You can read my article in full, here.
Australia: The article will appear this Friday, 7 October, on Workers Online.
Finland: Here is my article, published by SAK, a Finnish national trade union center.
Germany: For those of you who read German, here’s my article for Jungle World.
Italy: For those of you who read Italian, here’s my article which appeared in Il Manifesto this week. Coming soon — my article for Rassegna, the weekly publication of the 5.5 million member CGIL trade union federation. (Awaiting translation and publication.)
Norway: Now available in the trade union publication LO-Aktuelt Another article appeared in the daily newspaper Klassekampen.
I’m leaving St. Louis today, but I’m not leaving this subject behind.
St. Louis, Missouri struck me as an odd place to choose to hold the founding convention of new labour movement in the United States. It is not actually that easy to get to and there are few tourist attractions around to make the place particularly appealing. But when I heard that in this city, nearly a fourth (22%) of all workers belong to a trade union, I began to understand. (In the USA today, some 8% of private sector workers belong to unions, down from 35% a generation ago.) St. Louis symbolizes a time in America when workers could join unions and better their lives.
There are really two ways of looking at the founding convention of the Change to Win Federation which took place in St. Louis on Tuesday. On the one hand, some journalists called it a “dog and pony show”, meaning a carefully stage managed event that was designed to cover up what was essentially an unprincipled split in the American trade union movement. The other view was that this marked a turning point in American labour history, an event comparable to the birth of the CIO in 1935. Having sat through the entire convention, I’m not sure both views are mutually exclusive.
I just sat in on a question and answer session with a relaxed Andy Stern, president of the SEIU. Stern surrounded himself with purple-clad workers from Texas and fielded questions — including some tricky ones — from journalists.
Stern was asked repeatedly about politics, and he confirmed that individual unions in the Change to Win federation would continue their political work. But he emphasized that workers in the USA did not have a party of their own.
He mentioned author Thomas Frank who had written that Democrats were perceived as being latte-drinking, Chardonnay-sipping owners of Volvos — and Stern said that this was not just a perception, but the reality. The Democrats may be supportive of the workers in their hearts, he said, but not in their heads.
When asked if the coalition/federation had set any goals for how many new members it would recruit, he said that it was too early to say — but we’d know more in the spring. But the SEIU, which now has 1.8 million members, would have 2 million in the near future, he promised.
One journalist commented that many of the things being said on the floor of this convention would have been welcomed at the AFL-CIO convention too. Was this causing him to have second thoughts? Stern replied that it would probably have the effect of making some AFL-CIO affiliates question why they weren’t here.
Asked why the construction unions were exempted from the new federation’s compulsory strategic sectoral efforts, he pointed out that those unions had a long history of working together — while unions like the SEIU, the UFCW and the Teamsters had not worked together in the same way.
He spoke about how the unions, including SEIU, were giving their very best people to the new federation, giving the example of Tom Woodruff, who he called the architect of the SEIU’s explosive growth. Tom would be organizing director for the new federation, he said.
Asked about whether the new federation would have a communications strategy, he talked about cellphones and the net, about his own experience as a blogger, and the SEIU’s innovative PurpleOcean.org website.
The BBC website — which makes an effort to cover the world — has no mention of this event. I’ve just written to them to complain. If your local news media are not covering this convention, I urge you to write to them — now. Tell them about this blog. Thanks.
Several delegates have gotten up to speak about the struggle to unionize bus drivers in the US who are employed by a British-based company, First Group/First Student. Now they are showing a film with British workers — members of the Transport and General Workers Union — expressing their solidarity. The Teamsters and SEIU have been working together very closely on this campaign, and you can find more details here: http://www.drivingupstandards.org/
It’s great to see a concrete example of cross-border solidarity, or as Andy Stern says, “workers of the world unite” (or was that Karl Marx?).
Instead of eating lunch, the Leadership Council of the Change to Win coalition met for the first time. They added three people to their group, as the constitution provides. And they confirmed Edgar Romney and Anna Burger as the Secretary-Treasurer and Chair of the new federation, according to a report now being presented by James Hoffa of the Teamsters.
As Hoffa points out, this is the first time that a major union federation in America has elected a woman as its head, and Romney is the highest ranked African-American in the history of the labour movement in the USA.
The next 4 hours will include the following:
* Our covenant for growth: Joe Hansen (UFCW)
* Our commitment to growth: Doug McCarron (Carpenters), Tom Woodfruff (SEIU)
* Our commitment to electing leaders who share our values: John Wilhelm (UNITE HERE), Marite Elena Durazo (UNITE HERE)
* Our commitment to each other: Terence O’Sullivan (Laborers)
Stay tuned … and keep sending in those emails and comments.