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August 01, 2004

NY Times on Union Discord

Steven Greenhouse gives a bit of a blow by blow of the internal debate by unions on the future of the labor movement.

Some want leaders like SEIU's Andy Stern to shut up until after the election, but part of the problem is that people have been "shutting up" about such internal debates for two long. As Bruce Raynor, president of the newly merged Unite Here union of garment and hotel workers, argues:

The labor movement needs to confront these issues, but not in a backroom," Mr. Raynor said. "We're not the Kremlin. It's not like people don't know that our ability to protect American workers has been weakened. We have to turn that around, and to some degree that debate has to be done publicly."
And we can walk and chew gum at the same time, mobilize for the November election, while debating who will head the AFL-CIO next year-- and more importantly, what policies the movement should adopt to get stronger.

Once upon a time, internal union debates were the bread and butter of the larger left and liberal political milieu. What Walter Reuther was doing-- or not doing-- at the United Auto Workers galvinized vigrous debate far beyond the shop floor of General Motors. What the John L. Lewis and the mineworkers were planning was a fixture.

I don't necessarily agree with everything Andy Stern says, but I'm damn glad he's saying it, since he's forcing people to think about these issues. Waiting for the "appropriate time" is usually a recipe for it not being discussed at all.

That these internal debates are appearing in national newspapers by itself justifies Stern's "gaffe," since the newspapers wouldn't even discuss such issues except in the context of an election story.

If I have a plea to fellow bloggers and other progressives, it's that they take these debates seriously and discuss them vigorously at "the appropriate time." The fact that they haven't in the past is why Stern needed to bring it up now.

Posted by Nathan at August 1, 2004 10:27 AM