SEIU’s Andy Stern brands union dissidents “terrorists”

The labor movement may have thought it had left its red-baiting days behind it. But Andy Stern, the ousted SEIU president, is apparently not ready to let the old days go so easily.

In a story today in the Washington Post he defended his multi million dollar battles with union dissenters as a battle against labor’s brand of “terrorism.”

Don’t bother closing the door on your way out, Brother Stern.

Andrew Stern departs the SEIU now weakened by infighting and expenses.

Battle for Helm of SEIU Underway After Stern

Andy Stern is not yet out of the way but the battle among SEIU’s top officials for control of the 2.2 mn member union is well underway. Early reports had Anna Burger, currently head of Change to Win and Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU, favored to replace Stern. But King Harvest has learned that a memo from several SEIU VP’s, including Eliseo Medina, the powerful west coast based union official, is circulating backing fellow VP Mary Kay Henry over Burger.

Of course, the real question is whether the union will now attempt to restore internal union democracy and allow the members themselves a serious role in the process. The lack of transparency behind the departure of Stern and the battling secret emails now going on is not a great sign.

No matter the outcome the departure of Stern from the scene means a decline in the union’s political leverage. Neither Burger nor Henry are likely to have anything like the access to the White House that Stern, whom I called Obama’s Fifth Man, enjoyed over the the first year of the Obama Administration. That Stern would depart under these circumstances remains one of the stranger political developments we have witnessed of late.

SEIU’s Andy Stern – he didn’t jump off the bridge, he was pushed

With all due respect to the dogged and important reporting of Randy Shaw at BeyondChron on the SEIU v. NUHW saga, I differ with his suggestion today that Andy Stern, longtime head of SEIU, decided to sail into the good night just because the heat in the kitchen was too much to bear.

Shaw concludes in an account that is only slightly different than the press release apologias coming from SEIU HQ that “the bottom line: Stern was burned out, saw nothing on the immediate horizon that excited him, and decided he wanted out. He clearly prefers being a spokesperson for political issues to the day to day struggles of running a labor union, and expect him to stay politically involved.”

Sorry, but no one walks away from command of a 2 million member organization that can shut down entire cities (as Stern did as part of the immigrant rights marches a few years ago) or elect presidents (as, arguably, Stern helped do in the case of Obama) quietly or on their own.

Anyone who would should have their head examined. In any case, Stern without those 2 million members is a nobody and he likely knows that. His days as “Obama’s Fifth Man” are certainly numbered. His seat at the table was based on his ability to mobilize those members and their affiliate groups in the low wage immigrant communities they were connected to, such as ACORN and various La Raza-type entities.

No, Stern was pushed – by whom and why remains to be explained. But there is a report circulating that Stern was savaged at a recent AFL-CIO Executive Council by none other than his mentor, former AFL president, John J. Sweeney, who preceded Stern as head of SEIU.

In any case, good riddance. Stern’s organizing “success” was largely made up out of bureaucratic maneuvers.

He appended CSEA, the huge California public sector union (and the union I belonged to when I was on the labor center staff at U.C. Berkeley) to SEIU and then claimed he had organized 100,000 new workers. Yet, CSEA had been a viable labor organization for many decades in California. He engineered top down deals with governors like Blagojevich and Gray Davis to reclassify social welfare recipients as workers and claim tens of thousands more “new” union members.

He re-organized low wage immigrant hispanic workers in the janitorial and building service sectors in places like Los Angeles only after SEIU had watched for decades while the industry restructured to destroy the unions that often African-American janitors had built over many decades. Then he (and Sweeney too it should be said) imposed trusteeships when the new members thought they should have real input over their labor organizations.

