WHY CBS FEATURED ANDY STERN
By ALAN BENJAMIN
ON SUNDAY MAY 14 Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), appeared in a 15-minute segment of "60 Minutes" - the widely watched CBS program. It is not every day that a major TV channel features a portrait of a trade union leader.
During the interview, Stern - who was characterized by Lesly Stahl as "labor's savior" - said that unions must conform to globalization by seeking partnerships with giant corporations. For the past year, Stern has been repeating this theme ad nauseam.
In an interview published by Epoch Times last February 27, for example, Stern stated: "SEIU's goal for 2006 is to go global and to bring unions and corporations together as partners, not enemies. I think that what we're going to see happen within ten years, if not sooner, is a convergence of a global labor movement."
Stern continued: "Employers need to recognize that the world has changed and there are people who would like to help them provide solutions in ways that are new, modern and that add value to companies. ... A partnership between labor and corporations would be a step towards the intended goal."
Then, addressing himself directly to the trade union movement, Stern added:
"On the other side of the coin, union members have to understand that companies are not their enemy, but must think about increasing shareholders' wealth. ... Labor should ask itself, 'how can I contribute to meeting those [shareholders'] expectations in a way that also meets mine'?"
Not Just Rhetoric
For Stern, this is not just rhetoric. His first main project as a "labor savior" has been to build a "partnership" with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Tyson Foods and Walmart known as the Essential Workers Immigrant Coalition (EWIC). Together with these "partners," Stern and SEIU drafted the outlines of what would become the McCain-Kennedy "immigration reform" bill - the essentially anti-immigration bill that was approved earlier this year by the Senate in a slightly amended form.
But this "corporate partnership" - at least in its most visible guise of EWIC and pro-corporate "immigration reform" - is being more and more challenged within Stern's own union. In early June, for example, the Economic and Social Justice Caucus of SEIU Local 790 voted to endorse the statement by the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR), which is in direct opposition to Stern and the McCain-Kennedy bill. Many other SEIU locals also have taken positions at odds with the SEIU leadership on the immigration reform issue.
Stern is being given this publicity because his message is the one the bosses and the corporate sponsors of "60 Minutes" want us to hear. Prime-time TV for a union leader doesn't just happen by accident. Never has, never will in capitalist America.
Stern, not surprisingly, is a big promoter of the upcoming international trade union merger between the ICFTU (of which the AFL-CIO is a member) and the Christian-based World Confederation of Labor.
This upcoming merger will take place openly in support of a "partnership" agenda with the global corporations. This will transform the ICFTU from an international trade union confederation with a bureaucratic misleadership into an openly "corporatist" anti-union outfit, much like the European Trade Union Confederation - which is a construct of the European Union bosses, not a body that emanates from the labor movement itself.
"Undermining Union's Mission"
Stern's role, self-confessed, is to drive this "partnership" agenda not only for the Change to Win coalition but for the entire labor movement. That's why Stern keeps hammering away at John Sweeney and the AFL-CIO leadership for holding to the "outdated concept of class struggle" - which, alas, is ever so far from the truth.
Stern is pushing to throw in the union towel altogether, to transform the unions from instruments defending workers' interests (which they still remain, despite the policies of the labor bureaucracy at their summit) into instruments to undermine and attack workers' interests.
That is why the defense of trade union independence, of the basic concept of trade unionism, must begin with an open rejection of Stern's so-called "New Unionism." In this sense, RoseAnn De Moro of the California Nurses Association was right on the mark when she told Lesly Stahl of "60 Minutes" that Stern's "partnerships with giant corporations would result in undermining a union's prime mission to defend and advance the interests of its members."
"Unions," De Moro said, "would have to make enormous concessions to get corporations to accept them as junior partners, to the detriment of their members."
This must be our message, as well, as we fight - slowly but surely - to reclaim the unions from all proponents of "partnerships" with the multinationals and from all proponents of support to the Democratic Party, which is the other side of this "partnership" coin.
[Note: The preceding article is reprinted from the UNITY & INDEPENDENCE supplement of the Summer 2006 issue of The Organizer newspaper.]