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June 23, 2004

More on Stern Labor Speech

If you read the text of Andy Stern's speech at the SEIU National Convention, the vision he lays out for remaking the labor movement is somewhat breathtaking in its sweep.

He starts with calls to continue remaking over SEIU itself into a union that can negotiate nationally against its corporate opponents:

For SEIU’s first 60 years the responsibility to change our member’s lives depended almost entirely on local unions...

The local union independence that once made sense in a more localized world
needs to give way to a new interdependence with new roles and responsibilities to achieve an old goal to improve the lives of our members and all working families.

It starts with Industry Strength - long term plans to create truly national unions in each of our four divisions which yesterday you all signed pledges in your Division to carry out...

Today we are a bookend union. 60 percent of our US members are in just two states California and New York...At this convention, I will ask you to approve a United Strategy for Strength – so members in other states can gain the power members now have in NY and California and so we can start building the new strength we need in the South and the Southwest - until the day comes when every state is colored in purple!

Stern next turned to discussing how the union can help remake the larger labor movement, especially the AFL-CIO:

Next June, the AFLCIO will celebrate its 50th anniversary. At the time it was established, one out of three workers in the U.S. was in a union...Today, with only 1 in 12 workers in the private sector in unions and less than 1 in 8 workers in unions overall, non-union wages in companies like WalMart are dragging everyone down.

But the AFL-CIO is a loose trade association of 65 separate and autonomous unions instead of a strong, united organization.

It's a structure that divides workers' strength by allowing each union to organize in any industry, then bargain on their own even when workers share common employers...

And, sisters and brothers, it is time and it is so long overdue that we join with our union allies and either transform the AFL-CIO or build something stronger that can really change workers’ lives.

The latter alternative is reference to the New Unity Partnership that Stern and a number of other unions have been talking about building to support multi-union organizing campaigns.

But then Stern takes his vision to the whole world, discussing how the union movement needs to go global to take on global multinationals:

Today’s global corporations have no permanent home, recognize no national borders, and salute no flag but their own corporate logo and take their money to anywhere where they can make the most – and pay the least.

Maybe you've heard of the multiservice outsourcing industry or know the industries largest companies, Sodexho based in France operating in 76 countries; Compass, based in Great Britain, operating in 90 countries; or, Aramark now based in the U.S. but already operating in 19 countries around the world...

So today I am asking you, SEIU’s 21st century leaders, to decide to go where no union has ever gone before to authorize SEIU to pursue alliances that will build the first truly global union in world history….

A global union with the strength to win global agreements from global employers, and unite workers who do the same type of work whether in Albany, NY or Adelaide, Australia, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan or Stockholm, Sweden, San Juan, Puerto Rico or Sao Paulo, Brasil.

To our union allies who are here from around the world I ask that we join forces to learn from each other and replace old, outdated, weak International relationships with real strategies and real unity.

As for Wal-Mart itself, Stern called for a new unity between the labor movement and non-union workers and community members presently without a union contract:
As for WalMart, at this Convention I am asking you to help create a new global campaign—WalMart. No Bargain! that explains to the world that WalMart’s low prices cost too much - they cost workers too much, and small businesses, communities, and nations too much...

So I will be asking you to make a 1 million dollar investment from SEIU to start up a new network of workers and communities, united to bring WalMart’s standards up instead of bringing everyone else’s down.

At this Convention, you will be asked to approve a report of our Social and Economic Justice Committee to strengthen our work in our communities with a focus on two core issues that affect us all...

We also need to draw strength from the new forms of “community” that are developing because of the Internet – which is connecting millions of people who want to take action and get involved...

We need those people to be part of our movement

So I am asking you to authorize SEIU to create Purple Ocean, the world’s first “open source,” virtual union with a goal of uniting one million more people who want to join our campaigns for justice.

Between our Internet linked community and our current members and community allies, we're going to build the biggest movement for social and economic justice the world has ever seen.

And of course in an election, he raised new initiatives to build political power for union members:
This year, our purple political army led by two thousand and four fulltime "Heroes" backed up by 50,000 purple volunteers is the largest mobilization by any single organization in the history of American politics...

So I am asking you at this convention to set up a new political action fund to be used solely for two purposes. First, to support elected officials who our members say have shown unusual courage in standing up for working people.

And second, to take those who looked us in the eye and said they were for us but then went out and betrayed us. It’s time, no matter who they are or what party they come from, to pay them back.

At the end of the speech, Stern then evokes the oldest rhetoric of the labor movement, paraphrasing Solidarity Forever plus a bit of a Kennedyesque challenge:
We can bring to earth a new world from the ashes of the old because our union transforms us the powerless into the powerful. And I ask you to join together in using all that power – all that strength to make the dreams of all workers and communities around the world come true.

And if not us then who?

And if not now, then when?

This is a speech by the leader of one of the largest membership-run institutions in the world, an organization that spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year organizing. For anyone concerned about social change, it's worth paying attention.

Posted by Nathan at June 23, 2004 05:25 AM