And who can forget Stern’s travels to Beijing to meet with Chinese Communist Party officials in an abrupt and damaging reversal of international labor’s support for genuine independent unions in China? Stern dragged Jimmy Hoffa, Jr., along as well who, likely against his better instincts decided not to press the Chinese on the rights of imprisoned labor activists. Stern claimed, absurdly, that CtW was helping the Chinese state controlled labor organization, the ACFTU, organize WalMart operations there! But the delegations he and UCLA’s Kent Wong led there have ignored genuine labor leaders like Han Dong Fang of the China Labour Bulletin as well as the only real labor union in today’s China, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions.

Change to Win has turned out to be a pipe dream. Labor intellectuals like Nelson Lichtenstein, Ruth Milkman, Kim Voss, and Ken Jacobs, all based for some odd reason at the University of California which has almost no SEIU presence, thought CtW was the re-birth of the CIO with Stern as John L. Lewis. How quaint. In fact, the five affiliates in CtW went to the mattresses as quickly as the Mafia’s Five Families in New York did in the gangland wars of the 30s or 60s.

First, SEIU betrayed the efforts of the UFCW to lead a campaign among WalMart’s one million non-union workers with a back stage deal with the WalMart CEO. Then, Stern backed Bruce Raynor in an absurd effort to wrest control of the Unite-HERE (home now of the old ILGWU, my grandfather’s proud union for many decades) and its Amalgamated Bank.

Finally, in what has to be the coup de grace in assessing Stern’s legacy, there are reports that SEIU supported a “no union” choice in the ongoing election battle in USC’s hospital system in Los Angeles when the National Union of Health Workers challenged SEIU’s hold on that shop.  But the USC employees were, of course, part of the old UHW when it was inside SEIU.  It was Stern who forced the split that led to the election, one of many occurring across the state to settle the unions’ battle. A recent legal dispute between the two unions resulted in largely a draw.

The upside of the ouster of Stern is that it is very unlikely that his replacement will have anything like the ability or desire to control the union in quite the way he did. It will likely be a very messy transition but we could see the opening of real talks about the CtW affiliates following Unite-HERE back into the House of Labor where they belong.

AFTRA Jumps the Gun – Proposes New Union in Entertainment and Media Space

n99175441996_28012The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or AFTRA, surprised many in the entertainment and media industry yesterday with a call for the formation of a new union to represent employees in the industry. While AFTRA and SAG have been expected to re-open merger talks at some point, the unilateral proposal by AFTRA was not expected. The details are not yet known but in an Open Letter to its members AFTRA leaders called for a “new union for a new world.”

The letter suggests the new union would include actors, performers and broadcast journalists. The letter argues that the major motivation for the new organization would be to “build power” not just reduce the costs of running two unions side by side in the overlapping industries.

Currently, SAG and AFTRA share tens of thousands of members yet have separate pension and health care plans and separate paid professional staff. A merger would presumably have some cost cutting impact at a time when dues flows to the guilds has slowed.

The letter surprised many because one of its signatories, Ron Morgan, an AFTRA Vice President, had only this past week come on to a SAG dominated discussion board to deny that merger was in the works at all.  In light of the mistrust between many in the two organizations Morgan’s behavior was viewed as disingenuous at best. Morgan contends that he only meant to suggest that merger could not take place until after the current round of bargaining was over.

However, the larger question that remains unresolved is how, exactly, a larger new union would change the dramatic loss of leverage of performers in the industry. SAG remains a largely actor dominated organization and many argue, credibly, that the conditions facing actors are significantly different from those facing journalists. Therefore, instead of a merger of both kinds of industry employees, actors should be reassigned to just a larger version of SAG while AFTRA concentrates on journalists.

SAG is currently run by more moderate pro-merger forces and the Guild and AFTRA have committed to engage in some form of joint bargaining with the AMPTP later this year when contract talks over their major contract covering TV and film get underway. But to date neither union has begun any public effort to increase union leverage in advance of the talks. Thus, one test of AFTRA’s commitment to “build power” will be whether they suggest any innovative approaches to the upcoming bargaining round.

