Sunday, January 30, 2005
Towards a More Flexible Union
I had not heard of Andy Stern or his union but this NYTimes Magazine profile portrays him as a fascinating guy with meglomaniac tendencies (which are, in the end, a prerequiste for a politician, right?) and some innovative ideas to maintain and grow union membership and power. A few choice quotes:
"Last year, while he campaigned as many as six days a week for Kerry and other Democrats, Stern nevertheless undertook a series of actions that infuriated party leaders. First, with his encouragement, the S.E.I.U.'s locals voted to endorse Howard Dean before the primaries. Then Stern gave more than $500,000 to the Republican Governors Association because, he said, some of the G.O.P.'s gubernatorial candidates had better positions for workers. As if that wasn't provocative enough a signal, Stern chose the moment of the Democratic convention in Boston to remark publicly, in an interview with The Washington Post, that it might be better for the party and the unions if John Kerry lost the election."
Stern's 10-point plan would essentially tear down the industrial-age framework of the House of Labor and rebuild it. The A.F.L.-C.I.O., he says, would consist of 20 large unions, and each union would be devoted to a single sector of the 21st-century economy, like health care or airlines. Ever the apostle of field organizing, Stern wants these restructured unions to put more time and resources into recruiting new members in fast-growing exurban areas -- in the South and the West especially -- where a new generation of workers has never belonged to a union.
Stern's big idea for coping with this new kind of multinational nemesis is to build a federation of unions, similar to the A.F.L.-C.I.O. except that its member unions would come from all over the world. As Stern explained it, a French company might not be so brazen about bullying American workers if it had to worry about a French union protesting back home. The point, he said, is to force companies like Sodexho to adhere to the same business standards in New York and Chicago as it does in Paris, by building a labor alliance that is every bit as global as modern capital.