Archive for September, 2005

Q & A with UNITE HERE leaders

Tuesday, September 27th, 2005

Nobody’s breaking for lunch, as journalists race around from room to room to meet and interview leaders of the seven unions which have set up this Unite to Win federation. Here in the press room, we just had the chance to do a short question and answer session with Bruce Raynor and John Wilhelm of UNITE HERE.
Some of the questions were relatively tough — like how would adding $12 million from the Unite to Win per capita dues to the $750 million already being spent make a big difference? Raynor chose to emphasize that it was not the dollars — though they mattered — but the sharing of organizers and experiences that really counts.
The UNITE HERE leaders denied that talks were taking place with the National Education Association (NEA) — which is not affiliated to the AFL-CIO, but did say that Change to Win chair Anna Burger was talking to the AFL-CIO.
Raynor gave an example of the kind of thing the unions will do by describing a strike in New Haven some years ago when the joint action by thousands of union members (from different unions) paralyzed the city and led to victory.

I’m not the only one blogging from the floor here

Tuesday, September 27th, 2005

Jonathan Tasini is sitting right behind me doing the same thing. You can see his blog this morning here.
I’m amazed by what we can do with the new technology — could anyone have done anything like this 5 years ago? I mean you can now read accounts of what is happening at a major trade union event by participants as the event is taking place. Extraordinary stuff.

Hansen proposes constitution for new federation

Tuesday, September 27th, 2005

Joe Hansen, president of the 1.4 million member United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) has just proposed adoption of the constitution for the new federation. “We are here to change course,” he said. “Adoption of the constitution is the first step.”
The constitution proposes what James Hoffa called a “lean, mean organizing machine” — a federation of unions with a small bureaucracy at the center, committed to spending 75% of its income on organizing.
A small Leadership Council will run the new federation, and strategic organizing will be the focus of Change to Win’s activity. The fee for membership will be only $0.25 per member per month — far lower than what the AFL-CIO currently charges its members.
Like the CIO in the 1930s, the constitution obliges the new federation to focus on industry-wide organizing, spanning across multiple unions.
As I write these words, Anna Burger is providing delegates with a summary of the constitution.

Stern: Workers of the world, unite

Tuesday, September 27th, 2005

SEUI President Andy Stern was the third union president to address the convention this morning. Wearing the union’s trademark purple colours, he roused the audience with a fiery speech about the centrality of organizing new workers.
Stern was the first of the speakers to quote Karl Marx — maybe the only time we will hear this today. Talking about the need to take on global corporations, he proposed taking the slogan of “workers of the world, unite” and turning it into a reality.
Stern’s accounts of how peoples lives have been changed by being union members — illustrated by bringing members to the attention of the audience — were genuinely touching.
At one point Stern asked all the rank and file trade unionists in the room to come to their feet. Most of these seemed to be SEIU members. He made it clear that the new federation is for them, for the rank and file workers.

Raynor: No justice, no peace

Tuesday, September 27th, 2005

Bruce Raynor of UNITE HERE was the second major union leader to address the Change to Win coalition this morning.
Raynor is a real firebrand. He repeatedly brought the audience to their feet. “Somebody ought to go to jail for the theft of United Airlines pensions!” was a typical line.
But the main focus of his speech was the struggle to unionize Cintas, a giant uniform corporation — a joint campaign between UNITE HERE and the Teamsters. A large number of Cintas workers addressed the crowd, speaking about the campaign — and the victories they have recently experienced, and challenging all affiliate unions in the new federation to give them support.
Raynor emphasized the connection between the birth of this new federation and that of the CIO 70 years ago. Steel and auto workers became middle-class because of unions, he said. Laundry workers at companies like Cintas can become middle class, too, if they can get the right to form unions.
Two Cintas workers led the hundreds of participants in a chant of “No justice, no peace” and Raynor concluded, “God bless our coalition.”

Hoffa: We are on the edge of making history

Tuesday, September 27th, 2005

Teamster president James Hoffa, wearing a blue Change to Win t-shirt, was the first union president to address the founding convention of the Change to Win federation this morning.
He called the union leaders — and the unions themselves — the G7. (The G stands for growth, and the 7 — for the 7 founding unions of the new federation.)
He reaffirmed the federation’s commitment to spending the staggering sum of $750 million a year on organizing, and pledged that the Teamsters would never leave the new federation.
When he asked the more than 900 delegates and guests if we would succeed in organizing Wal-Mart, he was greeted with a roar of approval.

New hope for American workers?

Tuesday, September 27th, 2005

Yesterday, Monday, 26 September 2005, marked a turning point in the history of the trade union movement in the United States. Or it didn’t. It all depends on who you talk to.

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Without members’ emails, unions are paper tigers

Monday, September 19th, 2005

Seven years ago, I was talking about the Internet to leaders of one of Britain’s largest unions. I suggested that we consider sending out a mass mailing — by post — to inform the union’s members about our new website. “Can’t do it,” they said. “It costs too much money.” It turned out the union simply could not afford to mail to each of its members, and its only regular communication with members was its quarterly magazine.

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Gate Gourmet: The need for an online campaign

Wednesday, September 7th, 2005

The following article, published in the most recent issue of Labour Research magazine, was out of date before it ever saw print. Working together with the union and the global union federations, we were able to make use of online campaigning tools both to send protest messages and to raise money. Nevertheless, the article does point out the importance of launching such campaigns on time — striking while the iron is hot.

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