To date, the unions have signaled a reluctance to strike which means they must develop other means to change the balance of power prior to the start of talks. Little sign of that yet, however. The unions seem to be relying on the old method of just soliciting input from the members and then showing up at the table and making demands.

AFTRA had its origins in live radio performances and then helped form a Television division which attempted to compete with SAG in representation of actors in television motion pictures.  A running battle has continued between the two groups for several decades, most recently over the success of AFTRA in winning representation in a large number of pilot programs, territory once dominated by SAG.

The AFTRA “new union” approach is similar to that being taken by groups like SEIU and the Teamsters which favor lumping large numbers of workers into large local unions across occupations.  Typically such unions end up with very centralized staff power which gives that staff some leverage in bargaining and the political arena but at the cost of internal union democracy.  Recently, inside SEIU there has been a revolt against these organizing methods leading to a breakaway group in California known as United Healthcare Workers. The conflict has pitted many erstwhile labor allies against each other in a costly legal and political battle.

While that kind of conflict is unlikely here, the argument made by AFTRA would seem to open the door to amalgamation with Actors Equity and the IA, as well. AFTRA recently formed an alliance with the IA and was also elevated to the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO. SAG President Ken Howard is also on the EC but only because of SAG’s membership in the so-called 4A’s, a longstanding alliance of performers unions that pre-dates the AFL-CIO.

The new initiative by AFTRA could not have taken place without the tacit approval of the AFL-CIO hierarchy and likely was made known to the SAG leadership in advance. It is not clear why SAG would allow AFTRA to jump first but the momentum is clearly with AFTRA and that may set the tone for the negotiations to follow.

SEIU’s Andy Stern 22, Dalai Lama 0

Did the Beijing-friendly Andy Stern, head of the low wage immigrant workers based union SEIU, green light the Obama Administration’s new “constructive engagement” policy with China?

Stern has been a frequent visitor to China in recent years advocating closer ties between the Chinese Communists’ state controlled labor organization, the ACFTU, and the US trade union movement.  Stern has ignored or patronized independent labor activists in Hong Kong during these visits. Perhaps the only seat of government Stern has visited more often than that of Beijing is the Obama White House.

Stern’s overtures to the Chinese may have led the White House to believe that organized labor would not complain if human rights and labor rights took a back seat in the US-China relationship. Sadly, that calculus appears to have been correct as labor’s voice on China has been nearly silent in recent months.

No wonder the Nobel Peace Prize winning Dalai Lama was told by the White House’s Valerie Jarrett to stay home until Obama had time to check in with his new partners in Beijing next month.

SEIU’s Stern Tops White House Visitor List – Washington Wire – WSJ.

See my debate with China-friendly labor intellectuals here.

Tian’anmen – Then and Now…


Around the world this week millions will remember the brave Chinese students and workers who stood up to the Chinese “communist” autocracy in May and June of 1989 and paid for their courage with their lives. Thousands were likely murdered in the streets around Beijing, while many thousands there and elsewhere throughout China ended up in prison.  The picture above was taken in the days after the crack PLA troops went on their bloody offensive on June 4 – only after regular troops refused their orders to shoot on unarmed Beijing residents.

Influenced by the uprisings of Polish Solidarity the Chinese protestors thought that China, too, could emerge from the era of neo-stalinist authoritarianism and join the global community.

The party/state apparatus that controls China had other ideas. Their implicit alliance with global capital has provided that apparatus with a new lease on life – as long as Chinese workers are willing to comply with the cheap labor/non-union regime imposed by the alliance.

