My heart goes out to all the Labor Notes folks who had to put up with the thuggery of SEIU members this past weekend at their annual conference. It must have been ugly. I did not attend, but I have a number of friends who did (it crossed my mind, but I have to prioritize financially and time wise what I can attend and the IWW Organizing Summit far outweighed Labor Notes).
Will this action break the illusions promoted by Voss and held to by others on the progressive left and even a few on the revolutionary left? How will SEIU and their defenders relate to these actions? Will they defend them? And as Stern’s Change to Win coalition effort seems to flounder, internal reform efforts or inter-bureacratic rivalry (depending on how you want to see it) emerge within SEIU to challenge Stern and rival unions such as the CNA step to SEIU, do these tactics represent a sense of desperation?
From: Ken Paff <kenapp [at] gmail [dot] com>
Sent: Monday, April 14, 2008 8:45 AM
Subject: SEIU break-in
A few people have asked for the real deal on the disruption at the
Labor Notes conference by a group of SEIU officials and members. Here
it is, for those interested…
SEIU Officials Have a Blast
It was a weird scene: busloads of SEIU officials and members trying
to bust into a conference of labor progressives –bullying, punching
and chanting in a scene that gave me flashbacks to the Teamster
officialdom of yesteryear.
I had heard that SEIU officials would storm the Labor Notes
conference at its Saturday evening banquet, which would be packed,
long sold-out. It was also the big fundraising event for Labor Notes,
something that the organizers were no doubt quite concerned about. The
SEIU picked that time because Rose Ann DeMoro, head of C.N.A. had been
slated to speak at the banquet.
I told a few friends, including a Labor Notes staffer, that the
reports were probably exaggerated. But the Labor Notes staff took it
seriously, and made a statement at the Saturday morning session,
before Anita Chan and Baldemar Velásquez spoke, that there could be
problems, and appealed to all to debate and discuss contentious
issues, but that no disruptions would be tolerated.
I knew there were about 13 SEIU officials who arrived as a group on
Friday and registered. Two friends of mine had experienced in
workshops the obnoxious participation of these folks. One co-worker
told me they were rude disrespectful, but not at the level of real
disruption. I figured if they disrupted the banquet, the crowd would
spontaneously holler ‘respect’ or ‘let her speak’ and they would be
embarrassed and subdued. Was I wrong.
When the invasion occurred, I was far from the action. I was
peacefully eating my salad with 900 others (there were 1100 at the
conference but the banquet hall couldn’t hold all of them so they
didn’t sell banquets past the limit.) I was near the podium and far
from the doors where the confrontation took place.
My reports below are based on hearing from careful observers on the
spot; where they conflict with press releases, consider the source. At
least 3 buses of SEIU officials and members arrived, either all or
mostly from 1199 . Some SEIU reps and organizers were recognized
by participants. A few in the advance line, at the point of
confrontation, wore bandana masks to avoid ID or pictures, but in at
least one case, an LN participant pulled the mask off the SEIU
official. There were 200 at most. The C.N.A press release said 500,
and the SEIU press release said 800; so the C N A exaggerated, and the
SEIU (they surely knew the number) simply multiplied by four.
They arrived at exterior glass hotel doors near the banquet hall.
They beat on the glass and chanted while hotel staff eyed them from
inside, a bit removed from Labor Notes participants, who were in the
banquet room or still streaming into it.
One of their inside people slipped past the hotel staff and opened
the door from the inside, and they flooded in.
The delay there gave some participants time to organize a thin line
of defense across the three sets of double doors leading into the
banquet hall. The doors were closed and volunteer participants stood
guard at them, some with locked arms. The Labor Notes staff had
recruited a number of these people, including several long time
Teamsters who have seen duty with Teamster thugs.
The advance line of SEIU staffers led the chanting group forward and
pushed and punched and tried to break in, and almost did. My friend
Dan Campbell had his glasses broken from a glancing punch.
Several Teamsters and others who remember “BLAST,” the “Brotherhood
of Loyal Americans and Strong Teamsters” of the mid-1980s, inevitably
discussed the scene by way of compare-and-contrast with that Teamster
Campbell told me that they were a light-weight version of BLAST. The
conference volunteers managed to hold their ground, although they were
Jim West, now a professional photographer and formerly a Labor Notes
editor, said they were determined to break in and disrupt, and almost
Several Labor Notes participants were assaulted or injured. One was
Dianne Feeley, a retired Detroit auto worker. She was assaulted and
knocked down, leaving her face covered in blood. She was taken to the
ER, but was able to come back to the conference the next day.
