staffer’s paradise

I’m dumping some articles below which I want to use for an article. I’m not endorsing the contents of the articles, this is simply a link and copy/paste dump.

old post from a fellow worker comrade

“A Labor of Criticism” http://machete408.wordpress.com/2009/06/11/a-labor-of-criticism/

linked from above post

“When the Union Is the Boss” http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2006/funk020706.html

“A Union Is Not a ‘Movement'” http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2006/yates160106.html

email copy/pastes

A “Union of Their Dreams” Becomes a Nightmare: Has UFW
History Been Replayed in SEIU?

by Steve Early,

Jacobin, Spring 2011

http://jacobinmag.com/archive/issue2/early.html

No modern American union boasts a larger alumni association
or a bigger shelf of books about itself than the United Farm
Workers (UFW).

Even at its membership peak thirty years ago, this
relatively small labor organization never represented more
than 100,000 workers. Yet, in the 1960s and ’70s, the UFW
commanded the loyalty of many hundreds of thousands of
strike and boycott supporters throughout the U.S. and
Canada. While the union is now a shell of its former self,
the UFW diaspora – from young organizers who flocked to
its banner to key farm worker activists shaped by its
struggles – remain an influential generational cohort in
many other fields: public interest law, liberal academia,
California politics, labor and community organizing, social
change philanthropy and the ministry. Like the Service
Employees International Union (SEIU) several decades later,
with its “Justice for Janitors” campaigns, the UFW generated
widespread public sympathy and support because it championed
low-paid, much-exploited workers – people of color
courageously struggling for dignity and respect on the job.
Its original multi-racial campaigns were inspiring and their
legacy is lasting.

Most other late 20th century labor organizations had an
inadequate social justice orientation and a far more insular
approach; at best, they tried to improve workplace
conditions for their own members, in a single occupation or
industrial sector, and helped secure protective labor
legislation for everyone else. Their appeals for solidarity
from non-labor groups tended to be few in number and
transactional in nature. Few unions, except during the
1930s, ever became such an important training ground for
future organizers of all kinds or built as many lasting ties
with far-flung community allies.

As San Francisco lawyer, journalist, and housing activist
Randy Shaw documents in Beyond The Fields, there is a strong
historical link between the UFW in its heyday and myriad
forms of progressive activism today. UFW alumni, ideas, and
strategies have influenced Latino political empowerment, the
immigrant rights movement, union membership growth, and on-
going coalitions between labor, community, campus, and
religious groups. During the 2008 presidential race, the
union’s old rallying cry–“Yes, we can!”– even became the
campaign theme of a former community organizer from Chicago
who now resides in the White House. The same determined
chant can still be heard, in its original Spanish, at
marches, rallies, and union events involving Latino workers
throughout the country.

Shaw’s book, and those by Miriam Pawel and Marshall Ganz,
are not in the cheerleading tradition of earlier volumes
written during the UFW’s glory days. Other writers about the
union, including John Gregory Dunne, Jacques Levy, and Peter
Matthiessen tended to be ardent admirers of its founder and
president, César Chávez. The latest literature about farm
worker unionism in California tries to explain, in more
complex ways, how the union achieved its remarkable early
success but then, ended up in a 30-year downward spiral.
Such questions are not just a matter of historical interest
to academics and journalists. And they’re not just the
personal concern of the many people, once connected to the
union, who have contributed their own vivid memories and
postmortems to Leroy Chatfield’s unusual online archive, the
Farmworker Movement Documentation Project.

In California and elsewhere over the last several years,
Farm Worker veterans have found themselves on opposite sides
of the barricades in the biggest inter and intra-union
conflicts since the UFW squared off against the
International Brotherhood of Teamsters, when it became an
agribusiness-ally four decades ago. These high-profile
fights have, ironically, involved the two unions – SEIU and
UNITE-HERE – which have the most UFW alumni in their
leadership and staff. The deep disagreements about union
structure and strategy that triggered recent civil warfare,
within labor’s progressive wing, contain a distinct echo of
the internal tensions and struggles within the UFW recounted
by Shaw, Ganz, and Pawel. Controversy over the role of union
democracy, membership dissent, and charismatic leadership is
very much alive and still unresolved in the labor movement
today.

Even for authors less focused on the UFW’s founding father,
it’s hard to separate the UFW saga from the compelling
personal story of César Chávez. All the books under review
here recount, in different ways, his legendary career as a
trade unionist. No novice as an organizer, Chávez spent
nearly a decade knocking on doors in urban and rural barrios
to build community organization throughout California.
Before that, he had been a rebellious teenager, working in
the fields alongside his family and chafing at “Whites Only”
signs in restaurants and the “colored sections” in movie
theaters, where Mexican-Americans and Filipinos were
consigned, along with Blacks. In the 1940s and 50s, Chicanos
faced a humiliating system of discrimination in jobs,
schools, housing, and public accommodations that would have
been very familiar to African-Americans in the
segregationist South.

Chávez responded to these conditions by becoming a voting
rights activist. Under the tutelage of Fred Ross, an apostle
of Saul Alinsky-style grassroots organizing, Chávez
succeeded in mobilizing tens of thousands of Mexican-
Americans to register to vote and use their newly acquired
political clout to deal with issues ranging from potholes to
police brutality. In 1962, he set aside voter registration
and political agitation to organize farm workers. His
fledgling National Farm Workers Association (later to become
the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee and then the
UFW) faced competition from several other groups; at the
time, none seemed capable of breaking with California’s long
history of failed unionization efforts in agriculture
throughout the first half of the 20th century.

Agribusiness didn’t come to the bargaining table quickly or
easily. Powerful growers of fruits and vegetables had every
reason to believe they would never have to negotiate with
Chávez’s organization, or any other. Farm workers lacked any
rights under the National Labor Relations Act, which covers
most non-agricultural workers in the private sector. Before
1975, this left them with no mechanism for securing union
recognition, other than conducting strikes and consumer
boycotts. Workers had no legal recourse if they were fired
for union activity, a penalty which also included eviction
and black-listing of entire families from grower-owned
migrant labor camps. When grape or lettuce pickers walked
off the job to join UFW picket lines, they faced court
injunctions, damage suits, mass arrests, deadly physical
attacks by hired guards, and the widespread hostility of
racist local cops.

How Chávez, his union, and their diverse allies overcame
such formidable obstacles was not only inspirational. As
Shaw and Ganz both note, the UFW provided useable models for
later campaigning by other unions, which have focused on
sectors of the economy where Spanish-speaking immigrants
migrated, in large numbers, when their employment options
were no longer limited to back-breaking agricultural labor.
More than any other union in the past half-century, the UFW
creatively employed recognition walk-outs, consumer
boycotts, hunger strikes, long distance marches, vigils, and
creative disruptions of all kinds to win its first
contracts.

Chávez’s own public persona contributed much to the union’s
appeal. Deeply religious, the UFW president was, like Martin
Luther King, Jr., a home-grown Ghandian frequently
criticized, as King was, for opposing the war in Vietnam. In
1968, as strike-related confrontations swirled around him,
Chávez embarked on the first of many widely-publicized fasts
to demonstrate the power of moral witness and non-violent
action. California farm workers became a national cause
célèbre that attracted college students, civil rights
activists, liberal clergy, and political figures like Robert
Kennedy, who conducted U. S. Senate hearings on working
conditions in the vineyards of Delano and visited Chávez
when he ended his fast.

Among the cross-over talents drawn to the union from a
background in campus and civil rights organizing was the
author of Why David Sometimes Wins. A Bakersfield native and
son of a local rabbi, Marshall Ganz participated in the
“Freedom Summer” campaign in Mississippi in 1964. He dropped
out of Harvard to work full-time for the civil rights
movement and had his first contact with unions during a
Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) training
session at the Highlander Center in Tennessee. When he
returned home to California, Ganz observed, in Shaw’s words,
“that the plight of California’s rural farm workers involved
many of the same injustices he had witnessed being
perpetrated against black people in the South.” Ganz played
a major role in building the UFW over the next sixteen
years, becoming its organizing director and an executive
board member before leaving in 1981.

Within the ranks of the UFW, many indigenous militants
emerged under the tutelage of Chávez, his co-worker Dolores
Huerta, and recruits from the outside like Ganz. Some, like
Eliseo Medina who is profiled in Pawel’s book, went on to
careers in labor lasting far longer than Ganz’s. When
Medina first showed up at a UFW hiring hall in 1966, he was
only 19-years old and seeking work as a grape picker.
Instead, he was recruited by Huerta to help win a hotly-
contested union representation vote at DiGiorgio
Corporation, an agricultural conglomerate then the largest
grape grower in the Delano area. As the target of a UFW
strike and boycott, DiGiorgio favored the management-
friendly Teamsters. IBT goons surrounded Medina in a UFW
sound-truck, smashing his face and sending him to the
hospital to get four stitches in his lip. Nevertheless, the
UFW beat the Teamsters by a margin of 528 to 328, in what
proved to be a crucial victory for the smaller union. It
also helped propel Medina into a multifaceted 44 year
organizing career. After his departure from the UFW
leadership in 1978, Medina spent time working for the
Communications Workers of America in Texas and then SEIU in
California. He later became an executive vice-president of
SEIU, its chief public advocate for immigration reform, and,
in the fall of 2010, national secretary-treasurer of the
union.

The UFW’s initial gains were nearly swept away when growers
signed sweetheart contracts with the Teamsters to freeze out
the dreaded “Chavistas.” Today, the 1.4 million IBT and the
6,000-member UFW are, ironically, fellow members of Change
To Win, the dwindling band of unions that broke away from
the AFL-CIO in 2005, under the leadership of SEIU. Back in
the 1960s and ’70s, the Teamster bureaucracy was corrupt,
gangster-ridden, and very prone to the use of violence and
intimidation for a variety of purposes (including keeping
its own members in line). The conservative, Richard Nixon-
endorsing IBT was the personification of top-down “business
unionism” and thus, a handy, if brutal, foil for the UFW. As
Pawel, a former reporter for The Los Angeles Times, writes:

“The Teamsters were about money, not empowerment. As the
leader of the Western conference of Teamsters [Einar Mohn]
explained in an interview, he saw no point in having
membership meetings for farmworkers. `I’m not sure how
effective a union can be when it is composed of Mexican-
Americans and Mexican nationals with temporary visas . As
jobs become more attractive to whites, then we can build a
union that can have structure and that can negotiate from
strength and have membership participation.”

