The Democratic Party is struggling to redefine itself in the wake of its decisive defeat in the November elections, a drubbing that not only saw the party fail to unseat President George W. Bush but saw it lose seats in both houses of Congress to the Republicans. A similar struggle is going on inside one of the Democrat's core constituencies: organized labor. Radical activists groups like Moveon.org are calling for the party to move to the Left; in fact, MoveOn recently declared it owned the Democratic Party. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is playing the same role within the AFL-CIO, and the proposed hostile takeover threatens to place all of the nation's unions on the side of the fifth column Left and illegal immigration -- or to split organized labor apart.
Organized labor is already firmly within the ranks of the Democratic Party, but the SEIU represents the hard Left politics of the Hate America Left. At the SEIU's national convention last June (held in San Francisco), the union voted to end the U.S. "occupation of Iraq" and to bring U.S. troops home, in a resolution approved unanimously by nearly 4,000 delegates. The resolution accused the Bush administration of using "deception, lies and false promises to the American people and the world" to launch a "unilateral, pre-emptive war" in Iraq, causing the death of thousands of Iraqis and costing taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars that could be spent on social programs. The resolution aligned SEIU with the mission statement of U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW), a national network of more than 70 radical "labor" organizations, including 19 of SEIU's local unions (the second largest contingent of unions are 16 locals from the American Federation of Teachers). The SEIU called for "the redirecting of the nation's resources from inflated military spending to meeting the needs of working families for health care, education, a clean environment, housing and a decent standard of living."
"The SEIU is the only national labor organization to speak out so unequivocally against the war in Iraq. The AFL-CIO and most of its affiliates have had an unwritten policy of totally ignoring Afghanistan, Iraq and the war on terrorism." wrote Harry Kelber in The Labor Educator (June 30, 2004). Kelber, a labor activist since the 1930s, has been a severe critic of the lack of radicalism in the AFL-CIO. A major theme of his series of newsletter articles entitled "AFL-CIO's Dark Past" is that the American labor movement has usually supported U.S. foreign policy, especially during the Cold War. According to Kelber,"Union members were never told how, in their name, AFL-CIO leaders meddled into the internal affairs of dozens of countries, attacking indigenous labor unions and destabilizing nationalist movements that would not conform to America's global ambitions." That many of these so-called "indigenous labor unions" were Communist front groups or the creatures of Communist regimes is not mentioned.
Among the links on the SEIU website is one to LaborNet, an organization founded in 1991 to build a "democratic communication network for the labor movement." The site bills itself in much the same way that SEIU does, claiming "only on LaborNet will you find a point of view that is independent (and critical) of official Labor yet sympathetic to it. Our selections are idiosyncratic yet consistently grounded in working class priorities."
LaborNet, active in "antiwar" demonstrations, plans to protest at President George W. Bush's inauguration on behalf of Communists, terrorists, and Islamist radicals. It declares "A War Criminal Will be Inaugurated on January 20 and the People will Protest." What follows is an endorsement of International ANSWER's plan for a mass demonstration in Washington, D.C., during the inauguration. It claims that the Bush administration is "fully exposed for its destruction of Fallujah...The U.S. military strategy and its rules of engagement in Fallujah constitute a crime against humanity and war crimes as recognized by the Nuremberg Trial and the Geneva Convention. Targeting hospitals, clinics and ambulances, the U.S. forces tried to destroy everything...Our demonstrations will be a powerful statement in solidarity with all those who are under attack by the Bush administration -- from Cuba to Palestine to Haiti to the Philippines to Iran and elsewhere." Of course, no mention was made of the torture chambers and terrorist bomb factories rooted out by U.S. and terrorists killed in Fallujah. Undoubtedly many of the SEIU rank-and-file (not to mention its leadership) will fill out the crowd.
SEIU, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) endorsed Howard Dean for the Democratic presidential nomination at the height of Dean's antiwar campaign. Even after Dean withdrew from the race, Stern continued to praise him, saying last February 18, "We understand and respect his decision to stop pursuing the presidency, but Howard Dean's ‘campaign for change' is far greater than a bid for the White House. His legacy will be felt well beyond SEIU's members or even this election. Ordinary Americans, working families, and the Democratic Party all owe a huge debt to Governor Dean, for his candidacy has had a monumental effect on American politics and our nation's values. SEIU holds no regrets." Stern then publicly questioned whether unions should leave the Democratic Party in pursuit of an overtly radical splinter party. With Dean considering running for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, SEIU could take its reform campaign beyond the AFL-CIO directly to top of its chosen political party.
The SEIU is the lead member of the New Unity Partnership, which also includes the Laborers' International Union of North America, the Union of Needletrade, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE), the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HERE), and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. A key feature of the New Unity Partnership is the high percentage of immigrant workers they represent, including large numbers who are in the United States illegally. The SEIU has stressed the need "to build a powerful, new immigrant electorate." The SEIU strategy is to win a complete amnesty for illegal aliens to pave the way for their recruitment as left-wing voters. As one of the SEIU's ten points in its plan, it states, "The AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions must be leaders in demonstrating that regardless of the color of your skin, the language that you speak, or your age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or immigration status, you are empowered to play an active role as a member or leader."