She seems an unlikely target for SEIU officials chanting about union
busters, since Dianne had helped organize a couple hundred
participants to go to the American Axle strike line earlier that day.
She retired from American Axle a few years ago and has been on their
picket line regularly over the past 7 weeks.
Another BLAST parallel was the composition of the SEIU force. It was
led by officials, but many behind them were rank and file members who
had been “mobilized.” A friend talked to some of them and found out
they didn’t know that they were brought to invade a national (and
international) labor event. One said they were told it was a meeting
of union busters. A few had children with them, so they were hardly
prepared for a confrontation. Minus the children, this was generally
the BLAST composition: the well-organized union staff up front, and
behind were rank and filers who may or may not know who or why they
I became aware of what was happening when I saw the from across the
hall the doors closed, but one came open and SEIU signs and a loud
commotion were at the opening. Simultaneously one of their insiders
sneaked on the podium and grabbed the mike and started yelling about
union busters. A retired Teamster, Gary Brooks, who films for Labor
Beat, was up front and I heard him startle her by saying put down his
personal mike “before you break it.” Two Labor Notes staffers escorted
her off the stage. The hotel wait staff passed the “assemble” signal
and abruptly left the hall, retreating to the kitchen area to avoid
any potential violence.
It was clear that they intended to muscle their way into the crowded
room and disrupt by marching, chanting, encircling, taking over the
podium, etc. In that, they failed. Within minutes they left, chanting
“We’ll be back”
The SEIU press release on this disgraceful disruption was
other-worldly. Has Leebove gone back to work for them? It states that
“Open debate serves an important role as we work to strengthen our
movement. The Labor Notes Conference is the right time and place to
discuss our differences.” Say what?
Were they bussing in confused (a.k.a. “mobilized”) members led by
staffers to bust into a full banquet, to “discuss and debate?”
They easily could have “discussed and debated,” and their inside
group did just that, though apparently not in a way designed to
convince, more to show how verbally tough they are. The SEIU
International could have asked to lead a workshop or send a speaker.
The Teamster BLAST squad, which in 1983 did break into a TDU
convention and disrupt and delay it, also issued a press release from
Leebove saying they were there to debate.
Here’s who they were going to disrupt and silence, had they succeeded:
First, De Moro wasn’t there. She didn’t show, apparently anticipating
some kind of problem. The Labor Notes staff showed a 4-5 minute video
of her giving greetings to the event. The SEIU officials knew this
long in advance, as it was announced in the morning session,
presumably with their inside force listening.
The speakers that evening were assembled next to the podium at the
time of the disruption. They were
* A disabled (due to lung disease) building trades unionist, a
9-11 rescue volunteer, who has devoted himself to winning benefits and
recognition for the 9-11 rescue workers and those in other disasters.
* The Local 235 American Axle & Manufacturing strikers. Three
strike leaders and activists took the stage for a short and rousing
* The workers at the Camden Yards who are part of
United Workers of . who won a living wage for the stadium
* Three members of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
If only those “mobilized” SEIU rank and filers could have heard these
folks, they might have found they had a whole lot in common with the
speakers and the conference attendees.
I thought the conference was terrific. I wasn’t there most of Friday,
but attended all three main sessions and three excellent workshop
sessions and was able to meet and make contacts with some impressive
I know almost nothing of the flash point of the C.N.A – SEIU dispute
in . I certainly know the unions have been at odds off and on for
years. Whatever the merits of the SEIU International’s viewpoint,
sending a squad to disrupt a labor conference for the “crime” of
having the head of C.N.A speak there was a disgusting move, and a
dangerous one if it continues to happen.
I can’t help but think there was something about the gathering itself
that seemed threatening to the SEIU International. I think De Moro is
on the AFLCIO Executive Council, but I doubt the SEIU will be
disrupting there chanting that is a union buster for
sitting with De Moro. The C.N.A. is on good terms with the Teamster
leadership in Northern California. Will the SEIU International be
busting up any meetings they may hold with De Moro present?
Their press release was headed “SEIU Members Stand Up for the Future
of the Labor Movement.” Doesn’t seem like a future that I’m interested
in. I saw it in the past, and would like to keep it there.