US Labor’s Civil War in California

Especially for United Voice unionists: again, I post on the SEIU Service Employees International Union – this time on the NUHW Healthcare Workers’ Rebellion.

When in the US recently, I wanted to find out what are the developments with the SEIU. One unionist I met is Carl Winslow.

I read his book Labor’s Civil War in California: The NUHW Healthcare Workers’ Rebellion. What the SEIU has been up to is clearly not at all good for unionists, so read this book – see below.

But, I first go to my expereinces with US unionism. In the 1990’s, in Los Angeles I visited SEIU’s winning Justice for Janitors campaign and in Washington met Andy Stern the famous SEIU leader. So, after the Swedish unionism model was rejected by Australian unions in the 1970s, we turned to US unionism. I accepted the SEIU ‘organising model’ and ‘social unionism’. As a former “Missos” leader for 10 years and then at the United Trades and Labor Council of SA for 17 years, along with Australian union leaders, ACTU officials Bill Kelty and the Executive, “Organising Works” was implemented. One dominant unionist we followed was Michael Crosby. If you haven’t, read his influential book “Power at Work Rebuilding the Australian Union Movement”. Michael Crosby was a fomer MEAA Secretary, then at the ACTU, and then he worked for the SEIU and is now back as President of the United Voice and Director of campaigns e.g Clean Start etc).

Australian unions have implemented the ‘US model’for 20 years.

I returned to the US in 2007 and met again US unions and wrote this:

http://chriswhiteonline.org/2008/09/usa-unions-surviving-2007-report/

I was pleased to meet Josie Mooney the veteran SEIU leader in San Francisco and accepted her invitation to spend time with the SEIU.

I met David Bacon veteran unionist and writer and reprinted his review on US unions below and his writings on immigrant labour.
http://chriswhiteonline.org/2009/09/unions-must-move-left/

In 2011, back in San Francisco meeting unionists, I then read Steve Early’s book “The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor Birth of a New Workers’ Movement or Death Throes of the Old?”
I talked to other union leaders who agreed with Steve Early’s critical analysis of the SEIU – ‘a union culture that privileges control over the practice of democracy’.

I began to reexamine our past union practice. I posted this

http://chriswhiteonline.org/2011/09/lessons-for-australian-unions/

I met Steve Early on this 2012 trip and learnt more about the challenges facing US unions, including the “Wisconsin Uprising” where he has a chapter in the must read book from Monthly Review Press (see the extracts). Australian unionists were excited with the ACTU Congress report here
http://chriswhiteonline.org/2012/05/us-union-winning-struggles-in-ohio-and-wisconsin/

See also some of Steve’s writings in the Huffington Post here
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-early/

I add that strong union I meet in san Francisco is the ILWU – but more later of their union struggles employing the solidarity idea of “An Injury to One is an Injury to All”.

This post is about Carl Winslow’s new book on the SEIU. Please buy the updated edition June 2012:
Labor’s Civil War in California: The NUHW Healthcare Workers’ Rebellion

“This book examines one of the most important labor conflicts in the United States today. In 2006 and 2007, disputes developed concerning the practice and direction of the 150,000 member healthcare workers union in California, United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW), with its “parent” organization, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

SEIU is the second largest union in the US, the fastest growing in recent years. It is a well-organized, well-financed organization, with an ambitious agenda.

SEIU perspectives, while packaged as progressive, reject traditional union traditions and practices – union democracy and the idea of “class struggle” are replaced with class collaboration, and the union frequently “wheels and deals” directly with top management and politicians.

In 2007 UHW rejected these perspectives and contested them within the union.

The SEIU international leadership retaliated by placing UHW in trusteeship, firing its officers, seizing its assets, and taking control of all union’s activities.

UHW leaders and members responded by forming a new union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) and challenging the SEIU in virtually every unionized site in the state.

This California conflict—SEIU vs. NUHW—is no local brawl; it is not about personalities, it is not about West Coast eccentricities.

Its significance is not confined to the fortunes of just one particular union. SEIU’s attack, however regrettable, is not the first such—nor will it be the last.

The truth is that labor has always been divided, comprised of many currents. The truth is also that there are rights and wrongs in labor, as elsewhere, and that these can expose fundamental divides—in this case two contesting souls in the workers’ movement.