In the west policy makers and intellectuals bend over backwards to justify the alliance with arguments about “progress towards democracy” and an “emerging rule of law.”  Some like David Brody, the eminent American labor historian, contend that the state controlled labor organization can evolve, as did some American company unions, into genuine labor unions. Others, such as labor educators Ken Jacobs and Katie Quan of the UC Berkeley Labor Center, Kent Wong of the UCLA Labor Center and Elaine Bernard of Harvard’s trade union program, work hand in glove with the regime itself in various exchange and “education” programs. They seem to think the American labor movement can actually learn something from the Chinese regime.  You can watch me debate these issues with Brody and Jacobs as well as labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein here

Some US labor leaders such as Andy Stern of the bureaucratically controlled SEIU buy the line of Brody et. al and believe an alliance with the Chinese regime offers a chance to counter balance the power of global multinational capital. He seems oblivious to the impact of the alliance that has already been established between capital and the Chinese regime.

What is striking about these kinds of defenses of the brutal labor regime in China by westerners is that the Chinese working class itself has been, on and off since 1989, in near open revolt against the Chinese government and spurns its labor arm, the All China Federation of Trade Unions.  One analyst – Ching Kwan Lee – described this as a veritable “insurgency.”

Even official Chinese statistics admit the level of resistance. According to the China Labour Bulletin, the leading independent labor advocacy group based in Hong Kong and led by 1989 workers leaders Han Dong Fang, there has been a huge increase in labor disputes referred to the official arbitration bodies used by the state to resolve labor conflicts.  There has been a similar explosion in the number of lawsuits filed by workers.

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, party dissident Bao Tang, now under house arrest in Beijing, said:

“China has almost erased the memory of Tiananmen by making it illegal to talk about what happened. But there are miniature Tiananmens in China every day, in counties and villages where people try to show their discontent and the government sends 500 policemen to put them down. This is democracy and law with Chinese characteristics.

“The first sentence of the Chinese national anthem goes like this: ‘Arise! All those who refuse to be slaves.’ I believe there will be real democracy in China sooner or later, as long as there are people who want to be treated equally and have their rights respected.

“It will rely on our own efforts, it will depend on when we, the Chinese people, are willing to stand up and protect our own rights.”

So this week, in the words of the American labor radical, Mother Jones, “mourn for the dead, but fight like hell for the living.”

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers…Shakespeare said that

You can measure the difficulties of the labor movement by the number of lawyers in the room.  The more there are the deeper the problems.  

I started out in the labor movement fighting against the idea that lawyers should have a central role in decision-making in the labor movement.  As a rank and file shop steward and local union officer I recall often having to fight against the idea that the lawyers on the union staff knew more about the union and its potential than the union’s own members. 

Now I am a lawyer, I train future lawyers and I often advise labor union members and officers. But my early conviction about the inverse relationship between the presence of lawyers and the effectiveness of the labor movement has not wavered.

Thus, it is disheartening that in three of our most important and visibly symbolic unions, the United Auto Workers, the Screen Actors Guild and the Service Employees International Union, lawyers are taking an abnormally large role.  And while there is less public discussion I have a feeling that the role of lawyers is also looming large in the battles between the once allied unions, UNITE and HERE.

At the UAW, the rank and file workforce is now at the mercy of bankruptcy lawyers because the labor movement is unwilling to take a forceful stand on behalf of industrial working class America.  Despite the opportunity to lead the way to restructure our national transportation industry by reorganizing the Big Three into a new Public Trust Transportation Company, the UAW seems more interested in going down with the ship.

Over at the Screen Actors Guild, a well-intentioned opposition group led by New York based actors and a group called Unite for Strength in LA sent two lawyers into negotiations today with the AFL-CIO over its contentious relationship with its sister union AFTRA.  These groups hold the balance of power in SAG these days having pushed aside a damagingly dogmatic faction called Membership First. In any case, apparently also AFTRA sent two lawyers to the meeting and the AFL-CIO sent a lawyer and…well, one can only imagine what these people were thinking without a single actual rank and file actor to be seen.  

The tools being used by SAG’s new leaders are as arbitrary and bureaucratic as those used by the old Membership First leadership. They included an ultra vires attempt by the SAG National Board to muzzle their own national President (granted, this particular President has very little to say that is worth listening to).  Of course, the President decided to sue instead of fight politically and there were more lawyers!