The inter-union mayhem, between the UFW and IBT, finally
ended when California legislators were forced to act. After
UFW-backed Democrat Jerry Brown became governor (the first
time) in 1974, he created an Agricultural Labor Relations
Board (ALRB) to referee farm labor disputes. Before the
ALRB was eventually subverted by Brown’s Republican
successors, UFW victories in government-run elections drove
the Teamsters out of the fields, while briefly stabilizing
job conditions in California’s central valley. At long
last, some farm workers were finally getting a living wage,
health benefits, better housing, and protection against
dangerous pesticide use.

Unfortunately, the UFW fared worse than most unions during
the ensuing Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush era. The steady erosion
of its membership and influence has stemmed from never-
ending grower opposition, the massive influx of undocumented
workers from Mexico, over-reliance on appeals to consumers,
and a related failure to link boycott activity to ongoing
organizing in the fields. The UFW also suffered, in rather
fatal fashion, from its own deeply flawed internal
structure. Virtually all power was concentrated in Chávez’s
hands, leaving rank-and-file members with little ability to
curb his increasingly autocratic behavior when it began to
tarnish the union’s reputation and make future gains
impossible.

This painful but important detail has been airbrushed out of
many glowing official portraits of Chávez. Since his death
at age 66 in 1995, the UFW founder has, as Shaw notes, been
posthumously transformed into “a national icon,” while his
darker side has “been minimized or ignored.” The aura of
secular sainthood that surrounds him obscures one major
reason for the terminal decay of a union once so dynamic and
respected. As Shaw, Pawel, and Ganz all confirm, Chávez was
not accountable to anyone within the UFW. Rank-and-file
critics of his charismatic leadership were purged, then
black-listed, and driven from the fields in truly
disgraceful fashion.

In The Union of Their Dreams, Pawel recounts this story most
poignantly by profiling Mario Bustamante, a lettuce strike
leader from Salinas. Bustamante bravely challenged Chávez
over the issue of elected ranch committee leaders, whose
role the union president wanted to curtail, lest they defy
his authority in their day-to-day dealings with employers.
Bustamante also sought to expand rank-and-file
representation on the staff-dominated UFW executive board.
His opposition slate, composed of working members, was ruled
ineligible to run at the UFW’s 1981 convention. Bustamante,
his brother Chava, and their supporters walked out forever
to shouts of “Bajao los traidores” (“Down with the
traitors”) and “Muerte a lost Bustamantes” (“Death to the
Bustamontes”). Chávez made sure his critics were
unemployable in the fields; he even sued nine of them for
libel and slander, seeking $25 million in damages. Mario
became a taxi driver and, later, was even denied a small UFW
pension.

Other potential rivals like Medina, a UFW vice-president,
and key staffers, like Ganz, had already left the union in
dismay (although neither aided the UFW rebels in 1981).
Medina’s differences with Chávez prefigured disagreements,
thirty years later, about union priorities within Medina’s
new home, SEIU. Just as the UFW was gaining greater traction
under the state’s new farm labor law, Chávez began pushing
the idea that UFW should become a broader (but more
amorphous) “Poor Peoples Union.” He was not happy, Pawel
reports, that UFW was now focusing on “issues he considered
more mundane – contracts, wages, benefits, and grievances.”
If UFW organizers “did not embrace poor people in the
cities, Chávez warned, the movement would wither.” Medina,
on the other hand, took the more pragmatic and sensible view
that fragile contract gains had to be consolidated first.
“Our business is take care of home base – our members, ” he
wrote in a strategy memo. He argued that the union could not
“run off to do crusades, instead of service the membership,”
because UFW activists faced continuing opposition from their
employers and needed stronger backing at the local-level.

Over time, rational debate about such policy differences
became difficult, if not, impossible at La Paz, the union’s
headquarters. Both Medina and Ganz were there when Chávez
began to consolidate his rule by employing a bizarre and
destructive group therapy exercise known as “the Game.”
Chávez borrowed this tool of control from Synanon, a cultish
drug treatment program already controversial in California.
“The Game” required participants to “clear the air” by
launching personal attacks against one another, an
experience that created much anger, bitterness, and
emotional trauma. As former UFW research director Michael
Yates describes, with great vividness, in his recent memoir,
In and Out of the Working Class, these exercises were
manipulated by Chávez personally to humiliate, isolate, and
then cast out staff members he disliked or distrusted. In
1977, Yates saw “a screaming mob of ‘Game’ initiates” purge
‘enemies of the union'” at La Paz. When one victim had the
audacity to ask for a formal hearing on the trumped-up
charges against him, Chávez called the police, had the
volunteer arrested for trespassing, and taken to jail.

Over time, Chávez further stifled “creative internal
deliberation” by replacing “experienced UFW leaders with a
new, younger cadre, for whom loyalty was the essential
qualification,” Shaw reports. The result was a dysfunctional
personality cult. Since its founder’s death, the UFW has
been tightly controlled by the Chávez clan, in the same
nepotistic North Korean fashion as some local affiliates of
the Teamsters or building trades unions. As UFW has shrunk
to only 5,000 members, various Chavez relatives have feuded
among themselves in court and in the press. As Pawel
recently told The New York Times, “it has become a family-
run organization that is sort of purposeless and does little
or nothing to help farm workers.”

In Why David Sometimes Wins, Ganz describes how Chávez used
union centralization, quite systematically, to crowd out
constructive criticism and political pluralism. “Control
over resources at the top and the absence of any
intermediate levels of political accountability –
districts, locals, or regions – meant that potential
challengers could never organize, build a base, or mount a
real challenge to incumbents,” Ganz writes. In an interview
with Shaw for Beyond The Fields, he recalls that “[T]he UFW
was not giving workers any real power or responsibilities in
setting the union’s direction … Chávez’s decision that the
UFW would not have geographically distinct ‘locals’ left the
union without the vehicles traditionally used by organized
labor to obtain worker input. [As early as 1978] the UFW’s
executive board had no farm worker representation, leaving
those working in the fields with no way to influence the
UFW’s direction.”

As former UFW member Frank Bardacke points out in his
forthcoming book from Verso, Trampling Out The Vintage, UFW
leaders and staff were even more detached from the
membership than in other, more labor organizations because
UFW “had its own source of income, separate from union
dues.” Between 1970 and 1985, payments from workers
represented less than 50 percent of UFW income; the rest of
the union’s money was generated by boycott-related direct
mail activity or from donations by wealthy individuals,
other unions, and church groups. The UFW established and
continues to operate, in the name of its dead founder, “a
network of organizations which receive money form private
foundations and government grants.” The UFW was always a
combination of farm worker advocacy group and collective
bargaining organization. According to Bardacke, initial (but
hard to reproduce) UFW success with wine, table grape, and
lettuce boycotts convinced Chávez “that the essential power
of the union was among its supporters in the cities rather
than among workers in the fields.”

As Pawel notes, a new generation of workers now toils in
those fields, under terrible conditions with little or no
UFW contract protection, and few active urban supporters.
Many are undocumented, indigenous Mexicans who arrive not
even speaking Spanish. They earn the minimum wage, lack
health care coverage, and “desperately need the kind of help
the union once offered.” How UFW veterans have processed
this sad history and its present-day consequences varies
widely. Reconciling proud memories with the profound sadness
and political disillusionment that sometimes followed Farm
Worker duty is not easy, particularly amid contemporary
union conflicts that contain distinct echoes of the UFW’s
troubled past.

Between 2008 and early 2010, the charismatic leader of SEIU,
Andy Stern, used his similarly unchecked powers as national
union president to unleash a series of Chávez-like attacks
on internal adversaries. The result was widespread turmoil
among SEIU-represented health care workers in California,
accompanied by 18 months of open warfare with UNITE HERE,
the garment and hotel workers union that was once Stern’s
closest ally in Change to Win. Both conflicts were
triggered, in part, by major disagreements about union
structure, organizing and bargaining strategy. These were
eerily similar to the differences that emerged within the
UFW over its leadership, staff roles, and functioning.

Under Stern, who retired as president last year (and has
since joined the board of directors of a drug company), SEIU
turned away from strong contract enforcement for the benefit
of existing members. Smaller SEIU affiliates were
consolidated into multi-state “mega-locals,” often under the
direction of national union officials who were appointed by
Stern, rather than elected by the membership. The role of
union stewards – the equivalent of elected UFW ranch
committee leaders – was increasingly undermined and
replaced by the use of corporate-style “customer service
centers” to handle member problems and complaints – an
experiment that has been a disaster. Greater union
centralization and top-down control was necessary in SEIU,
Stern argued, so more resources could be shifted to large-
scale, staff-run campaigns for membership growth and
political influence. Until recently – and the attacks on
public workers in Wisconsin, including SEIU members there –
the union tended to downplay battles over existing contract
standards and benefits, as a selfish defense of “just us,”
instead of a broader fight for “justice for all” (as if the
two were mutually exclusive).

Like the dissident Chavistas who raised the banner of
democracy and membership control in the UFW long ago – only
to be crushed and expelled – some west coast SEIU
activists organized a reform movement in 2008 that
challenged Andy Stern’s autocratic rule and flawed political
vision. Led by Sal Rosselli, a longtime SEIU vice-president
(and one-time UFW grape boycott volunteer), these dissidents
sought greater membership participation in the union and a
strong rank-and-file voice in bargaining and new organizing.
In response, Stern spent tens of millions of dollars on a
military-style take-over of Rosselli’s 150,000-member local,
the second largest in California. After this January, 2009
SEIU “trusteeship” over United Healthcare Workers-West
(UHW), hundreds of elected stewards were purged for
“disloyalty” and 16 ousted elected leaders (including
Rosselli) sued by SEIU for $1.5 million in damages. A rival
health care union was formed, and most organizing of the
unorganized in California health care ground to a halt while
the new National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) and SEIU
competed for bargaining rights among tens of thousands of
already unionized workers at Kaiser Permanente and other
hospital chains.

