The presidential primary wasn't the only thing going on in Puerto Rico this weekend. The Service Employees International Union was generous enough to fly me down here to cover their 2008 convention, which began on Saturday but gets into full swing here tomorrow.
The theme of the convention is "Justice For All," a slogan that acknowledges that the impact of organizing workers goes beyond improving the lives of just those workers. It's also about building longterm infrastructure, it's about establishing on the ground foot soldiers to advance good legislation and support our leaders, and it's about building a political funding mechanism to go after politicians who undermine workers' rights among other progressive priorities.
The bottom line is that the ultimate goal of the improvement of workers' wages and benefits is actually to improve the lives of everyone, union members or not. That's what the SEIU's accountability project is about.
After first hearing about the project at Take Back in March, I was pleased to be able to learn more about it from Jon Youngdahl and Stephanie Mueller of SEIU's political division on Sunday. In a nutshell, after November, the SEIU intends to hold our Democratic representatives to their promises and let them know that there is the money, the organization and the will not only to fund primary challenges but to recruit and even train qualified candidates around the country if they don't do what they said they'd do.
What makes this threat real, of course, is that SEIU was instrumental in the defeat of Al Wynn by Donna Edwards in Maryland's February 12th primary. The SEIU spent $1 million on that race alone. Next year and all during the ensuing cycle, they're prepared to spend $10 million to target Democrats who don't follow through on their promises. Think about what the SEIU got for their money in MD-04: Congresswoman Donna Edwards who will champion progressive legislation on issue after issue affecting not only those in her district but impacting people's lives for the better all over the country, as every new and better Democrat added to congress by definition does.
The details of the program are as follows:
* $10 million fund to take on elected officials who fail to live up to their promises.The issues the SEIU is particularly interested in pursuing accountability on are
* Calls for SEIU members to make at least 10 million phone calls to members of Congress after the election to hold them accountable.
* At least 50 percent of the union's organizing budget and 50 percent of its non-organizing staff at the national and local levels will be devoted to the effort
* A commitment to jump start a much broader, permanent grassroots movement of working people by actively involving at least one million SEIU members in the "justice for all" effort by 2012, and creating leadership roles for at least 200,000 (or about 10 percent of the union's membership).
* Affordable, quality health care for all.Races will be targeted using several criteria, perhaps most important of which will be what their members on the ground in certain districts are saying. Part of the reason the SEIU got into the MD-04 race was because there was wide-spread dis-satisfaction with Al Wynn from their members in his district. Luckily for our representatives, avoiding a primary challenge isn't terribly difficult: just follow through on your promises and reflect the values and the needs of your voters with your votes in Washington. Now, that's not so hard, is it?
* The freedom for all workers to form a union without employer interference.
* Quality services in our communities with fair, reliable funding.
* An economy that rewards all workers, not just a few at the top.
* Citizenship for hard-working, taxpaying immigrants.
What makes this project especially apt for a 2009 launch is that beginning on January 20th, we're likely to be in a position, with a Democratic president and expanded Democratic majorities, to actually accomplish some real and meaningful progress on issue after issue important to progressives. As Chris and Matt have noted repeatedly at Open Left, Democrats may have majorities in congress, but a conservative governing majority remains. That is likely to change after November. With that change, we as a movement are all going to have to shift into accountability mode, since the people we put in power will finally be able to wield it. Glad to see the SEIU is already preparing to make that shift.