If that is the way the union is being run nowadays no wonder the entertainment industry treats labor negotiations like they are a side show hardly worthy of prime time.

SEIU is in the view of some the one shining light in American labor as it has expanded its membership by hundreds of thousands over the last decade or so under the leadership of Andy Stern.  But very few of those new members are the result of actual organizing but rather acquisitions modeled, consciously, on corporate raiders.  For a while the illusion could be maintained but in the last few months it broke apart as the California based United Health Workers led by a Stern loyalist bolted and formed a new independent union after Ray Marshall (an economist!) backed yet another bureaucratic effort by Stern to crush the vibrant UHW.  The UHW was acquired in a sense by SEIU in a deal brokered with then-California governor Grey Davis. It was a top down attempt at organizing but the rank and file have woken up and have their own ideas about how to run their union.

Finally, in the least well-known battles inside labor these days, the once amalgamated UNITE and HERE are splitting apart at the seams. (Pun intended – hey, I realize I am no Shakespeare.)  UNITE led by Bruce Raynor who at one point was a key organizer of southern textile workers seems content to try to run to the side of Andy Stern who is backing them against HERE.  HERE is led by John Wilhelm, a popular former Yale University union leader. 

Wilhelm has attempted to push Raynor out who in turn says he is pushing Wilhelm out.  At the heart of the mix is the Amalgamated Bank based in New York and historically linked to one of UNITE’s predecessor unions, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, with $11 billion in assets under management, most of it union pension funds.  The Amalgamated has been an important player in many battles for progressive corporate reforms including being the first lead plaintiff in the shareholders lawsuit against Enron.  God only knows how many lawyers are caught up in this showdown.

In the very same scene where Shakespeare, sardonically, suggested that we have had enough with lawyers, he wrote:

“…and yet it is said, labor in thy vocation; which is as much to say as, let the magistrates be laboring men; and therefore should we be magistrates.”

If not magistrates, then at least it is “laboring men [and women]” who should run their own unions. I said that.

(Apologies to Bob Dylan.)

SEIU and Change To Win Named in Illinois Governor Scandal

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich met with an unnamed official of the Service Employees International Union to discuss a possible pay off of the Governor in return for his appointment of an unnamed individual to fill out the remaining two years of President-elect Obama’s now vacant U.S. Senate seat, according to a criminal complaint filed this week in an Illinois federal court. The SEIU Official is identified as an “emissary” of the potential Senate appointee in the complaint.’s Ben Smith reported today that the unnamed SEIU official was Andy Stern, the head of SEIU. It is widely believed that the unnamed individual is Valerie Jarrett, a close senior advisor of Obama.
The conversation with Blagojevich revolved around the possibility that Blagojevich would be named to head a non profit organization in return for the appointment of Jarrett. The conversation occurred as part of an effort by Blagojevich to “monetize” the appointment of the new U.S. Senator in order to provide for the governor and his family after he left office.
The complaint charges Blagojevich and an aide, John Harris, with wire fraud, mail fraud and corrupt solicitation, all crimes under federal law which carry a possibility of substantial prison terms.  Harris and Blagojevich were arrested this morning, arraigned in a federal court in Chicago and released on bail. They were asked to surrender their passports.
Other conversations detailed in the criminal complaint indicate that Blagojevich explored the possibility of becoming head of Change to Win, a union alliance that includes SEIU. The current head of Change to Win, Anna Burger, was an active supporter of the Obama campaign.
In a press conference today, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald described the scheme as follows:
“At one point, he [Blagojevich] proposed a three-way deal — that a cushy union job would be given to him at a higher rate of pay where he could make money. 

“In exchange, he thought that the union might get benefits from the president-elect, and therefore, the president-elect might get the candidate his choice.”

Fitzgerald said the complaint makes no allegations about Obama himself. 