This now three-year old SEIU conflict is replete with ironic
role reversals from the old days. When Rosselli was removed
as UHW president, he was replaced by a team of Stern
loyalists that included Eliseo Medina. Mario Bustamante’s
brother Chava, is now a SEIU trusteeship staffer and
personally removes stewards who favor the rival NUHW. Legal
work aimed at crushing the rebellion has been handled by a
California law firm headed by Glenn Rothner, a one-time UFW
lawyer. Among other prominent UFW alumni active on the SEIU
side were Scott Washburn and Stephen Lerner, architect of
SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaigns.

Meanwhile, Dolores Huerta, the still formidable 80-year old
founding mother of UFW, has become an outspoken champion of
worker dissent within SEIU – even though she sided with
Chávez when he pushed out the Bustamante brothers and helped
drive away Ganz and Medina. At an NUHW press conference last
year, Huerta accused SEIU staffers of 1970s Teamster-style
bullying when she tried to meet with health care workers at
Kaiser in Los Angles. Her fellow supporters of NUHW included
former UFW staffers Gary Guthman and Fred Ross, Jr. (the son
of Chávez’s old mentor).

Mike Wilzoch is among those former UFW staffers who were
caught up in the carnage. He went on to spend 23 years
working for SEIU. In a May, 2008 to Andy Stern, Wilzoch
urged the then-SEIU president to end his “destructive
conflict with UHW” before it tarnished his personal legacy
and SEIU’s own future prospects. “I remember all too well
what happened to the UFW in the 1970s after it devolved into
loyalty oaths and vicious personal attacks on anyone asking
pesky questions,” Wilzoch wrote. “They burned their culture
and so many top flight organizers that it did permanent
internal and external damage to the union and the dreams of
the workers.” Nine months, later Stern went ahead with his
costly take-over of UHW, ousting all of its elected leaders
and staffers, including Wilzoch.

In his letter to Stern, Wilzoch noted that “history is
replete with tales of radicals and reformers who became what
they once despised. Even the smartest and bravest fuck up
sometimes. Tragically, few had the raw courage to pull back
in time, find the best in themselves that had gotten
sidetracked somehow, and repair the damage.” As Shaw, Pawel,
and Ganz all document, no course correction ever occurred in
the United Farm Workers under César Chávez. With that past
experience in mind, plus the sad condition of the UFW today,
one wonders what it will take to repair Andy Stern’s once-
acclaimed union, after he helped shatter similar hopes and
dreams in California health care?

[Steve Early was a Boston-based organizer for the
Communications Workers of America for 27 years. This essay-
review, a version of which also appeared in Socialist
Worker, is drawn from his most recent book, The Civil Wars
in U.S. Labor from Haymarket.]

Book Review by Steve Early, and Response by Author
Jane McAlevey
Both to appear in WorkingUSA December 2012

(1)
Bidding Adieu to SEIU: Lessons for Its Next Generation
of Organizers?
By Steve Early

A review of Raising Expectations (And Raising Hell): My
Decade Fighting For the Labor Movement, by Jane
McAlevey with Bob Ostertag. New York/London: Verso
Books, 2012. 318 pp. $25.95 (hardcover)

Few modern unions have done more outside hiring than
the Service Employees International Union (SEIU),
America’s second largest labor organization. Beginning
in the mid-1970s and continuing unabated today, SEIU
and its local affiliates have employed tens of
thousands of non-members as organizers, servicing reps,
researchers, education specialists, PR people, and
staffers of other kinds. While most unions hire and
promote largely from within (i.e. from the ranks of
their working members), SEIU has always cast its net
wider.

It has welcomed energetic refugees from other unions,
promising young student activists, former community
organizers, ex-environmentalists, Democratic Party
campaign operatives, and political exiles from abroad.
(One prototypical campus recruit was my older daughter,
Alex, a Latin-American studies major who became a local
union staffer for SEIU after supporting the janitors
employed at her Connecticut college.)

Many, if not most, of SEIU’s outside hires no longer
work for the union, in part because of its penchant for
“management by churn.” This means that its network of
distinguished alumni today is far larger than its
current national and local workforce, which is not
small. And not all of these SEIU alums have fond
memories of their tour of duty in purple, the union’s
signature color. For an institution that demands great
loyalty from its staff, SEIU is not known for its
reciprocal attachment to those who do its bidding.
Ex-SEIUers include many dedicated, hard-working
organizers who were useful for a while, until they were
not.

In several recent purges, SEIU even managed to forget
about the past services rendered by organizers
sometimes described as “legendary.” I refer here to
Bruce Raynor, former head of Workers United/SEIU, and
Stephen Lerner, a fellow SEIU executive board member
who directed the union’s Private Equity Project and
devised its much-applauded “Justice for Janitors”
campaigns two decades ago.

Cut From The Purple Team

Raynor began his labor career as a southern textile
worker organizer in the 1970s, helping workers like the
one portrayed by Sally Fields in Norma Rae. While still
serving as national president of UNITE HERE in 2009,
Raynor rather messily defected to SEIU, a fellow Change
To Win affiliate. In the face of stiff rank-and-file
opposition, he steered about a quarter of UNITE Here’s
membership into the far larger union run by his friend,
Andy Stern.

Raynor was given a new title– Executive Vice-President
of SEIU. Yet, just two years later, he was drummed out
of Workers United/SEIU on disputed charges of expense
account fiddling (Why someone earning more than a
quarter of a million dollars a year needed to bill SEIU
for $2,300 worth of “non-business” lunches remains an
unsolved mystery of American labor, right up there with
the final resting place of Jimmy Hoffa).

Stephen Lerner’s fall from grace (and loss of his
$156,000 annual salary) began, more incrementally, in
the fall of 2010. Lerner had just unveiled what was
supposed to be a global, multi-union SEIU-coordinated
bank workers organizing campaign, only to find himself
put out on paid administrative leave for three months,
after a noisy beef with his new SEIU headquarters boss.
Lerner had been an influential publicist for many SEIU
causes, including the New Unity Partnership (a
predecessor to Change To Win), when his longtime
patron, Andy Stern, was still Service Employees
president. Under Stern’s successor (and protege), Mary
Kay Henry, Lerner’s contributions were far less
appreciated and, soon, no longer wanted at all.

Under President Henry, Lerner’s bank worker organizing
was shut down. But, when his SEIU staff pension and job
severance issues were eventually sorted out, he became
free to rail, to his heart’s content, about Wall Street
and “the banksters” bereft of any meaningful union
base. Henry then ran, un-opposed, for re-election in
May, 2012, with an “administration slate” cleansed of
both Lerner and Raynor.

A “Deep Organizer” Scorned

Jane McAlevey, author of Raising Expectations (And
Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting For the Labor
Movement, was very briefly, in 2008, a member of the
same national union executive board graced, in happier
days, by both men. While the normally quite vocal
Lerner and Raynor have been very reticent about their
involuntary departure from SEIU, McAlevey is a woman
organizer scorned (or unburdened by any non-disclosure
agreement?). Her resulting fury, or political
frustration, is reflected in many parts of her memoir
about being undermined and driven out of a 9,000-member
SEIU affiliate in Nevada that she labels “one of the
most successful in the nation.” Written with the
assistance of Bob Ostertag, Raising Expectations
settles old scores with numerous members of what
McAlevey calls “the Stern gang in D.C.,” who helped
shorten her illustrious SEIU career to a mere 4 years.
The book should, therefore, be required reading for
anyone hoping to last longer at SEIU–“before the rug
is pulled out from under them” by the same “people at
the top” who so disdained McAlevey because she wouldn’t
cop to their “paranoid institutional culture.”

Lest anyone think that the author’s own employment was
a little short-term for such a blistering critique of
SEIU and other unions, I should note (as the book’s
subtitle does) that McAlevey actually spent an entire
decade trying to straighten out organized labor before
concluding it was pretty hopeless. As she writes in the
book’s final chapter:

I operated on the assumption that, if you just kept
winning in a principled way, the work you were doing
would create the conditions for its own continued
existence. The people at the top might not like you,
they might not understand what you were trying to do,
they might consider you a big pain in the ass, but if
you consistently succeeded at the assignments they gave
you, ultimately they would give you more assignments
and the work would go forward.

I was wrong….Past a certain point, winning actually
becomes a liability, because the people at the top will
feel threatened by the power you’re accumulating unless
they can control it; they cannot imagine that your
ambition would not be to use that power in the same way
they use theirs. It took ten years of banging my head
on a wall to finally knock that into it.

Power Structure Analyst?

Forty-eight year old McAlevey had a varied non-labor
career before she started “winning in a principled way”
and power-accumulating (without personal ambition) in
“the house of labor.” She was a student government
leader at the State University of New York at Buffalo,
an activist in the environmental justice movement at
home and abroad, associate director of the Highlander
Center in Tennessee, and a program officer for Veatch,
a progressive foundation backed by the Unitarian
Church.

In 1998, McAlevey was recruited by then-AFL-CIO
Organizing Director Richard Bensinger to head up the
Stamford Organizing Project. SOP was a collaborative
effort by local affiliates of SEIU, the Auto Workers,
Hotel Employees, and Food and Commercial Workers.
Raising Expectations reports that it “helped 5,000
workers successfully form unions and win first
contracts that set new standards in their industries
and [local] market.” This multi-racial, cross-union
model wasn’t replicated elsewhere, the author suggests,
becausepost-1995 efforts “to reform the national
AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C. were shipwrecking.” One
casualty was the federation’s short-lived experiment
with Stamford-style “geographical organizing.”

