Workers defy SEIU power grab
When United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) broke with SEIU International President Andy Stern because of his program to align union goals with the goals of management, the International tried to put UHW into trusteeship. On Friday, Sept. 26, a hearing was held in San Mateo, California, regarding the decision to put UHW into International trusteeship.
All workers should be outraged at this anti-democratic, anti-union initiative and support UHW's efforts to return SEIU to principles of labor solidarity and basic democracy.
This naked power grab was resisted by thousands of UHW members who came from all over the state to demonstrate. This parallels the current crisis in the financial markets and ruling class efforts to save themselves on our dime. U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson issued dire warnings of "impending economic disaster on Main Street," should Congress fail to give him unilateral power to spend $700 billion in a bailout, without so much as a modicum of public oversight and redress for taxpayers and homeowners.
With this bailout, the workers are exploited twice over. The first time, it is in the shop, where capitalists skim off surplus value from workers through unpaid hours of labor. Now, Wall Street comes back a second time to rob workers, by raiding the federal treasury, accumulating more debt to be repaid by exploiting workers in the future even more.
SEIU President Andy Stern's attitude towards workers is not that different from Henry Paulson's. He, too, believes that workers' well-being comes only after capital's well-being, requiring decisions on capital's behalf be rubber-stamped. Since his coming to office, Stern has signed one sweetheart deal after another with a variety of managements in the healthcare industry, without any oversight or review by the rank-and-file.
It's all top-down, according to capitalist prerogatives. They are undemocratic, not because they're evil men. Stern believes as much as Paulson that there is no alternative to capitalism, which is fundamentally antithetical to democracy in our everyday working lives. As one rank-and-file UHW homecare nurse from Fresno said at the demonstration: "Every day I'm there for my clients, the patients I take care of. Stern has these big ideas, but he doesn't take care of the little things. He's only there for his clients, the corporations."
This reminded me of my workplace. What media pundits now call the divide between Wall Street and Main Street has its origins on the shop floor. It is a divide within ourselves as we struggle to accomplish what we really care about. Every day, those of us in the front lines of healthcare try our personal best to take care of the "little things," that is, patients' needs. But, every day, we are up against a huge, seemingly impenetrable barrier when care is made subordinate to budgetary priorities. That makes us alienated from our own work.
For example, every day we have a heavy load of patients coming through our hospital doors, especially through the ER. Every day we meet resistance from the floor managers, who run their wards like a fiefdom, when we try to place these patients. They are obsessed with their budgets above all else. Managers are trained and rewarded according to financial goals, rather than using the budget to meet patient needs, like staffing the wards properly.
Congressional leaders and the Bush administration were shocked by the intensity of grassroots opposition to the bailout. This opposition does not surprise any of us working in the "Labor-Management Partnership," which was Stern's brainchild where I work. He has entered into other official and unofficial partnerships with management across the country, giving up the right to strike or even to report abuses. Stern has bowed to the needs of owners of capital at every turn.
He is telling us workers to sacrifice our hard-won gains to "help U.S. industry compete" in the global economy. Our rank-and-file approach instead has been to focus on a campaign for quality care. We know our own labor is alienated because of the prevailing way of thinking--that life is only possible within the present bounds of capital's irrepressible drive toward self-expansion.
Wall Street and Main Street are no more partners than labor and management can be true partners. There will be no resolution to this conflict until we overcome alienated labor. Workers need to not only work together but we need to do a lot of thinking and discussing about how we get to a new kind of labor.
Published by News and Letters Committees