Fitzgerald went on to say in response to press questions:

“[I]f you read the complaint carefully, one of the conversations describes how the job that Governor Blagojevich wanted for himself with the union couldn’t be just given to him by the union because they already have people doing that job.

“So, when you say you want a job for four years; you want a salary of about $300,000, and you basically want to work on behalf of a union and cost them $1.2 million to basically add no value, because people are already doing your job, and part of that is an exchange, where — an exchange, if you don’t get that job, no one’s getting the appointed Senate seat, we’re comfortable in the law that someone who schemes to do that has broken the law.

“And we’re not trying to criminalize people making political horse trades on policies or that sort of thing. But it is criminal when people are doing it for their personal enrichment and they’re doing it in a way that is, in this case, clearly criminal.”

Later, Fitzgerald said in response to a question about which union was involved:
“[T]he scheme that he had in mind with co-defendant Harris was a job with a coalition called “Change to Win,” which was affiliated with SEIU, which is the Service Employees International Union. And that was their, you know, their scheme to sell the seat in that three-way exchange. 

“That never happened. That scheme did not come to fruition. He curses later that it didn’t happen. But the one being discussed was the SEIU union.”

According to the complaint, the SEIU Official agreed with regard to the non profit entity to “put that flag up and see where it goes.” Blagojevich later said, according to the complaint, that he told the SEIU Official to “broach the idea” to the unnamed Senate candidate.  
It is not clear from the complaint why the SEIU Official agreed to consider the idea or whether he did so after the phone call. One possibility is that while some involved in the scheme thought that a non profit entity would be too closely linked to Obama that Blagojevich was unsure that a job with Change To Win would be secure. Thus, Blagojevich pressed for a non profit entity that he could head up since it would be around when he was no longer governor in two years time.
According to the complaint Blagojevich said “he likes the 501(c)(4) idea because he knows it will be there in two years when he is no longer Governor, whereas Change to Win might not be.”
That might refer to the fact there is some discussion in labor circles that Change To Win might re-join the AFL-CIO in the post-election period and thus a position promised to Blagojevich now with Change To Win would not be kept.
It is not clear why an SEIU Official would have been an emissary for the potential Senate appointee to the Illinois governor.
SEIU has denied any wrongdoing by the union or any union official. Change to Win issued the following statement this afternoon:
“No one connected with Change to Win ever considered, discussed or promised any position at Change to Win to Governor Blagojevich, his staff or his advisors. In the affidavit released by the United States Attorney, a position at Change to Win is discussed only in conversations between the governor and his advisors. The first time Change to Win learned of any of the matters raised in the criminal complaint was with today’s public release of the affidavit.”
Stern is a powerful but controversial labor leader. SEIU has been on the defensive recently because of charges related to violations of internal union democracy of union members. In addition, Stern is part of a controversial effort to establish ties between the American labor movement and the Chinese communist government’s labor body, the All China Federation of Trade Unions.  SEIU raised $1.7 million to support the political campaigns of Blagojevich.
The U.S. labor movement as a whole, including the AFL-CIO, a competing labor federation, spent hundreds of millions of dollars during the recent election and was seen as a key source of support for Obama. Recent appointments to the incoming Administration, however, have disappointed labor as they include individuals like economist Larry Summers who are viewed as hostile to some policies favored by organized labor.