Even after she moved on, McAlevey’s methods earned high
marks from campus fans like Dan Clawson, author of The
Next Upsurge: Labor and the New Social Movements, who
lauded the Stamford project as an expression of new
“social movement unionism.” McAlevey prefers to call
her work “deep organizing” or, in other parts of the
book, “whole worker organizing.” This approach involves
“bring[ing] community organizing techniques right into
the shop floor while moving labor organizing techniques
out into the community” after conducting “power
structure analysis that enables workers to
systematically pool their knowledge of their
communities and integrate this knowledge with
conventional research done by union professionals.”
Workers themselves, not union staffers or some “union
front group,” are empowered to decide “when and where
to take on ‘non-workplace issues,'” like affordable
housing, that too many unions fail to address.

A Mission in Las Vegas

After Stamford, McAlevey worked for SEIU in New York,
Washington, D.C., Kansas, and California as the union’s
Deputy Director for Strategic Campaigns at Tenet
Healthcare and other companies. Her longest and last
stand was in Las Vegas, working as the Andy
Stern-installed executive director of 9,000-member
Local 1107, a public sector and health care affiliate
of SEIU that also represented thousands of non-dues
payers.

McAlevey variously describes the local she took over in
2004 as “a rat’s nest,” a “joke,” and a dysfunctional
“grievance mill.” Her opinion of her new home wasn’t
much higher. It’s “a myth” that Las Vegas is a model
“union town,” she contends. UNITE-HERE Local 226 may
have done “a stellar job of winning good
contracts”–but that only means the city has “a union
street…universally known as the Strip.” As for the
rest of the place, according to the author, it’s “a
phony city built on gambling and prostitution” located
“in a corrupt right-to-work state” where “the
temperature climbs above 110 for days on end.” Sin
City’s one redeeming feature, for McAlevey, was “land
so cheap that I could get a little place where my horse
could live with me.” (According to the author, her
equine companion, a Tennessean named Jalapeno, later
came in handy when she tried to bond with local
politicos, who also spent off-duty time in the saddle.)

Prior to arriving in this desert, McAlevey’s
headquarters handlers all agreed that she “should
present herself as a seasoned hand at negotiating
contracts,” a major responsibility of her new appointed
position. Her actual bargaining experience was
shockingly thin, for someone who was now representing
thousands of workers at Hospital Corporation of
America, United Health Services, Catholic Healthcare
West, and other large employers. “I had hardly even
read a union contract,” the author admits. “I had never
negotiated and there all sorts of technicalities of the
collective bargaining process I had no clue about.”
(One SEIU headquarters helper reassured her that
workers would soon discover how “really talented and
terrific” she was anyway.) Fortunately, with much
long-distance telephone call coaching from New England
1199/SEIU leader Jerry Brown, McAlevey proved to be a
fast learner.

Derailing “the little juggernaut”

During her first several years as its staff director,
McAlevey helped strengthen Local 1107 by overhauling
the local’s financial and administrative practices,
hiring younger staffers, encouraging member involvement
in bargaining, better integrating internal and external
organizing, and reviving SEIU as a political force in
Nevada. Several of the best chapters in Raising
Expectations describe her jousting with management and
provide detailed examples of how open negotiations
(what the author calls “big representation bargaining”)
can increase rank-and-file participation and restore
members ‘confidence in the union as their workplace
voice.

McAlevey now believes that, despite this promising
beginning and favorable contract results, her
commitment to “building real worker power”–though
“activism on the shopfloor”–conflicted too much with
the “vested interests” of those “higher up” in SEIU.
Her headquarters critics favored labor-management
partnering and no longer wanted to deal with members’
day-to-day job problems. Her personal string of
“who-would-have-believed-it” victories, in a “maverick
local,” was just too much of an affront to top
officials, who frowned on strikes and other forms of
worker militancy. Her adversaries in the SEIU
bureaucracy made sure she remained politically
“vulnerable” and, if necessary, easily discarded.
According to McAlevey, “the national SEIU sucked” and
was just itching “to derail the little juggernaut we
had put together in Vegas.”

In reality, the author’s political demise was hastened
by her role in a failed attempt to remove Local 1107
President Vicki Hedderman and her allies from their
elected positions, a campaign assisted by President
Stern. A former unit clerk at Clark County Hospital,
Hedderman was, in McAlevey’s view, too focused on
filing grievances and not sufficiently supportive of
new organizing. McAlevey depicts her nominal boss as
“tenaciously” clinging to the perks of office, while
keeping 1107’s public sector and healthcare members at
odds, and thwarting the author’s ambitious plans for
unifying and transforming the local. According to
McAlevey, Hedderman and other incumbents “had
maintained control of the local by trading their
attentiveness to individual grievances for the votes of
the workers who filed them.”

It was not part of McAlevey’s formal job description to
meddle in the local’s internal politics or round up
votes a different way. But that’s what she did, rather
in-expertly and disastrously. She recruited opposition
candidates who ended up being covertly financed by
out-of-state SEIU donations solicited by Stern. One of
these $5,000 gifts–from Ohio SEIU leader Dave
Regan–“turned out to be money that technically could
not be used for [union] elections.” The U.S. Department
of Labor intervened–and found other misconduct as
well. A membership uproar ensued and much bad publicity
was generated. Hedderman survived both McAlevey’s
original electoral challenge and a hasty re-run ordered
by SEIU. To restore peace to 1107, an emissary from
SEIU headquarters negotiated the joint resignations of
both women–an exit strategy for McAlevey that she now
describes as “taking the fall for Andy Stern.”

There’s a saying, popular among judges: “Ignorance of
the law is no excuse.” In this most murky section of
her book, McAlevey pleads ignorance nevertheless. She
claims that her extensive knowledge of “real world
election laws” (i.e. those applying to “county
commission races” in Nevada) and the federal “labor
laws that relate to beating multi-national
corporations” just didn’t extend to the
Landrum-Grifffin Act, which protects workers’ rights as
union members. “Internal union election law was all
news to me,” she confesses.

Disliked By “The Queen of Petty”

Equally disingenuous is McAlevey’s claim to have been
victimized by “the pervasive sexism among the men who
are most in control of the resources in unions
today.”Lack of women in the leadership and insufficient
nurturing of female rank-and-file activists is, indeed
a continuing labor problem, notwithstanding the valiant
efforts of various women’s caucuses. Yet Raising
Expectations is full of praise for McAlevey’s “beloved
and invaluable mentors”–almost all of them
high-ranking men (like Brown and Bensinger; Bensinger’s
successor at the AFL-CIO, Kirk Adams, who is now a top
SEIU official again; and ex-SEIU healthcare division
head Larry Fox, who along with current SEIU
Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina, was responsible for
“shoehorning” the author into Las Vegas).

In contrast, almost every personal nemesis we meet is
female (with the exception of McAlevey’s two
problematic allies, Andy Stern and Dave Regan). First,
we encounter Mary Kay Henry, who “was clearly not
comfortable with me” and failed to return the author’s
phone calls; next, “The Queen of Petty,” longtime SEIU
Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger, makes an appearance,
blocking McAlevey from speaking to the SEIU executive
board (because Jane was “someone she doesn’t like to
have around);” and then there is Judy Scott, SEIU
General Counsel, who calls to “browbeat” Jane “into
“capitulating to Hospital Corporation of America” so
“labor peace” in Las Vegas could be traded for
“organizing rights” elsewhere.

Meanwhile, throughout much of her narrative, the author
is continually harried by Hedderman, and her “old
guard” allies (many of them female) who resist internal
change. Circling outside Local 1107 is the predatory
California Nurses Association (CNA), headed by the
always Machiavellian RoseAnn DeMoro, who descends on
strife-torn Nevada SEIU to recruit hundreds of Reno
nurses who’ve become disenchanted with SEIU and Jane.

A “Retrogressive” DeMoro

In McAlevey’s view, the CNA’s high-profile Executive
Director is badly miscast as the progressive heroine
“of academic Marxists, student radicals, and others on
the margins of unions.” According to the author,
DeMoro’s craft-union “approach….is completely
retrogressive” and “encourages an attitude of elitism
rather than solidarity” among nurses in relation to
other lower-paid, less skilled hospital workers. But
Raising Expectations debunks the CNA as labor’s
“self-styled left-wing” only in passing. McAlevey
mainly frames her book as “Exhibit A in the case
against Stern, SEIU, and the ‘shallow organizing’
vision for American labor that they have come to
personify.” According to the author, this “shallow
mobilizing approach” leaves members with “only the most
tenuous relationship with their union.” As a result,
“the political endorsements their unions give to
candidates or ballot initiatives mean little more to
workers than the endorsements of their bosses or Fox
News.”

[T]he union becomes nothing more than the contract and
the contract is only engaged when a worker files a
grievance. The union becomes an insurance plan, like
car insurance, to which workers pay dues “in case you
need it.” Staff talk to workers like Geico claims
adjustors after an accident.

Given Mary Kay Henry’s “many years as Stern’s loyal
protege, and her role in the events described in this
book” McAlevey finds it “hard to imagine she will alter
SEIU’s course in any significant way.” The author takes
direct aim at Henry’s “Fight for a Fair Economy,” a
current SEIU campaign much ballyhooed in the
blogosphere and publications like The Nation. According
to the McAlevey, FFE is just another form of “tactical
and transactional engagement” with the community that
involves union staff renting or buying community
groups, or simply setting up their own fully
controllable” ones.” As she accurately observes:

SEIU is spending tens of millions of dollars
‘mobilizing underpaid, underemployed, and unemployed
workers’ and ‘channeling anger about jobs into action
for positive change.” What’s beyond bizarre is that the
program is aimed a mobilizing poor people rather than
SEIU’s own base. SEIU looks everywhere except to their
own membership to gin up popular revolts.

A “Popular Revolt” Within SEIU

The author’s overall report card on SEIU echoes the
better-articulated critique developed by its California
rival, the new National Union of Healthcare Workers
(NUHW). NUHW was born out of a popular revolt that
didn’t have to be ginned up. In January,2009, Stern put
members of SEIU’s third largest affiliate, United
Healthcare Workers-West (UHW) under trusteeship for
challenging him at the union’s 2008 convention in
Puerto Rico, resisting his attempted dismantling of
their local afterwards, and publicly questioning the
same kind of heath care industry “growth deals” that
McAlevey also found troubling.

