line.

Todd Ferguson, a chief steward in Communications, Energy and Paper Workers Local 591G in Toronto, Canada, was excited to walk his first UAW picket line in Detroit. “We can’t separate the struggle. It’s the same struggle. It’s the same fight,” said Ferguson.

Benedicto Martínez, one of three national officers of the Authentic Labor Front (Frente Auténtico del Trabajo or FAT), an independent labor federation in Mexico representing labor unions, worker-owned cooperatives, and farm worker and community organizations, joined the picket line in solidarity and to learn about the conditions of workers in the U.S. FAT was a founding member of Mexico’s new, independent labor federation, the National Union of Workers or UNT. Martínez’s comments were translated by Dan LaBotz of the Teamsters.

“Today I am convinced that workers can’t carry out a struggle just in one plant or in one country. These companies have been globalizing, and they’ve been putting their plants all over the world. If there’s a strike, they say we can put this plant in another country. That’s why I believe we have to create unions based on the industries and firms,” said Martínez.

He added: “I wish them victory and hope they’re successful and that they’ll carry on and fight as hard as they can because that’s the only way to defend the benefits and wages that we have. The strike is the ultimate weapon that workers are left with and we have to use it.”


At one time, Dems respected local preferences

When U.S. Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton visit North Carolina, they don't have to trudge through a tobacco warehouse or talk about guns. A decade or more ago, presidential candidates paid homage to the economic and cultural issues that often distinguished North Carolina from the rest of the country.

Al Gore, then a senator, stopped at a farm in Greenville in 1988 and, in what one political operative called "a typical Al Gore sweaty speech," talked about his experience curing and hanging tobacco.

That same year Jesse Jackson, who called out union supporters by name at Virginia events, toned down his union rhetoric in North Carolina, a right-to-work state, said Bruce Lightner, Jackson's N.C. campaign manager.

Last week Clinton and Obama spoke in big arenas in Winston-Salem and Raleigh, respectively, talking jobs, health care and Iraq as they have in other states.

Obama's first television commercial in North Carolina was a repeat from Ohio, talking about ending tax breaks for corporations that shift jobs overseas.

The presidential campaigns are not southern-fried when they get to North Carolina, they're nationalized. That approach works now because the state's economy and voters have both changed.

"If there's a North Carolina (presidential) debate, it will look and sound much like the debate in Pennsylvania," said Ferrel Guillory, founder of UNC Chapel Hill's Program on Public Life.

'Totally different era'

Congress eliminated the tobacco quota system in 2004 that regulated the supply of the crop. Prices fell, tobacco became concentrated in large contract farms and candidates no longer needed to pledge support for the federal system. Two other major industries in the state, textiles and furniture, have all but disappeared. Banks, high tech, pharmaceutical and other information-centric industries have blossomed, along with the state's population, particularly in major cities.

The IBM plant in Research Triangle Park near Raleigh employs more workers than there are tobacco farmers in the whole state. North Carolina is no longer a rural, textile-heavy, tobacco state.

"It's a totally different era," said Rufus Edmisten, former attorney general and Democratic nominee for governor in 1984. "Like it or not, we have lots of small, rural towns, but we're urbanized now. We're as sophisticated as any state in the union and the campaigns reflect that."

In the rare presidential elections past when North Carolina's primary played a role, candidates who didn't tailor their image and message did so at their own peril. Michael Dukakis in 1988 suggested tobacco farmers could instead grow Belgian endive.

"He sent his advance team -- a bunch of New England hippies who arrived in a VW van," said Peter Daniel, of the N.C. Farm Bureau.

Gore won that primary.

Big state, big cities

The voting population looks different now than it did 10 or 20 years ago. Voters are more Republican but more moderate.

"The state has changed: younger, more progressive, higher educated, more affluent, particularly in the cities," said Gary Pearce, a Democratic strategist on campaigns dating back to the 1970s. "We've become more like the rest of the country."

Democratic candidates don't have to tiptoe around cultural and moral questions, such as gay rights, as they did in the past, party operatives said.

"A lot of the things that might have been seen as hot button issues in 1988 are seen as more acceptable in communities today," said Tom Hendrickson, Gore's state director in 1988 and a key Clinton supporter this year.

Race hasn't been eliminated as an issue but at least minimized.

George Wallace's segregationist rhetoric helped him beat native son Terry Sanford in the 1972 Democratic primary. This year Barack Obama, who is black, leads in the polls.

The campaigns also now must cope with 24-hour news coverage from Internet outlets and cable TV networks, regardless of where they are.

"What (Jesse) Jackson would say in North Carolina, he probably would not say verbatim in California" in 1988, Lightner said. Now "if you say one thing in one place and something else in another, you get in trouble."

Obama found that out with his recent comments in San Francisco about Americans in small towns turning "bitter" over disappearing jobs and tending to "cling to guns or religion."

The notable exception in strategy is sending former President Clinton to small, sometimes rural, towns across the state. Bruce Thompson, a Clinton organizer, said the campaign is showing it's in touch with what's going on in the state.

Two weeks ago, Bill Clinton visited several Eastern North Carolina towns, many of them the crossroads of farming communities. Edmisten called the trip "Bubba's barbecue tour."

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