Thursday, February 14, 2008

Super-bureaucratization in SEIU: for and against

By Herman Benson

In resigning from the executive committee of the SEIU, Sal Rosselli, president of the 140,000-member United Healthcare Workers of California has made serious charges of lack of democracy in the SEIU.

As a member of the international executive committee he was bound to keep those criticisms within the limits of that tiny group. He resigns from the committee in order to be free to speak out beyond those few paid officials to the broad membership. His resignation is therefore a sign of how serious he feels those charges are. His misgivings are echoed in communications we have received from SEIU members in locals around the country.

In a long reply to Rosselli, three member of the executive committee evade those criticisms. They take refuge in recounting “four historic changes that have taken place in our union since 1996.” It is a recapitulation of how they hope to organize and reorganize the SEIU to serve the American working class. In effect, their presumed achievements and their promises to forge ahead are presented as a justification for a super bureaucratization of the American labor movement. But organizing is no obstacle to democratizing. Quite the contrary.

In the last great drive to organize, the CIO faced a far more powerful, more centralized, and more resistant employer adversary than the SEIU will ever encounter. Nevertheless, the CIO proceeded to reorganize a new labor movement on industrial lines; and neither that reorganization nor those antilabor conglomerates prevented the CIO from infusing the new labor movement with a reinvigorated spirit of union democracy. The apologists for the SEIU would reverse that experience. They utilize the promise to organize as a pretext for undercutting democracy in the labor movement.