However, in 2008, when soon-to-be-ousted UHW President
Sal Rosselli and other would-be reformers opposed
Stern’s further consolidation of personal power at the
SEIU convention, McAlevey was no ally of theirs.
Instead, without ever having served as an elected local
officer of SEIU, she accepted Stern’s invitation to run
on his slate for the SEIU executive board, a body that
Rosselli was purged from. Getting this promotion, of
course, required that she distance herself from the
vocal minority of delegates critical of the union’s
increasingly undemocratic practices and lax contract
enforcement. (She describes their brave efforts as just
“fizzling” out.) Her own IEB tenure proved to be
short-lived, due to her SEIU-brokered resignation from
Local 1107 in late June, 2008, and subsequent year-long
struggle with cancer.

In Raising Expectations, McAlevey’s brief elevation to
the SEIU board goes unmentioned, since that episode
might undercut her claim now that she was among those
more “moderate” SEIU progressives who were quietly
“working to build opposition to [Stern’s] policies,”
while avoiding “a frontal assault on Stern’s
leadership” of the sort launched by the “loud” and
“bombastic” Rosselli. Among McAlevey’s convention
running-mates was Dave Regan, the same “Stern loyalist”
and “stooge” whose Ohio “political fund Stern tapped
for the money he had promised for our union election in
Nevada–the down payment that turned out to be
technically illegal.” The truly bombastic Regan later
became Stern’s trustee over UHW, a role he has
transformed into a lucrative $300,000 a year local
union presidency.

Now representing more than 10,000 workers, NUHW
continues to challenge SEIU in California healthcare
units because of the top-down, management-friendly
deal-making (by Regan and others) that McAlevey decries
in her book. Nevertheless, Raising Expectations
displays minimal sympathy for the dedicated organizers
and workplace leaders who created NUHW, after Stern
slammed the door on their internal SEIU reform efforts.
Unlike McAlevey’s smaller-scale Nevada tiffs with SEIU
headquarters, the California health care workers’
rebellion represented a real threat to national union
control. That’s why SEIU sued 28 NUHW founders for $25
million dollars and won a very unjust $1.5 million
federal court judgment against 16 of them (that is
still under appeal).

Captive Members?

All we learn about “the resulting war” is that McAlevey
opposes “raids” because they’re “one of the sleaziest
things one union can do to another.” In her view, union
leaders, not workers, end up “decid[ing] whether an
existing union is bad enough to warrant being raided by
another union.” Left unexplained by the author is why
“workers with bad unions” should be denied “the chance
to jump to more effective ones”–particularly, where
the alternative choice, NUHW, is a more militant,
democratic, and member-driven union (plus, one that’s
backed by respected SEIU veterans like Jerry Brown, the
now-retired Connecticut leader who was McAlevey’s most
trusted advisor in Las Vegas).

In Raising Expectations, McAlevey expounds instead on
her own preferred community and labor organizing
models. She provides little or no practical guidance
for members still trapped in her old union (other then
maybe learning from her mistake of breaking federal law
to influence local union election results?). McAlevey’s
book is neither well-documented labor reporting nor an
academic study of U.S. union dysfunction (although,
post-SEIU, the author enrolled in a City University of
New York graduate program). Instead, it’s a memoir
more self-absorbed than self-aware, whose main strength
lies in its several very detailed and useful case
studies of contract campaigns worthy of emulation in
other open shop states. Too often, however, Raising
Expectations is so narcissistic that the book’s factual
narrative (and overall information value) suffers as
result.

Most rank-and-file oriented organizers–as opposed to
the egocentric top officials criticized by the
author–try to make union-building a collective effort,
not a one-person show. In Raising Expectations,
McAlevey seems to be less the “left-wing troublemaker,”
she claims to be, and more of a progressive prima
donna, operating in episodic “Lone Ranger” fashion
(albeit always with a coterie of admiring young
staffers). In contrast, labor’s more effective
grassroots organizers tend to be long distance runners,
not sprinters or relay team members who have trouble
cooperating with others on the squad and maintaining
enduring relationships with workers. They also don’t
make the project of union renewal so much about
themselves or their own heroic endeavors. In the case
of those activists still challenging SEIU in
California, many have paid a far higher personal price
than McAlevey ever did, because their labor reform
efforts involved real risk-taking, not just
self-promotion (and literary-reinvention) as a martyr
to the cause.

Steve Early worked as an organizer and contract
negotiator for the Communications Workers of America
from 1980 to 2007. He is a longtime supporter of
Teamsters for a Democratic Union, Labor Notes, and
other union democracy and reform networks. He is the
author most recently of The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor
from Haymarket Books, which chronicles the struggle
between SEIU and NUHW in California. He can be reached
at Lsupport@aol.com

* * * * * * *

(2)
Response to Steve Early’s Review of Raising Expectations
By Jane McAlevey

The editors have graciously offered me the opportunity
to respond to Steve Early’s review of Raising
Expectations (and Raising Hell). I want to respond to
Early’s review, which focuses primarily on about ten
percent of the book, but also to give people some idea
of what the other ninety percent is about.

It will be no surprise to knowledgeable readers that
Steve Early’s review is heavily focused on the National
Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). In Early’s The
Civil Wars in US Labor, he declares himself as not only
a partisan, but as among the biggest cheerleaders of
the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).
However, in his review of my book, Early keeps his
sympathies under the table. This does a disservice to
readers who try to make sense of all this. Readers of
his review of Raising Expectations might get the
impression that my book is all about his interest,
NUHW. Not at all. My book is about organizing, and how
to rebuild the US labor movement in a time of
tremendous difficulty and multiple setbacks.

In my book, I clearly identified myself as someone who
tried to steer an independent course amidst complicated
turf wars–the issues that matter most to Early.
That’s apparently enough for Early to direct a lot of
criticism at me, some of it directly on NUHW matters,
some of it spillover about somewhat related points. (I
am not, it might be noted, alone as an object of
Early’s criticisms.)

Some of what’s at stake has to do with political
interpretations and loyalties, some of it is simple
matters of fact. A factual question that might matter
on these issues is that Early gives the impression that
my tenure on the International Executive Board or IEB
was several weeks long. Early states that I was elected
to the board in June of 2008 and that I left a few
weeks later. In fact, I was elected to the IEB for the
first time in early 2007 to fill a vacancy, and later
re-elected. Of interest to Early, during this period on
the IEB, I declined to sign an infamous letter IEB
board members wrote to academics, scolding them for
what they considered to be interference in the pending
trusteeship of California’s big healthcare local,
United Healthcare Workers West (UHW).

Similarly, Early reports that “…her illustrious SEIU
career…[was] a mere 4 years,” an assertion he makes
seemingly to undermine my credibility. In fact, I
worked for SEIU for 7 years, and worked so closely with
an SEIU local, District 1199 New England, for an
additional 3 years, that my total SEIU experience is a
full decade (as the title of the book suggests).

Since I am not 100% aligned with Early’s views, Early
apparently sees me as the enemy and is looking to
discredit everything I do and say. Turf wars have the
potential to lead to that approach, and I gather that
Early is known for it; readers need to judge for
themselves if that’s the most useful way to advance the
labor movement and help workers improve their
conditions. For example, although I condemn the raid
against Sal Rosselli, head of what is now NUHW, Early
says, “Raising Expectations displays minimal sympathy
for the dedicated organizers and workplace leaders who
created NUHW….” I praise the work of several of UHW’s
staff organizers by name including Glen Goldstien, Dana
Simon and Brian McNamara, in addition to acknowledging
Rosselli’s local sending us their purple RV (an
important resource our local was far too small to own),
and offer other instances where Roselli’s local
supported the Nevada workers. But Early can’t tolerate
that I also expose some painful experiences where
Rosselli acted in less than stellar ways–as when
Rosselli sided with Stern against the Nevada workers
when we were disputing whether or not our rank-and-file
had the right to strike. The world isn’t as pure or as
binary as partisans might see it.

The review is drenched with sexism, best–though not
only–reflected by this line, “McAlevey is a woman
organizer scorned….” My, my, my, the “woman” there
certainly is needed. You’d think Early could see
reasons why people might be upset with SEIU. And that,
“a woman scorned” wouldn’t be at the top of the list.
This is not exactly his proudest political moment,
though perhaps his most revealing.

The civil wars in labor may be at the top of Early’s
agenda, and they matter to my story, but they are a
side issue in a book focused on organizing. Quoting
from the third paragraph of the “Introduction:”

“So first and foremost, this book is about organizing.
Why? Because if there is any one message I hope to
convey, it is that present-day American service workers
can militantly confront corporations and government and
win. …. The organizing I have been involved in for
the last ten years has won. As a result, there are
thousands of workers who now expect to have a greater
say in what goes on at their workplace, expect their
jobs to be more productive and effective, and
anticipate a better quality of life when they are old
and that they will have more money for their children’s
education. Their relationship with their coworkers has
become richer, they feel less intimidated by their
superiors, and when they face a collective problem they
have a realistic chance of finding a collective
solution.”

I very much appreciate Steve Early’s assessment that
“Several of the best chapters in Raising Expectations
describe her jousting with management and provide
detailed examples of how open negotiations (what the
author calls, “big, representative, bargaining”) can
increase rank-and-file participation and restore
members confidence in the union as their workplace
voice.” There are sixteen (16) chapters in the book,
and by my count fourteen (14) of them are dedicated to
the nuts and bolts of what constitutes good organizing.
Additionally, a top goal of the book is to reach a
broad audience so that the central issue of the
importance of unions, and of why we still believe
American workers can win, reaches beyond the already
converted. The personal approach the book takes was
done intentionally (and because, as I discuss in the
epilogue, I wrote the book while I was grounded for
several months fighting cancer; most people familiar
with organizers know it would literally take tying us
down to get us to focus on writing for months on end;
cancer replaced the ropes for me). Remarkably, this
becomes an example of how I am just an uppity,
self-centered woman, “a progressive prima donna.” Go
figure.