These are sharply on display today in this dispute—the one soul authoritarian, top-down, collaborationist, the other bottom-up, rank-and-file, class conscious.”

(Taken from http://www.lastearthdistro.net/ap_carl_winslow.html)

In his book you will find how the SEIU sues the left UHW official for millions of dollars! And more.

The SEIU uses the necessity of “United Voice” as its very mode of organisation.

Cal Winslow is an active supporter of the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), believing that “an injury to one is an injury for all.” He writes first-hand accounts of their battles for CounterPunch. He is an historian trained at Antioch College and Warwick University, at Warwick under the direction of the late Edward Thompson. He is a coauthor with Thompson and others of Albion’s Fatal Tree (Penguin and Pantheon, 1975). He edited “Waterfront Workers: New Perspectives on Race and Class” (University of Illinois Press, 1998) and coedited “Rebel Rank and File: Labor Militancy and Revolt from the Below in the Long 1970s”. (Verso 2010). He is a coeditor with Iain Boal, Janferie Stone and Michael Watts of the forthcoming “West of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California” (PM Press 2011). More here

As NUHW Files For Huge Hospital Election, A Member Reflects on Labor’s Civil War in California
By David Mallon
LaborNotes.org

“Labor’s Civil War in California could be an essential element in the redundancy protections of democratic unionism. It should be read by every union member.

It should be carried in their hip pocket, to be pulled out and referenced every time there is the slightest whiff of corruption rising from the employer or the union hierarchy.

If we have learned anything over the past three years, it is that unions can get too big, when they are corrupted by the bosses, to maintain or revive integrity.”

And aslo: “The emergence of NUHW has been one of the most exciting recent developments in US labor. From the ashes of the old, health care workers in California are trying to build something that’s new, different, and definitely worth fighting for. Cal Winslow’s account of their difficult struggle is moving and insightful-—and maybe even a road map for others to follow.”
–Steve Early, labor activist and journalist, author of Embedded with Organized Labor

“Highly informative. And the spirit is invigorating.”
Noam Chomsky

“The civil war inside the SEIU is a tragic story, yet as Cal Winslow emphasizes in this urgent and dramatic account, it may contain the seeds of authentic renewal in the American labor movement.”
–Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz

“I am a witness to how hard these workers have fought to have their own organization, to have the quality organization and the high standards they have won. I want to commend these workers and the high quality of their leadership – I have worked with them for years. I understand why they are fighting so hard now to rebuild their organization, now the NUHW. This is a book that that everyone needs to read…”
–Dolores Huerta

“Strange tales from the gothic wing of the capitalist health industry, complete with vampires and leeches. In this instant classic of journalism from below, one of the pioneers of radical social history reports on remarkable signs of life in the morbid body of American labor.”
–Iain Boal, Retort

So, I ask has the SEIU model been the best for Australian unions?

Arguably Australian unions have survived better than the US unions – the Kelty reforms worked: the national MUA is Here to Stay beat back Howard’s and Reith’s failed attempt to destroy Australian unions: workers just survived WorkChoices: and politically our internationally renown Your Rights at Work was decisive in the return of an ALP government and “laborism” lives and we have the Fair Work regime.

But arguably no.

Have unions really reformed?

Well, let’s debate the union membership figures. Has the ‘Organising model” worked?

Let’s debate the ACTU’s failure to campaign to get a better “Fair Work Act” from Gillard. Where is the mass campaign over the new Shorten review? What is the strategy to win the most important of the ACTU policies in the Secure Jobs campaign. Unions campaigned to abolish the powers of the ABCC but many still remain. Have we got improvements in the national OHS laws?

Let’s debate our inability for workers to employ as our main weapon the force of a strike. See http://chriswhiteonline.org/2011/10/on-strikes-and-their-revival/

And what of the fall-out from the HSU!!!!! No doubt Abbott will use this scandal to attack all union leaders!!!!!

Let’s debate whether public sector workers and their unions are in a position to win against the resurgent anti-union Liberal state governments and Abbott as PM.

Are all unions in a position to respond to class attacks like the CFMEU in the Grocon dispute?

Is the Australian unions embedded into “laborism” and the Gillard government the only way to go?

Let’s debate whether a better model than “SEIU corporate unionism” is membership based militant class unionism.

All I am saying we have to have the debate that is occuring in the US.

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