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.

2 comments:

Matt said...

Labor Notes has an interview with Sal Rosselli where he makes his case in clear terms and suggests the need for a union-wide reform movement, along the lines of TDU.

Rosselli draws a clear connection between union democracy and bargaining strength -- in contrast to those who argue that democracy makes unions weaker and that, like it or not, autocracy is the only path to organizing.

Anonymous said...

There is a growing movement against the "death of democracy' within our union. For the past several years SEIU President Andy Stern has been on a steady march to phase out the democratic process within our union. He has consolidated locals, dissolved the member governance boards in favor of hand picked cronies and created "sweetheart deals" with employers that have removed workers from the bargaining process. He has silenced any dissent or meaningful debate to create change on behalf of SEIU members. As a healthcare professional I am outraged. These changes within our union, not only make it difficult to help our fellow members but, has silenced our ability to speak to the issues of patient care and safety.

Now members our fighting back. We have created a "platform for change" for our upcoming SEIU Convention in Puerto Rico. The platform seeks to restore members rights by way of mandating that members be involved at every phase of union governance. Our movement is member driven and we seek to create a national vehicle to inform others within SEIU of the reforms we are seeking on behalf of ALL members of SEIU. This is the first serious challenge to Mr. Stern's attack on our democratic process and we are seeing a great response from our rank and file members.
Michael T. Rivera
SEIU-UHW West
Executive Board Vice-President