The book begins with my reflections on being in the
trenches in the 2000 Florida Recount. I use the
experience of being a senior organizer for the AFL-CIO
assigned to the Gore campaign to create a metaphor for
the deeply problematic relationship between the
Democratic Party and organized labor–a theme that I
raise throughout the book. The Democrats were unwilling
or unable to mobilize a movement in support of Gore;
unfortunately, labor went along with (or possibly even
agreed with?) that mistaken call by the Democrats. I
describe in detail several efforts we led to buck the
mainstream Democratic Party from within the primary
system and run opposition candidates against what we
call bad Democrats–a category of politicians I refer
to in the book as a “target-rich environment.” We were
successful every time and the approach constituted a
sort of left wing precursor to the Tea Party–an effort
to seize the party from within, with the hopes that we
can one day build our own.

But the vast majority of the book deals with a
blow-by-blow account of what it takes to win at a time
when labor is losing, and to rebuild moribund union
locals. This segment comes from the end of a chapter
called, “Laying the Foundation”–and reflects how much
we had accomplished in just one year in Las Vegas:

“By late spring of 2005 we had set new standards for
Las Vegas hospital workers in the contracts we’d won at
Desert Springs and Valley hospitals, and then topped
those standards with the even better contracts at the
two CHW hospitals. We had organized workers at three
more hospitals into the union, and had forced the
county manager to resolve the outstanding issue in the
civil service contract in the workers’ favor. We had
played a key role in a successful county commission
race, and in defeating a right-wing effort to gut
property taxes in the state. Internally, our local had
tripled the size of its staff, built an organizing
department, and fundamentally changed the way the union
was run. It had been a busy twelve months.”

There are many workers in this country who desperately
need a year like that.

As Early mentions in his review, we discuss what I call
“whole worker organizing.” This approach goes beyond
solidarity building between unions and “the community,”
and suggests a better approach is for unions to
understand their members are the community. This
critique is at the heart of the book. In the
Introduction, I describe what I mean by this,

“Whole-worker organizing begins with the recognition
that real people do not live two separate lives, one
beginning when they arrive at work and punch the clock
and another when they punch out at the end of their
shift. The pressing concerns that bear down on them
every day are not divided into two neat piles, only one
of which is of concern to unions. At the end of each
shift workers go home, through streets that are
sometimes violent, past their kids’ crumbling schools,
to their often substandard housing, where the tap water
is likely unsafe.”

In my experience, this approach is not a distraction
that hurts the “real” focus on workplace organizing;
this approach is a key to winning.

At a time when less than 7% of the private sector
workforce–and less than 12% of the total workforce is
in a union–a whole worker organizing approach is
urgent. We have to use the base of the labor movement
we still have to quickly persuade millions of Americans
in neighborhoods nationwide that unions remain the best
hope for improving their lives. The book describes an
approach that worked with different kinds of workers
and in different states, in the private and public
sector, at the higher and lower ends of the pay scale,
workers considered hard-to-replace and those regarded
as easy to replace–and argues that there are no
shortcuts to face-to-face organizing to win back the
confidence of the members or their communities to the
purpose and promise of a good union. In Las Vegas we
set new standards, and then topped those standards with
even better contracts, and this did not come at the
cost of new organizing.

Early’s review is pretty much what I expected when I
wrote the book, and I decided I would live with it
because I had a story I thought was important to tell.
I do hope, however, that the entirely predictable
criticisms that will come my way (and Early’s is
certainly only the first of many) will not totally
obscure the story I tried to tell, a story I hope can
contribute to revitalizing the labor movement and
improving workers’ lives.

#

Jane McAlevey has served as Executive Director and
Chief Negotiator for a union local, as National Deputy
Director for Strategic Campaigns of the Healthcare
Division for SEIU, and she was the Campaign Director of
the one of the only successful multi-union, multi-year,
geographic organizing campaigns for the national
AFL-CIO. She has led power structure analyses and
trainings for a wide range of union and community
organizations and has had extensive involvement in
globalization and global environmental issues. She
worked at the Highlander Research and Education Center
in her early 20’s. McAlevey is currently a PhD
candidate at the City University of New York’s Graduate
Center and is a contributing writer at The Nation
magazine.

less writing, more reading… meta-blog part two

Woah, I started this be really short and it turned out pretty long. I’m posting it more as a curiosity than anything.

THE GIST: the blog has served and outlived its purpose of getting me to write more, and I plan to stop posting rough drafts and thoughts about stuff, but might still use it for research notes and links or might just fold that into email or the “drunken notes.”

LONG SELF-CENTERED RAMBLE ABOUT FIRST-WORLD PROBLEMS

I started this blog for the purpose of getting back into the habit of writing, by having a place where I could post unpublished/semi-public rough drafts, notes and observations of stuff that I’d potentially want to develop more, or just to help me think. I’ve never found that writing specifically helps me think, even though I’ve heard many others say that, and this has been confirmed by the blog. If anything I find more distracting than helpful, because it involves a certain of mental investment into crafting a piece that’s meant to be readable. The best function I’ve gotten from the blog has been a place to post tons of links to things I’ve read and want to go back to, or haven’t read yet and don’t want to forget about. At the same its become a sort of bad habit that when I’m bored, I look for something to write about on here instead of doing more serious reading or writing, because it involves less mental strain to post some long-winded ramble about whatever than to either read a book or write a well-crafted article.

The problem with the more distracting aspect is that I’ve gotten into a habit writing too much, writing lots of random stuff that hypothetically could be developed more, but most of which I haven’t gone back to. And after posting it, despite the fact that hardly anyone is gonna read it, I still feel self-conscious and dissatisfied about the low-to-mediocre quality (stylistically and content-wise), in my opinion, of most of what I’ve posted on here. I’ve heard many times over the years from different people, that supposedly you should write stuff even if it isn’t that good because it will “help you think” or “create discussion” or whatever, and I’ve occasionally given the same advice to people. While this might be acceptable advice to give to someone who has done almost no public writing, as a way to get them started, (although I’m doubtful even then, because after all publishing a piece and then feeling self-conscious about it or being criticized by others, is the surest way to dissuade someone from ever writing publicly again), I guess I’ve written enough articles – some good, some bad – that that function is mostly irrelevant to me. I did have a long spell of writing almost nothing publicly (just emails), but to be honest I think the emails have had more use for me than most of these blog posts. Probably the only posts that I’m definitely gonna edit and publish elsewhere are the Hoffa/King one and the “Army of What-tion?” one, and I plan to keep doing stuff with the various articles I’ve posted here for reference, but haven’t written anything yet.

As far as the “it will help you think” claim, I’ve never bought and I still don’t, after several months of this little experiment. I’ve never, at any time in my life, kept a private journal. I was once told to as a kid, started it, and gave up right right away. I tried again awhile later and again, gave up. It doesn’t help me think at all, it’s distracting. I have a brain, that’s where I do my thinking, not on paper. Sometimes in discussions I’ll write thinking-out-loud/questioning/self-doubtful comments or whatever, in hopes of getting responses from people. The writing only helps me to structure and skim down the thought process by forcing me to put what thoughts I have into a readable format that I hope people will understand and have something to say about. And being somewhat egotistical, and simultaneous perfectionist and self-conscious about things like writing, I’m also hoping to have a good piece not so much for a pat on the back but more so that I hope it will actually provoke some thoughts and discussion (incl disagreements… strong disagreements always flatter me for some reason, almost more than praise, not sure if that’s just a healthy debate instinct or an argumentative streak left over from a bygone era when I used to get in long message board debates; and I also tend to find disagreements/criticisms more “useful” as far as forcing me to think harder, do my research, and express myself clearly).

So I’m gonna definitely be posting a lot less “thoughts about [blank]” type posts from now on, because I don’t find it very useful to me. I’m happier with my more traditional method of either keeping my thoughts to myself of carefully filtering it in the form of emails, thread comments and published final pieces. I’m happier with the product and it’s a more helpful thought process for me, and less work, which allows me more time to focus on more disciplined writing efforts which I’ve pretty much neglected. I think the getting-into-the-habit aspect of this has played itself and done about as much use as it will, which has been some use but not a huge amount.

The aspect I’m happier about is that it has been a place to post sparser research notes and references for my own use, which I like and plan to keep, either here or folded into the “drunken notes” format. And a place to post stuff that I’ve already published.

At the moment I now want to shift gears and get back into a habit of more disciplined reading. I like reading a lot and, when I make myself, I always enjoy reading books, but I’ve become less and less disciplined over the past few years to the point that I almost never sit down and read a book straight through from cover to cover. I spend a lot of reading articles, skimming books online, reading chapter or doing index searches, and browsing through internet archives, and augmenting that with Wikipedia (which despite its limitations, is a really awesome resource, in my opinion). While I love doing this and I’m happy with the results in terms of how much information I’m able to absorb and, sometimes, I’m able to obsessively latch onto specific topics and learn a ton of stuff about them in a short amount of time that would’ve never been possible in past periods… problem is I’ve completely lost any self-discipline when it comes to making myself do research that I want to do. I’m a very impulsive reader, which lends itself to obsessively researching a topic but it can really make it hard to sit down and read a full-length book.

The blog has added to that by making me also a more impulsive writer, which is a little less natural to me because I don’t tend to write a lot, so that will be an easier habit to break. This post itself is exactly the kind of thing that I never would’ve written at any time in the past, not even a a year ago, not even immediately prior to when I started the blog. So in that respect the blog has done its job of getting me to write me. (Part of it also might that my email reading-and-writing load has gone down significantly in the last few months.) I just have to force myself to now do less writing and put more of my time into reading and get more disciplined about the writing I do.

A last kind of strange thing. I notice that I both like the sense of unaccountability or “refuge” that the blog offers as opposed to a more public venue, because I feel less self-conscious about it, and at the same time I keep checking my stats page and always instinctively like/hope for higher viewer rates, and the few times when views have spiked for whatever reason, have tended to make we want to write more on the blog. But then after a day or two I get more self-conscious again and want to delete the whole blog. Weird I guess.

sketch notes for “wildcat unionism”

Some sketch notes for a theory and potential article(s) that I’m developing.

