[Marxism] Counterpunch: New Model for the Labor Movement? Behind the UNITE HERE Union Merger
mikedf at mail.amnh.org
Sat Jul 31 11:30:34 MDT 2004
July 31, 2004
New Model for the Labor Movement? Behind the UNITE HERE Union Merger
By LEE SUSTAR
At one level, the UNITE HERE convention was much different than similar
union gatherings. Union staffers talked bluntly about terrible contracts
negotiated by the corrupt old guard in HERE locals. At the HERE special
convention to approve the merger, President John Wilhelm motivated the
change by declaring that "we need another rebirth of the North American
labor movement"--and later raised the prospect of leaving the AFL-CIO if it
Bruce Raynor, the president of UNITE and now the merged union, acknowledged
that too many members are just as broke after they get their paycheck as
they were before. In his first speech as UH president, Raynor sounded
left-wing themes seldom heard from major U.S. labor leaders in an election
year--addressing the concentration of wealth among the richest, the health
care crisis, poverty, infant mortality and the Iraq war.
The highlight of the convention was a moving presentation by participants
in last year's Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, a campaign that HERE played
a crucial role in organizing. Both Raynor and Wilhelm--two of the five
leaders of the New Unity Partnership--spoke bluntly about the decline in
union power and influence, underscored by the fact that just 8.2 percent of
workers in the private sector are members of unions.
By comparison, the last convention of the United Auto Workers (UAW) in 2002
avoided discussion of the union's repeated failure to organized Japanese
and German-owned auto assembly plants and the steep decline in union
membership. The proceedings of the UAW convention were deadening,
consisting mainly of union officials reading aloud resolutions that had
already been printed and distributed to delegates.
However, the UH convention was just as scripted as that of the UAW--and
much less democratic. UAW leaders, after all, allowed some members to take
to the floor to try to challenge the leadership, which a small opposition
was able to do.
The UH proceedings excluded virtually all participation from the convention
floor. Instead, union officials and organizers introduced strategic
campaigns--the organizing drives at Cintas industrial laundries, for
example, or at Native American-owned hotels and casinos--from the front.
These presentations were followed by reports from rank-and-file
participants who accompanied the officials onstage in accordance to what
convention organizers called "show flow." The speeches were usually
effective and met with cheers and sincere enthusiasm.
Yet the effect was to create a sense of membership participation without
giving convention delegates any real ability to shape the direction of the
union. This approach was taken to absurd lengths when the other leaders of
the New Unity Partnership addressed the convention.
Raynor, chairing the proceedings, suddenly announced that union leaders
would take questions--and a prearranged comment from a delegate led to a
prepared speech by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President
Andrew Stern on problems in the AFL-CIO and organizing the unorganized.
More seriously, the merger agreement, the new constitution and new officers
were voted on with virtually no discussion from the floor. And since the
next UH convention won't be held for five years, the complex business of
completing the merger and launching new organizing campaigns will be
carried out exclusively by the union's general executive board--thanks to a
constitution that centralizes power at the top.
What strategy will revive our unions?
This email was cleaned by emailStripper, available for free from
More information about the Marxism