Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A la Nixon: Jimmy Hoffa et al. go to China

When The New York Times interviewed Jimmy Hoffa, Jr. in Shanghai, it reported that, along with other American union leaders, he had come to meet with Chinese union leaders and dine with Communist Party officials. Not that they intended to collaborate with the state-controlled unions but, said Hoffa, "I think a dialogue with them is very constructive. You can't ignore a union that claims to have 100 million workers." The whole 10-day visit was a project of Andy Stern's Change to Win Coalition. The SEIU was there, and Greg Tarpinian, formerly a Hoffa PR rep and now CtoW executive director, was spokesman. It is not likely that Hoffa and C to W hoped to learn from the "dialogue" how they, too, could organize 100 million workers. The Chinese unions, as creatures of the government, enjoy a prefabricated, involuntary membership, a system that is not likely to be duplicated in the United States.

It is curious. What were they doing in China, intermingling with figures and forces so powerful in our global economy? One possible explanation is their hope that somehow some of that power will rub off on them. Or at least lend them the aura of power.

The whole thing seems like another product of the fertile, protean, and somewhat eccentric mind of Andy Stern, president of the SEIU and guiding genius of the Change to Win Coalition. He is preoccupied with creating a new powerful force in America. With a growing base among America's most downtrodden, the unskilled, the immigrants, the minorities, who constitute the growing sector of service workers, he hopes --- by not annoying the captains of industry with individual grievances --- to add them in a not quite defined plan to save the American economy. And to join with Wal-Mart to bring medical insurance --- not quite defined --- to all.

Alan Murray reported in The Wall Street Journal (5/30) that Stern is now cultivating relations with private buyout CEOs. "Mr. Stern told me in an interview," writes Murray, "that he much prefers working with the buyout kings than with their public-company counterparts. 'I've been incredibly impressed,' he said, sharing his impressions of the men, 'Compared with most of my meetings with company CEOs, these men are much more businesslike and have much more understanding of what we are trying to accomplish.'" Just what is Stern trying to accomplish?

And now, somehow to add to the putative mixture, a possible connection with the fastest growing power on earth, the Chinese, what a formidable combination of POWER!

Power for what precisely? That's an open question.

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