As a total side note, I randomly encountered this (and vaguely remember seeing this name before, but hadn’t specifically thought about it right now) and found to be both interesting and some vague radical resonance although completely unrelated to union stuff – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Cat_(Seminole)

“Wildcat Unionism”

I’m adopting this term as a dual reference to “wildcat strikes” and the black cat/sabot cat. I’m not sure which was created first – the black cat image or the term “wildcat strike” – but both clearly have a certain amount of mutual reference. And both have long held an important place in the labor philosophies of anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists and wobblies. “Wildcat” has also been adopted as a name by various anarchist/commie groups, papers, collectives etc., and particular carries connotations of “spontaneity,” “uncontrollability” and varying degrees of hostility to the official trade union apparatus. A notable example being the UK group/paper Wildcat from which the following articles come, which perfectly express the anti-union connotations that are conveyed by the term “wildcat.”

“Good old-fashioned trade unionism”http://libcom.org/library/good-old-fashioned-trade-unionism-wildcat
“Outside and against the unions”http://libcom.org/library/outside-and-against-the-unions-wildcat

The “wildcat” or sabot cat symbolically represents the anarchist/anarcho-syndicalist/wobbly spirit of “uncontrollable” rank-and-file militancy and direct action. An important thing worth noting is that the IWW is not, and never has been, an anarcho-syndicalist organization. The widespread myth that it is or was at some time or claims that it is “anarchist in all but name” partially reflect that it did appeal to many anarchists who have often been prominent in the union and did in fact take a certain amount of inspiration from anarcho-syndicalist ideas, imagery and organizations like the French CGT… all of which reflects, more importantly, certain shared qualities and attitudes between the IWW and anarcho-syndicalism, which can summed up as an “anarchic style” or what I’m calling here “wildcat unionism.”

Various labels have been deployed in attempts to distinguish the IWW’s brand of unionism from “business unionism,” most prominent no doubt being “solidarity unionism.” Some of the terms refer more to specific strategic or contextual ideas like “minority unionism.” A recent attempt to extrapolate and synthesize the more radical aspects of this brand of unionism into a specific theory of unionism is the “Direct Unionism” document written by several wobblies – http://libcom.org/library/direct-unionism-discussion-paper-09052011 – which emphasizes the idea “direct” unmediated workplace militancy and seeks to develop a theory of unmediated “direct unionism” (hence the name). I’m biased because I know some of the authors personally in addition to sharing a lot of political agreement with them, however, I’d highly recommend this document and the various responses to it. I wouldn’t describe myself as a “direct unionist” personally, and I have some disagreements/criticisms of the paper, but I’ll save most of those for another time.

While there is much in common between them and there’s much to be said for “direct unionism,” let me stress that it is not the same thing as what I’m calling “wildcat unionism.” DU is a fairly specific, prescriptive theory. “Wildcat” unionism is more of a loose description of an “anarchic” “style” of unionism, of which DU and similar theories, and anarcho-syndicalism broadly, could maybe described as a prescriptive political expression. Another thought I’ll add is that I’m using the phrase “anarchic” or “wildcat unionism” also with the assumption that it’s a form of unionism, not just any kind of worker militancy, which make it probably outside the bounds of the more anti-syndicalist folks like many insurrectionary anarchists, the UK Wildcat folks etc.. That said there is a lot in common not just ideologically but in their views of the trade unions, between them which is why you find them floating in the same political circles (libcom) and a lot of commonalities between insurrectionary anarchist organizational practices and direct unionist-type practices (and I testify personally that some people I know in the direct unionist-type milieu are either ex-insurrectionaries or folks who have been influenced by/are interested in certain insurrectionary anarchist ideas). You could also describe all of the above as having an “insurrectionary impulse.”

A bunch of articles, some of which were written by some of the authors of “Direct Unionism,” can be found here: http://forworkerspower.blogspot.com/. This one in particular, written by one of the direct unionism/recomposition folks, gives an example of what I’d call the “insurrectionary impulse” in describing what amounts to a miniature wildcat action by some Canadian postal workers: http://forworkerspower.blogspot.com/2010/10/on-contracts.html. The author’s purpose in the article is to show how an anti-contractual action actually helped strengthen what had been a defunct contract… however, the author’s larger purpose is to question the usefulness of contracts and show how at best they are only as powerful as the rank and file makes them via direct action, while the contract itself actually encourages self-restraining and mediatory practices within the union. I largely, but not entirely, agree with this argument, but the main point of interest is to highlight an example of one of the DU authors invoking a “spontaneous” incident of “wildcat” behavior (militant action by rank-and-file in violation of the union contract) as a microcosmic example of the author’s idea of what distinguishes reformist/business/mainstream/trade/whatever unionism from the author’s ideal vision of what the IWW and similar revolutionary unions should be.

As a last note, interestingly both “anarcho-syndicalism” and “wobble/wobbling” have been used in some instances as descriptions of militant or wildcat-like activities or forms of unionism. [I gotta go back and find it, but I remember an email report back from a Labor Notes conference in which someone asked a question to a union speaker from Mexico about self-organized militant worker actions or something like that, and he responded along the lines of “Yeah we have a tradition of that in Mexico, it’s called anarcho-syndicalism.” And similarly I’ve read that supposedly in some building trades unions the “wobbling” or “wobble” is used to describe certain types of on-the-job wildcat actions over workplace grievances. As one reference for the latter I recently read that in the IWW pamphlet “Think It Over” by Tim Acott, but I vaguely remember reading it somewhere before too.]

Some notes-to-self for further development of this theory:

– compare with anarcho-syndicalist/IWW advocacy of sabotage and what that meant and relation to the “sabot cat”/wildcat image
– research and provide examples of historical IWW wildcat activity and responses to non-IWW organized wildcat strikes
– provide some more examples from libcom circles, maybe, more for contemporary reference
– provide example of wildcat behavior from business unions, just to complicate things
– distinguish wildcat behavior in the IWW from organizational structure, show ways in which “business-like” formal union administrative structures served to either undermine or strengthen/spread wildcat behavior in the union and the class
– research and compare with French CGT and Spanish CNT for revolutionary syndicalist and anarcho-syndicalist unions
– compare with similar phenomena in non-union-specific settings, in particular one example I’m thinking of some stuff from the Makhnovists… guerrilla warfare as a military equivalent? “guerrilla unionism.” quote some stuff about unions and “labor guerrilla warfare” etc..

EDIT

Also, note, this is potentially a good way of explaining the simultaneous hostility of syndicalists to the trade unions while insisting that they are not “competitors” of the trade unions because they are a “totally different type of organization” blah blah blah. I don’t really care for that stuff but it can be viewed as an expression of a desire to be “something different,” not just your “good old-fashioned trade union” and I’m calling that thing a “wildcat union.” And indeed the debates between syndicalist and anti-syndicalist folks on libcom is typically framed around whether there can be some “other type of union” that isn’t like the trade unions, very few folks in those circles ever attempt to defend the trade unions at all. And then there’s the old semantical debates over whether stuff like the IWW, CNT and so on are “real unions” at all. Basically the anti-syndicalists view all unions as mediating agents of capitalism whereas the syndicalists like to believe it’s possible to have non-mediating forms of unionism. Again “Direct Unionism” and recent stuff from SolFed and more longstanding stuff from the CNT being examples of attempts to be non-mediating unions.

Read and analyze this piece: http://www.nestormakhno.info/english/ukraine_uk.htm. I read it a long time ago and remember it being really interesting, and skimming the intro it looks to be even more interesting now than when I read it before.

Also wanna re-read and jot some notes down about conscription in the Makhnovist movement. And some random document citations for entertainment.

A word on Walmart

I didn’t make it to the local Walmart picket, due to work. I’ve been sloppily piecing together what information I can on how the larger Black Friday “strike”/protest action went overall, including some interesting comments here http://libcom.org/blog/black-friday-wal-mart-strikes-analysis-22112012#comments

I’d recommend folks definitely read that whole discussion to get a sense how syndicalist types felt about the day’s actions and the OUR Walmart movement overall.

As a side note I just googled “our walmart” and found this bit of amusement http://ourwalmart.org/

OURWalmart.org is no longer in service.

The union-backed organization which sponsored this domain is not affiliated with Walmart or Sam’s Club and does not represent the company nor its associates.

For factual information about Walmart, including its outstanding career opportunities, visit http://www.walmartstores.com

Apparently OUR Walmart moved to this site http://forrespect.org/

Anyone who is under any illusions about what OUR Walmart is or what it (officially) wants, especially folks who insist on reading into a form of “independent self-organized minority unionism” or whatever the hell, should definitely check the site and especially read the “About Us” page and the “Declaration for Respect.” Apart from the fact that it’s clearly driven and, to large extent, “stage-managed” by UFCW (which is possibly the worst of the worst of the bigger mainstream unions), the vision and values it proudly stands for are a pure expression of labor left “corporatism.”

A point raised in the libcom discussion was that it’s some of the folks commenting were complaining about the lack of confrontation and insistence by the “union police” to be “respectful,” not block entrances etc., which someone replied to that the workers in OUR Walmart had explicitly asked for protesters to be respectful etc., so the “union police” were actually enforcing what the workers asked for. I think that’s a fair enough point. The comrade who made that point also accused the more cynical folks of having a paternalistic analysis because they said it was UFCW-controlled, and something about class consciousness being slow to develop. Well, for one, it is clearly UFCW-controlled, so not sure where the comrade is getting this “paternalism” thing. Yeah some workers are involved and there’s some initiative that happens, that’s always the case. I could say the same about the company I work at, it means nothing. And secondly, class conscious is slow to develop, sure, but this isn’t even a class conscious organization in any meaningful way – it explicitly (in its “program” of sorts) and implicitly (in its actions) is a class collaborationist movement and the vague calls for “input” and warm references to Sam Walton are the pure stuff of corporatism. The most militant thing about it- the “strike”- was borderline farcical. About the only thing about it of any value is that there might be a handful of workers within the handful of workers who make it up in the first place, who actually are militant and class conscious and could give a shit about the company. And if so, OUR Walmart is an awful outlet for those workers’ militancy.

