On Labor Notes

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Worthwhile blog post on the origins of Labor Notes with some discussions on their charactor:


The Purple Bureacracy thugs it up at Labor Notes Conference

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).

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.Below is a eye witness account of the mob of several hundred SEIU staff, officials and members who attempted to disrupt the Saturday night dinner. Their target was an official of the CNA (California Nurse’s Union, which has launched a national organizing effort in direct competition to SEIU’s efforts in the healthcare industry) whom was scheduled to speak that night, but had cancelled after receiving threats. From reading several articles and accounts, as well as the comments of friends (and even a blog reader below!) the piece below is accurate. Though there are lots of conflicting information and even dis-information (PR spin) still floating around about what happened at this point- so be careful with what you find out there. What I especially enjoyed in the account below is the comparision with actions by the Teamsters in the 1980s to disrupt reform efforts within their union- historical context and comparative analysis always helps us understand current events better. The writer is a leader in Teamsters for a Democratic Union, so I’m sure he’s seen his fair share of union thuggery, but he also has no particular stake in the running SEIU vs. CNA battle.   


 Here are the questions this raises for me: SEIU has attempted to position itself as the progressive, organizing wing of the labor movement, wrapping itself in the cloak of social movement unionism and receiving lavish praises from academics such as Kim Voss (UC Berkeley Chair of Sociology, see her discussion of this with Rick Fantasia in Hard at Work). Critical analysis should cut right through the smoke and mirrors of Stern et al though. What he gives is a regurgitation, though a much more savvy and marketable version, of John Sweeny’s corporate unionism (See this book review comparing and showing the similarity between Stern’s An America That Works and Sweeny’s America Needs a Raise). In practice it means top-down control, a belief in compatible interests of capital and labor (Stern called the “class struggle unionism” of the CIO passé- as if), maintaining their role as the popular mobilization wing of the Democratic Party (not to mention committed donor as well) and their reliance on non-worker organizing methods to bring in new members- neutrality agreements, sweetheart deals, political lobbying and corporate campaigns that have not managed to raise wages substantially for most of the low-wage workers brought under their tutelage- let alone worked to build the independant, self-organized leadership and power of workers that is needed to make substantial change.


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.

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