With labor union membership dropping from a high of 35 percent of the work force in 1955, to only 13 percent today (and a mere 8 percent of workers in the private sector), SEIU sees immigrant workers as a new recruiting field. Since many of these workers are in the United States illegally, SEIU must promise more than higher pay and benefits, especially since the ability to gain such improvements in working conditions is very difficult in the low skill, menial sectors of the economy where SEIU concentrates. Among the achievements SEIU cites are: helping pass a law in California that would allow immigrants to receive a driver's license (blocked by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger); conducting driver's license campaigns in Illinois, Texas, and Massachusetts; working for state and federal legislation allowing eligible students, regardless of immigration status, to apply for federal scholarships and in-state tuition rates; and leading a successful effort in Minnesota to preempt proposed federal legislation that would empower state and local law police to detain illegal aliens.
SEIU's real aim is to build a larger political base for left-wing politics, so the union created the Center for Immigrant Democracy and Organization of Los Angeles Workers, which mounted a voter registration and citizenship drive all across the country leading up to the November election. "To win legalization [of illegal aliens], we need to build a powerful, new immigrant electorate and to succeed, we have to create a new dynamic of civic participation and empowerment in our communities." proclaims the SEIU. The union opposes President Bush's immigration reform plan because as a "guest workers program" it does not put illegal immigrants on a fast track to the polling booth.
The New Unity Partnership is promoting what it considers to be a visionary movement that will spearhead larger political, social and cultural change that goes beyond just organizing members and negotiating labor contracts. This drive reflects the Ivy League educational background of many of the NUP leaders. Stern is a graduate of Penn State. Bruce Raynor of UNITE has his degree from Cornell, and John Wilhelm of HERE is a Yale alum. According to an L.A. Times article by Richard Hurd, one union president has said the Ivy Leaguers take a condescending tone with their blue collar brethren.United Steelworkers of America President Leo Gerard agreed with the sentiment, saying, "I don't need a lecture about mergers." Many of these elitist union "leaders" cut their teeth in the New Left campus protests of the 1960s, before entering active labor organizing in the (early) 1970s.
When the AFL-CIO leadership met a week after the elections, SEIU President Andrew L. Stern presented a bold 10-point plan – called "Unite to Win" – to change the labor movement's priorities and structure. The key structural change is to reduce the number of independent unions from the current 65 to roughly 20, concentrated by industry. This would decrease internal competition and strengthen their membership's united voice within those areas. SEIU plan states: "The need to adapt the labor movement for the 21st century has been discussed for years, but previous leaders failed to act, and workers paid the price. American workers cannot afford to wait any longer."
This proposal has gotten the most media attention and sparked the most resistance within the AFL-CIO, as many independent unions are wary of such a concentration of power. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers has already threatened to withdraw from the AFL-CIO if the SEIU proposals are adopted. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney assigned a committee to review the restructuring proposals, along with ideas from other affiliated unions. He said the issue would be on the table when the union presidents meet in February in Los Angeles.
Sweeney had been the president of the SEIU before his elevation to head the entire AFL-CIO in 1995. Stern hopes to succeed Sweeney, even if that means pushing his old mentor out the door in the process.
More important to the future of the labor movement, and to American politics, is not the structure of the AFL-CIO but the values and programs it chooses to support. Stern and the SEIU have complained -- wrongly -- that the rest of the labor movement has not chosen to fight the "global corporations [that] have won trade agreements that make it easier for them to move production from place to place, while providing no rights to help workers improve pay, working conditions, and job security." In truth, the industrial unions within the AFL-CIO have mounted strong campaigns in Congress to oppose free trade agreements, most favored nation trading status for China, and "fast track" legislative procedures (which would prevent Congress from amending trade agreements to include protections for domestic industry). It has been union pressure that has turned the Democratic Party solidly against new trade negotiations.
The industrial unions, however, no longer represent the majority of union members, much less the average worker. Thus the plight of laid off factory workers and a declining industrial sector is not the top priority of the movement. SEIU is a case in point. Its 1.7 members come mainly from the heath care and government employee sectors, along with janitors and security guards. Their members are not involved in manufacturing which is the main battlefield in the global economy. The American labor movement has looked to the service sector for its growth; recruiting among government workers at all levels, teachers, school administrators, postal workers, police, fire-fighters, and even musicians, writers, actors, and athletes. The "hard hats" and factory workers which the public associates with unions are in a distinct minority in the AFL-CIO. What best serves the interest of the majority of organized labor today is not the economic strength of the private sector from which higher wages and benefits could flow, but the expansion of the public sector and the social service financed by the welfare state.
Given the large concentration of health care workers in its membership, it is not surprising that SEIU's top priority is that the "AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions and allies should unite behind an all-out national strategy to win access to quality health care for all. The AFL-CIO should lead a grassroots campaign for this purpose with dedicated funding, campaign staff, and other necessary resources." The Bush administration's creation of a prescription drug benefit in Medicare, with an unfunded liability of at least $534 billion over the next ten years, gained no points from SEIU as it does not put any money into the hands of its members.
By substituting leftist ideology for work floor pragmatism, Stern and his allies are not just radicalizing the Democratic Party in the name of "the working man." They are attempting to build their political base on an alien "alienated proletariat," instead of aiding the blue-collar middle class, who above all else wish to own homes and company stock -- and who often dream of going into business themselves. Such a change will not help them achieve their dreams; it will hinder that. But it could pose a danger to the nation's core values, institutions and even our very security.