A couple snippets from the discussion.

Heironymous

I hate to sound so pessimistic, but I’m expressing my honest opinion. Unless Saul Alinsky was right about outsiders bringing organizational impetus and consciousness from the outside (an ideology he shared with Lenin), this struggle won’t be driven forward by the agency of Walmart workers themselves but instead will be these vapid spectacles out of the UFCW playbook. It doesn’t matter if it’s Change to Win, AFL-CIO, faith-based groups, or local politicians leading these events because unless the initiative comes from the shopfloor, it will be the same losing strategy unions have been doing for 30 years.

This is clearly completely different from the insurgency of the 1930s. Back then the organizing began with direct action, whether the jobs actions, quickie strikes and wildcats or the militant occupation and defense of whole factories.It was the content of the struggles, not the form of their organizations that was the driving force in the class war. George Rawick sums this up best in this essay “Working Class Self-Activity”:

George Rawick wrote:
The full organization of the major American industries, however, was a mark of the victories, not the cause of the victories, of the American working class. The unions did not organize the strikes; the working class in the strikes and through the strikes organized the unions. The growth of successful organizations always followed strike activity when some workers engaged in militant activities and others joined them. The formal organization – how many workers organized into unions and parties, how many subscriptions to the newspapers, how many political candidates nominated and elected, how much money collected for dues and so forth – is not the heart of the question of the organization of the working class. The statistics we need to understand the labor history of the time are not these. Rather, we need the figures on how many man-hours were lost to production because of strikes, the amount of equipment and material destroyed by industrial sabotage and deliberate negligence, the amount of time lost by absenteeism, the hours gained by workers through the slowdown, the limiting of the speed-up of the productive apparatus through the working class’s own initiative.

syndicalistcat

Hieronymous bitches about marshals preventing people from blocking the store entry. If people had tried to do that, there would have been a confrontation with the police. What Hieronymous didn’t ask himself apparently was, What did the OUR Walmart workers in this store want people to do? In fact they distributed a small leaflet asking people to be respectful. And asking customers to give a solidarity dollar to the checker on the way out. The level of militant conscousness & self-confidence is only just beginning to develop among the workers…that is my sense. They are up against the world’s biggest corporation, and they are still very much a minority union in the workplaces. And when I say “minority union” I don’t just mean the formal organization “OUR Walmart” but also the actual organizing & mutual support & interactions going on among these workers in the stores.

H. quotes George Rawick and makes this summation: “This is clearly completely different from the insurgency of the 1930s. Back then the organizing began with direct action, whether the jobs actions, quickie strikes and wildcats or the militant occupation and defense of whole factories.It was the content of the struggles, not the form of their organizations that was the driving force in the class war.” Actually this is not quite right. Take the first plant occupation, at Hormel. There were already a group of IWW butchers in that plant. There was organizing that had been going on. They would not have been able to get hundreds of workers to bust thru the doors and seize the plant if this had not been gestating for awhile. This is the inaccuracy in H.’s spontaneism.

Both of these comrades are smart, but both are wrong, in my opinion, about several things. Both “H.’s spontaneism” and syndicalistcat’s insistence that this is the beginning development of “militant consciousness” with the workers, in opinion, both speak to real things that are important but are both missing something too. I really don’t care that much about the inside/outside dichotomy folks keep bringing up. As if that’s the issue. If so we should dismantle the IWW, because it’s an “outside organization.” And frankly I’m not against doing “outside actions” sometimes if it gets the desired results. What I do care about is the fact that this isn’t a militant class struggle union. I have no desire for militant class conscious workers to get used by the UFCW, so folks who want to push this thing should push a different, not try to take over OUR Walmart (an organization that has almost nothing in common with syndicalism). And the fact that it’s still weak and small and that it is clearly driven by the UFCW, means there’s little pause for fear of a backlash from the workers.

What strikes me about how some comrades and fellow workers and such are responding to this is basically “aw man, that’s so cool there’s a thing at Walmart, let’s get in on that.” And since they don’t have any organization themselves, they want to shortcut things by getting in with the OUR Walmart campaign, and pretend it’s something other than what it is.

H.’s latest comment includes both some really good more optimistic stuff and a bit of it’s own bullshitting (surprising from H. who is always good for pessmisitic naysaying, but whatever). The good part:

1. Strike by 3 dozen temporary warehouse workers employed by NFI Industries, a Walmart subcontractors, in California’s Inland Empire last September. Strike was over unsafe working conditions, like extremely high temperatures, lack of ventilation and access to drinking water, and broken and dangerous equipment.
2. Strike by 2 dozen temporary Walmart warehouse workers in Elwood, Illinois a week later, obviously in solidarity with the California warehouse workers. They struck over wage theft due to forced overtime, irregular schedules, and the lack of safety equipment. Initially 4 workers circulated a petition and were immediately fired, drawing out the strikers. After 3 weeks on strike, the strikers returned to work with full back pay for the time they were on strike.
3. Days after the victory in Illinois, and given inspiration and confidence by their example, 70+ workers from 9 Walmart stores in California went on a one-day strike on October 4, 2012.

The bullshit part:

I liked the way Staughton Lynd articulated this nascent strike wave in the latest Industrial Worker:

Staughton Lynd wrote:
What it represents is the spread of characteristic Wobbly forms of self-activity to workplaces where those practices arise spontaneously because they speak to the needs and opportunities actually experienced by Walmart workers
Perhaps the best example of a spontaneous class-conscious strike wave spreading down proto-supply chains was the 1877 Great Upheaval Railroad Strike. Hopefully the recent Walmart actions can travel down global supply chains and spark solidarity actions across oceans among Walmart production, transportation, and logistics workers in China, Bangladesh and elsewhere.

I’m particularly surprised by the Staughton Lynd quote which is a classic example of leftist self-projection. I’m not surprised by Lynd saying it but I’m surprised that H. liked the quote so much. The thing about spreading across oceans is fine prescriptively although I’d be surprised if it actually happened that simply. Who knows though, we’ll see.

What should folks do, then?

Well it’d be nice if folks would call things what they are, for a start. As far as what should rev-lefts, syndicalists, wobblies, anarchists etc. do, mainly they should focus on organizing and not get sucked into the OUR Walmart bandwagon. As far as involvement with Walmart workers goes, I’d be a lot happier to see a real militant organization formed rather than see militants sign up into OUR Walmart and attempt to organize via that structure. As it is the warehouse organizing is more divided between a couple different unions, and most of the warehouses and the stores alike are simply unorganized. And where there is organization, in most cases it’s weak.

OUR Walmart itself is probably the purest example of what, in my opinion, UFCW has been attempting for years to become- a company union. The unions, incl UFCW, have been declining for decades and UFCW’s response has been consistently to sacrifice the material interests of its rank and file in pursuit of a lost cause of becoming an unofficial company union. As it turns out that’s hard to do, since it isn’t a company union and the companies don’t want them there, so the union attempts to sell itself to the companies by selling out the workers’ interests. Because it doesn’t have a contract with Walmart, and it’s been unsuccessful it attempts so far to unionize Walmart, now the union is attempting to find an “in” by experimenting an explicitly Walmart-centric wannabe company union that could potentially break into the company in a way that traditional UFCW union drives haven’t.

As far as I see it there are basically two things worth pursuing here. One is economic gains for workers, which OUR Walmart could hypothetically win, but, “we’ll see.” The other is militant class conflict. I highly doubt that most Walmart workers care any more about some kind of pseudo-cooperative arrangement with the company (re:”input”) than do most other workers. What most primarily want is pay. That’s why we work. Appealing to the familial sensibilities of Walmart employees/”associates” is both ideologically gross and a dead-end organizationally. The only thing it points to is a potential partnership (read:crappy sellout) arrangement with Walmart, which would be typical of anything UFCW touches. The other factor that does whip up workers in many cases, is pure and simple class hatred. The bosses suck, the company sucks, and most workers know it. And some who know it and want to “stick it to the man” might get sucked into this campaign, but that doesn’t make it a good a choice of campaign for working class militants to get involved in.

While simple “class hatred” isn’t always ideologically coherent or clean, it’s the stuff of revolution. What’s clear is that when OUR Walmart declares itself “for respect” they mean mutual respect between the company and the workers. While that might be sweet and appeal to the more liberal sensibilities of many folks, it has nothing to offer for working class militants.

EDIT

I just saw this newer post from H., perfectly sums it up.

As Huli pointed out, UFCW has a clear strategy on organizing Walmart. I think it was fully first articulated by UFCW allies like Wade Rathke, who put out “A Wal-Mart Workers Association? An Organizing Plan” around 2005 (published as chapter 12 in Wal-Mart: The Face of Twenty-First-Century Capitalism, edited by Nelson Lichtenstein) [I stand to be corrected if this]. Rathke is the founder of ACORN who recently had to resign over major embezzlement by his brother. He is also the founder of SEIU Local 100 in New Orleans and has been a pioneer in that union (along with former union boss Andy Stern and SEIU staffer Stephen Lerner) of steering away from class struggle and instead building “community alliances,” “corporate campaigns,” boycotts, and media-savvy campaigns — in the model of Justice for Janitors.

Rather than the same failed strategies of class collaboration, Walmart workers need some of the early IWW’s uncompromising class war radicalism if they are to stand any chance with the world’s largest corporation.

One more thing: when the striking Chicago teachers joined a Walmart workers’ picket line in October, the “Chicago Idea” of true working class solidarity seemed to be reborn. Striking Chicago teachers and striking warehouse workers walking the same picket line might put the idea of sympathy strikes back in people’s minds. Even though a real one didn’t happen, Occupy Oakland put “general strike” back on people’s lips. Hopefully wage workers will begin to see these workplace struggles in class terms and we’ll once again have actions based on solidarity and class consciousness. As Chilli’s original post pointed out, this could conceivably happen in defense of workers retaliated against for their actions on Black Friday.

And in my opinion refutes this claim.

Lynd is right that this is the original minority union, direct worker organizing that was a characteristic feature of the IWW in its heyday. Nonetheless, there is still the question of whether the UFCW can capture the organization as it develops.