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Reflections on a Rigged SEIU Convention

Started by Monty Reed Kroopkin, June 07, 2008, 12:50:47 am

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Monty Reed Kroopkin

Here is the comment I posted at the Seattle Times in response to the article "SEIU's New Political Plan"
Many other reports on this convention are now compiled at http://www.seiuvoice.org/article.php?list=type&type=4
Please forward this to appropriate labor and social justice discussion listservs and bulletin boards and publications:
Out of more than 10,000 members of SEIU Local 221 (in San Diego), only 56 voted for our convention delegates. More members signed my delegate candidate nominating petition! A committee of our provisional local's appointed executive board engineered this tiny low turnout by simply not telling the membership where and when to vote. Most of the people voting were members and friends of the unelected e-board members who wanted to make sure they got themselves "elected" to go to the convention in Puerto Rico. They clearly enjoy having power and keeping it. They all say they believe in union democracy.
But actions speak louder than words. All over SEIU these undemocratic, indeed, these anti-union actions are speaking so loudly that we can hardly hear ourselves think.
We pulled out of the AFL-CIO and split the labor movement in North America, but I was never asked to vote on it. I, and probably most of SEIU, would have voted "NO" because dividing the labor movement, instead of building greater unity, is the most stupid thing we could possibly do. The membership was never asked.
My old local, Local 535 in California, was broken up and we were forced to join 4 new locals, all with unelected e-boards and officers. But Local 535 never voted to do that. A tiny fraction of the members of all the locals statewide even voted. Votes were not counted local by local. Restructuring in California did not result in a rational, single statewide public workers local. The rhetoric of increasing bargaining strength through consolidation is just rhetoric. 535 was already a statewide local, and it would have made sense to merge all the smaller locals to form one powerful statewide local, with proper attention to autonomy of community-level chapters and district councils. But 535 was one of the largest, most democratic and powerful local unions in SEIU. I think that is why Andy Stern and his faction wanted us broken up - to eliminate a power base that was not in his pocket. Our union dues and staff time was devoted to "selling" a "yes" vote on the statewide restructuring. No money was spent to give members pro and con ballot information. This was immoral.
When we were forced to join Local 221 on 3/1/07, Stern's "personal representative", Marc Earls, promised us a constitutional convention within 6 months, and new elections. Today, we still have unelected leadership. I have even heard the excuse that the members are not "ready" for a constitutional convention. Translation: Stern's unelected team does not trust the members. E-board meetings are held in secret. Members are not even told the names and contact info of e-board members. Stewards cannot get a roster of our fellow stewards. Dissident rank and file leaders are kicked off union-management committees without any vote or hearing, or passed over when new committee members are appointed. Our contracts and our labor laws are not enforced. Our unelected leaders enjoy many trips, on our dues tab, and stay in fancy hotels. We have an unelected committee holding secret meetings to write a new constitution. They don't even call it a constitution committee. They call it a "bylaws" committee. Corporations are governed by "bylaws". Unions are governed by constitutions. This is a symbol of what is wrong.
All over SEIU hundreds of elected local union leaders have been replaced by Stern's hand-picked appointees. It is like a coup in progress. Stern tells the world it all is to organize the unorganized and strengthen the labor movement. But the methods are destructive of the goals. Vast numbers of members now sneer at the idea that SEIU is even a real union. They think it is becoming a company union: Suck-ups and Employers for an Invisible Union (the new "SEIU"). How many more secret sweetheart deals has Andy Stern made with major employers, and which remain unexposed to the union membership and to the world? Has Stern made secret deals with the government also?
Long before we coined the word "union" workers held meetings and democratically decided how to act in unison toward our employers. That is where the word "union" comes from: unity, built on democracy of, by, and for workers. Somewhere along the way unions started to hire staff to help with the work. Somewhere along the way people started to think of the staff as the union, instead of the members. Power corrupts.
Some union staff and officers think they know what is best for workers. What is best for workers, all over the world, can only be decided democratically by workers. Democracy is not just a tyranny of majority rule, but requires respect for the right of the minority to freely advocate for the majority to change its mind. A democratic union does not fire staff who disagree with a 'party line', and does not purposely shut out a dissident minority from meetings, from contract negotiation teams, from conventions. A democratic union does not rig elections and conventions.
The bosses have long had the tactic of grooming labor bosses to do their bidding, to tie our hands behind our backs, to keep us thinking and acting like wage-slaves. We workers have, time and again, found the will and the ways to push them out of our way.
A democratic labor movement is still the future, the destiny of humanity.
In solidarity from San Diego,
Monty Reed Kroopkin,
SEIU shop steward
and organizer for S.M.A.R.T. - SEIU Member Activists for Reform Today http://www.reformseiu.org/