Q & A with Andy Stern

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.

6 Comments on "Q & A with Andy Stern"

  1. Wes Brain | 27/09/2005 at 21:20 |

    What about a labor media strategy? Organized labor, for the most part, is stuck firmly in the middle of the last century. Both the AFL-CIO and the Change To Win Coalition FAIL to provide a strategy for communicating to the masses. We know we don’t have a voice with mainstream media. In fact they can turn us down even when we want to buy the time. So much for free speech!
    We need national radio and tv for working people. This is so, so important. Lets see some progress here. Lets see some support for the Workers Independent News. Lets see a plan that rises above “how to make a union newsletter” and provides vision. Its way past time. If not now, when? What will be the labor media strategy?

  2. Andrew Casey | 28/09/2005 at 00:04 |

    Great stuff. Also great to watch the interaction from all these people who can’t actually be there.
    My Question.
    Did Stern or anyone else talk about Global Partnerships. Any indication of how CTW will be different from the AFL-CIO in terms of its international work.
    We know that the AFL-CIO has been sullied by its eager participation in CIA efforts around the globe.
    How will CTW be different?

  3. Tony Del Plato | 28/09/2005 at 02:15 |

    While I agree with Andy about the lameness of “Dumacrats” and the lack of a party that truly represents the best interests of working people, he needs to save his generalizations about wine and latte drinkers who drive foreign cars (often are higher quality than American made autos, thanks to planned obsolescence in our auto engineering and catering to the insatiable appetites of those who want tanks instead of transportation.) If he wants to attack those who live diferently, the new Change to Win Federation will go the way of the Labor Party: no where. Most trade unionists in my community are driving gas guzzling cars, usually SUV’s and who knows what they’re imbibbing. I’ve been to enough conferences and health and safety trainings to see that they’re still eating burgers and donuts instead of salads and fruits. He ought to make an intelligent guess as to who’s gonna last longer and put of a better fight while organizing.

  4. According to Jonathan Tasini the CTW delegates were not elected because “time” did not allow that to happen. Is that true? Stern & Co. pretends to be for political independence for labor but is afraid to have his own new federation’s representatives stand for election? I am hoping that Tasini has it wrong…..

  5. Sandy Martin | 28/09/2005 at 11:00 |

    Tony is right. I like good coffee and wine and yes i drive a volvo. Forces of reaction have successfully painted the Labour movement in the UK as being stuck in a time-warp of flat hats and whippets – not that I have anything against flat hats or whippets. But the message we need to put across is that a modern vibrant effective economy can best be acheived and sustained when it empowers and involves those who work in it rather than putting all the power and wealth in the hands of the financial investors and directors who represent them. That is a message for the future, not one that harks back to the past.

  6. Mike Harris | 28/09/2005 at 13:36 |

    UFCW Hanson.VP in charge of smashing the Hormel LOcal P-9 strike 20 years ago.
    Teamsters.Baston of democracy.
    Carpenters. Top down unionism at its very worst.
    Not very progressive. Not very different from the AFL-CIO except for a desire to grow.

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