[Marxism] An emerging labor-led left in the DP?

Marvin Gandall marvgandall at rogers.com
Tue Jul 27 07:39:10 MDT 2004

(A pretty remarkable public indictment of the program and leadership of the
Democratic party by the SEIU's Andy Stern on the eve of its convention. The
SEIU is one of the major contributors to the DP, and this suggests there
could be blood on the party floor if Kerry loses -- and perhaps even if he
wins, Stern's remarks notwithstanding. It could be a repeat, for example, of
what happened in Ontario after the NDP formed a one-term government in
1990-95. The public sector unions and the Canadian Auto Workers under Buzz
Hargrove led a bitter internal fight against the Bob Rae government which
introduced an austerity program, including a wage freeze and collective
bargaining rollbacks in response to pressure from the bond market. These
post-election battles between the beleaguered unions and austerity-minded
social democratic governments are now commonplace, of course. Which raises
the question: what keeps the unions wedded to these parties despite their
repeated disappointments with them? The traditional left answer is that the
workers lack sufficient consciousness of the nature of their party
leadership and program, which I don't think is altogether true. I think they
know quite well what they are voting for when they vote for these parties.
In any case, if a Kerry administration is forced to preside over deep cuts
to Social Security and other social programs, it's difficult not to see the
same struggle emerging within the DP, with the left opposition coming from
the SEIU-ACSFME-Dean-Kucinich axis which formed during the primaries. I
don't think the US labour movement is THAT exceptional, is it?)

SEIU Chief Says The Democrats Lack Fresh Ideas

Stern Asserts That a Kerry
Win Could Set Back Efforts to Reform the Party

By David S. Broder
Washington Post
Tuesday, July 27, 2004; Page

BOSTON, July 26 -- Breaking sharply with the enforced harmony of the
Democratic National Convention, the president of the largest AFL-CIO union
said Monday that both organized labor and the Democratic Party might be
better off in the long run if Sen. John F. Kerry loses the election.

Andrew L. Stern, the head of the 1.6 million-member Service Employees
International Union (SEIU), said in an interview with The Washington Post
that both the party and its longtime ally, the labor movement, are "in deep
crisis," devoid of new ideas and working with archaic structures.

Stern argued that Kerry's election might stifle needed reform within the
party and the labor movement. He said he still believes that Kerry overall
would make a better president than President Bush, and his union has poured
huge resources into that effort. But he contends that Kerry's election would
have the effect of slowing the "evolution" of the dialogue within the party.

Asked whether if Kerry became president it would help or hurt those internal
party deliberations, Stern said, "I think it hurts."

Stern's dissatisfaction with the AFL-CIO and the Democratic Party is not
new, but his decision to voice his frustration on the opening day of a
carefully scripted convention was an unwelcome surprise to Kerry's
convention managers, who had been proclaiming their delight at the absence
of any internal conflicts.

Speaking of the effort to create new political and union organizations,
Stern said, "I don't know if it would survive with a Democratic president,"
because Kerry, like former president Bill Clinton, would use the party for
his own political benefit and labor leaders would become partners of the new

"It is a hollow party," Stern said, adding that "if John Kerry becomes
president, it hurts" chances of reforming the Democrats and organized labor.

Stern is perhaps the most outspoken of the leaders of four or five unions
that have been talking about breaking away from the AFL-CIO to form some
kind of new workers movement. In the struggle for the Democratic nomination
last winter, Stern's union, along with the American Federation of State,
County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), delivered an early endorsement to
former Vermont governor Howard H. Dean -- a step that solidified Dean's
status as the early favorite for the nomination.

Later in the day, AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney told The Post that
Stern's attitude "is not justified." Sweeney, also a product of the SEIU,
the largest and fastest-growing union in the AFL-CIO, said the process of
change is already underway within labor, adding that he is impressed with
"the unity and solidarity" of Democratic support for Kerry. "I'm optimistic
about the future of the Democratic Party," he said.

Stern made it clear that his complaints long preceded Kerry's nomination. He
said that when Clinton was president, he demonstrated how little he cared
for the Democratic Party. Calling the former president "the greatest
fundraiser of his time," Stern asked: "If you think the Democratic Party is
valuable, why would you leave it bankrupt?" Other elected officials are
equally indifferent to the party, he said, adding that if Kerry is elected
"he would smother" any effort to give it more intellectual heft and
organizational muscle.

The SEIU, representing health care and nursing home workers, state and local
employees and janitors among its 1.6 million members, is part of a coalition
of liberal, feminist and environmental organizations working in an alliance
called Americans Coming Together. ACT has raised more than $85 million,
according to fundraiser Harold Ickes, and hopes to reach $130 million by
November. Most of the money is being spent in targeted areas to register and
turn out the vote of people believed to be likely to support Kerry.

Stern said the SEIU has put about $65 million in union resources into
efforts to elect Kerry and other worker-friendly Democrats, the bulk of it
directly aimed at labor efforts in behalf of the senator from Massachusetts.

But Stern complained that motivating blue-collar families who have not voted
in the past is being impeded because Kerry and the Democrats have declined
to address what he calls "the Wal-Mart economy," a system in which he says
employers deliberately keep wages so low and hours so short that workers are
forced to turn to state Medicaid programs for their families' health care.

He also criticized what he called the vagueness of the Democratic platform
on trade issues.

Sweeney said he thinks both complaints are off base. He said Kerry has
offered a very specific health plan with real benefits for working families.
And he said he is confident that, despite his history as a supporter of
liberal trade agreements, Kerry is sincere in promising to include "core
labor standards" in future negotiations.

Stern also said he is not interested in trying to succeed Sweeney as the
head of the AFL-CIO but left the door open to leading a breakaway effort.

He said he is convinced from his experience in the civil rights movement
that "pressure is needed" to bring about real change. "It was not enough to
have Martin Luther King Jr.," Stern said. "You needed Stokely Carmichael" to
raise the threat of disruption unless demands were met. Carmichael was the
flamboyant civil rights activist known for coining the term "black power."

Stern is perhaps the most outspoken member of the New Unity Partnership, an
alliance of the SEIU, the Laborers' International Union of North America,
the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, UNITE, and
the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. All but the carpenters union are part
of the AFL-CIO. The partnership has repeatedly warned that declining union
membership threatens the viability of organized labor, especially in the
private sector, which has seen a steady decline in union workers.

On June 21, during the SEIU's convention in San Francisco , Stern caused a
stir throughout organized labor by declaring: "Our employers have changed,
our industries have changed, and the world has certainly changed, but the
labor movement's structure and culture have sadly stayed the same."

Union activists must "either transform the AFL-CIO or build something
stronger that can really change workers' lives," he said.

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