Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Breaking News: SEIU invades Labor Notes

From our website:

10:30 PM Saturday April 12

The Service Employees Industrial Union (SEIU) has sent in several bus loads of members to disrupt the annual meeting of Labor Notes in Detroit. The Labor Notes conference is one of the most important gatherings of rank and file labor activists in Canada and the US.

Friends of the WSP at the conference report that an SEIU activist bloodied a 70+ year old female member of Labor Notes.

This is an episode in a conflict between the California Nurses Association (Labor Notes vesion) and SEIU (SEIU version) as well as Labor note's support of a dissident leader within SEIU. The leader of the CNA and the dissident SEIU leader had been scheduled to be at the Labor Notes annual meeting.

Whatever the dispute, this is a disgraceful return to the labor thuggery of the mid-20th Century labor movement.

We'll update this post as more information is learned.

Update 1 (11:30 PM Pacific)

Discussion on the conflict between SEIU and CNA available here.

Update 2 (8:45 AM Pacific)

From Labor Notes website:

SEIU International Backs Away From Debate, Disrupts 2008 Labor Notes Conference

seiu ln protest at conference
SEIU protesters attempt to storm the banquet at the 2008 Labor Notes Conference. Photo: Jim West.

When you are trying to put the movement back into the labor movement, you're going to meet resistance. Labor Notes supporters are no strangers to heated debate—and the SEIU International is not the first union to protest at our conference. During the 1980s, for example, we saw opponents of the New Directions Movement inside the United Auto Workers put up picket lines outside our conference hotel and had BLAST—the Brotherhood of Loyal Americans and Strong Teamsters—try to intimidate Teamster reformers attending our events.

People are going to disagree and that is fine. There is no idea that can't be discussed at a Labor Notes conference. We welcome debate on any and all issues facing the labor movement, including the heated dispute between the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC) and the leaders of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) over the best way to build power for health care workers. But that debate must take place with respect and free from intimidation. Despite being welcomed to the conference earlier in the day—and given space to debate supporters of the CNA/NNOC about neutrality organizing agreements—SEIU staff and members shouted down speakers at workshops and panels throughout the event.

At our Saturday night banquet hundreds of SEIU protesters stormed into our conference and confronted our volunteers and supporters. In 29 years we have never had a group of protesters attack our conference or the brothers and sisters who attend it. Violence has no place within our labor movement, and we call on the national leadership of SEIU, including President Andy Stern, to repudiate it.

11:30 AM Pacific

For Immediate Release
April 12, 2008
Contact Chris Kutalik 313-378-2588 or Mischa Gaus 773-627-3205

Dearborn, MI—The Service Employees International Union turned their dispute with the California Nurses Association violent by attacking a labor conference April 12, injuring several and sending an American Axle striker to the hospital.

A recently retired member of United Auto Workers Local 235, Dianne Feeley, suffered a head wound after being knocked to the ground by SEIU International staff and local members. Other conference goers—members of the Teamsters, UAW, UNITE HERE, International Longshoremen's Association, and SEIU itself—were punched, kicked, shoved, and pushed to the ?oor. Dearborn police responded and evicted the three bus loads of SEIU International staff and members of local and regional health care unions. No arrests were made.

The assault took place at the Labor Notes conference, a biennial gathering of 1,100 union members and leaders who met to discuss strategies to rebuild the labor movement.

David Cohen, an international representative of the United Electrical Workers, asked protesters why they came. He said one responded, "they told us just to get on the bus."

The protesters included several members with young children, who had to be ushered away when SEIU tried to force their way into the conference banquet hall. Protesters were targeting Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the AFL-CIO-af?liated CNA. DeMoro was scheduled to speak but declined to appear after threats were made against her union's leadership.

Despite being welcomed to the conference earlier in the day—and given space to debate supporters of the CNA and the National Nurses Organizing Committee about neutrality organizing agreements—SEIU international and regional staff shouted down speakers at workshops and panels throughout the event.

"Labor Notes has always been a space for open debate, but when a union decides to engage in violence against their brothers and sisters, we draw a line," said Mark Brenner, director of Labor Notes. "Violence within the labor movement is unacceptable and we call on the national leadership of SEIU, including President Andy Stern, to repudiate it."


April 14

Conference-Goers Push for Labor Solidarity, Rebound From Disruption

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— The Labor Notes Staff

2008 conference UHW members in crowd

More than 1,000 union activists and supporters met at the Labor Notes conference April 11-13 to strategize and debate how to rebuild the labor movement's power.

Media attention has been given to the attempted disruption of the conference by several hundred staffers and members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)—some of whom became violent when conference participants refused to allow the chanting protesters to enter the hotel's banquet hall. (See full story.)

The fact is, however, that the business of the conference went on as planned. With the exception of a handful of earlier workshops in which speakers were shouted down by SEIU staffers, participants gathered in 110 meetings with members of their own unions and across unions, learned nuts-and-bolts tactics, debated grand strategies, networked, agreed, disagreed, and inspired each other.

A few highlights:

  • About 250 participants swelled the American Axle workers' picket line in Detroit during the Saturday lunch break. A half-dozen amazed American Axle workers, who have been on strike for seven weeks, later came to the conference to be presented with Labor Notes' "Troublemaker" award.
  • Rail workers from seven different unions founded Railroad Workers United, a cross-union solidarity caucus aiming to counter the frequent feuding and disunity among rail unions.
  • Participants came from 21 countries, including Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Brazil, and China.
  • Telecom workers held a special half-day meeting to strategize over upcoming contract expirations and restructuring changes in the their industry.
  • A linked set of workshops on Chinese labor issues drew new participants who debated how to relate to the world's largest workforce.
  • Another set of meetings on Black workers' issues drew African American labor activists into a unique cross-union dialogue.
  • A reception for the Freightliner Five—union officers fired last year in Cleveland, North Carolina, for leading a one-day strike—drew both fellow UAW members and those concerned about organizing in the South.
  • A workshop titled "Neutrality Agreements and Organizing Deals: Salvation or Sell-Out?" drew more than a hundred to debate both principles and practical results.
  • The percentage of the conference made up of young people was much larger than in recent years. In the Bay Area and Portland, local support committees organized ahead of time to enable big crews of hotel workers and building trades apprentices to attend.
  • "Troublemaker" awards were given to John Sferazo, an Ironworker and 9/11 responder who fought for compensation for workers disabled by their work at Ground Zero; the United Workers, a scrappy group that won a living wage for the day laborers who clean Camden Yards in Baltimore; the Taxi Workers Alliance, which organizes New York City's immigrant cabbie workforce; and American Axle strikers.

The conference was dedicated to Santiago Rafael Cruz, an organizer for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in Mexico, who was murdered by employer-paid thugs.

Perhaps surprising, given the weakened state of the labor movement, is the fact that this was the largest Labor Notes conference since 1997, with more than 1,000 registrants. Although discussions were sober, participants still found inspiration in encountering so many others who were, as one session was titled, "troublemaking for the long haul."

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