Labor’s Appeasers: Teamsters’ Hoffa backs down on China visit

While there is a great deal of talk these days about whether or not an Obama Administration would be engaged in “appeasement” if it puts in place its proposed “dialogue with dictators” proposal, there is a new form of appeasement spreading inside the American trade union movement.
The basis of global labor solidarity is steadfast support of the rights of workers to organize and engage in collective bargaining free of harassment by the government or employers. These rights are enshrined in numerous international agreements and are the cornerstone of a genuine democracy. They must be vigorously defended no matter where, whether it is under the Burmese dictatorship, in right wing regimes like that of Chile’s Pinochet or in America’s newest global partner, China.
While establishment figures like Obama and McCain have their foreign policy, so must the labor movement and to work with the labor officials of the Chinese government is a form of appeasement inside the labor movement – cozying up to labor’s opponents in the farcical hope that that might be a way forward for American labor.
Where is this new form of “labor appeasement” coming from?
A new group of authoritarian leftists including the maoist Ellen David Friedman, and university-based political activists Katie Quan of U.C. Berkeley, Elaine Bernard of Harvard and Kent Wong of UCLA have been joined recently by some prominent authoritarian labor leaders like Andy Stern of SEIU in bringing Chinese state labor officials to the United States, into the American democratic labor movement, as reported here by the International Labor Communications Association.
In the eyes of these authoritarian left activists the Chinese labor officials have something of value to share with real trade unionists.  What that is, I can only imagine – perhaps it is an effort to justify the kinds of one sided top down tactics used by Andy Stern to rule SEIU with an iron fist.
But the appeasement process goes two ways: Stern and Teamster leader James Hoffa have traveled to China, too. And while Hoffa, at least, has made an effort to defend jailed trade unionists around the world, I have been told by a reliable labor movement source that he abandoned that effort on his 2007 trip to China.
According to a Teamster press release issued during the early days of the trip while the delegation was in Shanghai, Hoffa intended to take a tough stance with the authorities in Beijing:
“A reporter from international wire service Reuters asked Hoffa about the rights of labor activists in China and about charges that ACFTU is a government-controlled, management-friendly union that does not truly represent the interests of workers.

“‘We have to see, has there been improvement in the lives of the workers?’ Hoffa said. ‘Have their hours been changed? Do they have a better job? Do they have more money? That’s the question, not whether there’s a union at Wal-Mart. The question is what has been the effect on the average workers? Have their lives gotten better because of the union?'”

But things changed when Hoffa and Stern got to Beijing. While meeting with lower government labor officials he was told he could not raise concerns about human rights of jailed labor activists with the leaders of the government’s trade union arm or else the meeting would be cancelled.

Hoffa duly complied with the request.

Hoffa abandoned his Chinese brothers and sisters despite reports of several key labor activists languishing in Chinese prisons simply for exercising their universally recognized human rights to freedom of association and freedom of speech. When reports of the trip were made back in the United States, according to my source, there was an uproar but unfortunately, until now, the discussion has been kept private, away from the rank and file membership of the Teamsters and the labor movement more generally.
I leave it to my readers to ponder whether there is a link between the new labor appeasement and the “dialogue with dictators” proposed by Obama. But it is also true that Hoffa’s Teamsters and Stern’s SEIU were early and aggressive Obama backers.
Readers interested in the details on the conditions facing genuine trade union activists in China are urged to consult the excellent work of the China Labour Bulletin, based in Hong Kong, and headed up by Han Dong Fang, who was a leader of workers in the 1989 democracy movement on Tiananmen Square. CLB is supported financially by the western labor movement, but when Stern and Hoffa went to China they ignored Han Dong Fang and held only a brief meeting with independent union representatives in Hong Kong, whom they reportedly treated in a paternalistic and dismissive manner.
Here is how the Bulletin describes the Chinese labor arm, the ACFTU:

“In essence, the ACFTU sees its labour rights work as conducting union operations under the overall guidance of the Party and government. The ACFTU stresses that only when unions consciously accept the Party’s leadership and firmly implement the Party’s line, strategies, and policies, can they consistently maintain the correct political direction and truly implement their basic responsibility to protect workers’ legal rights.”

Some union, eh?

I also engaged in a debate recently with some of the academic supporters of the new “labor appeasement” policy which you can view here on Google video.

I wrote to the Director of Communications Brent Caldwell of the Teamsters asking about this trip. I received no reply.

What is truly tragic about the new appeasement is that it emerges just as the Chinese workers themselves are organizing a new genuine independent labor movement that has the potential to shake the autocratic Chinese state to its very foundation.

As just one example of the new divide between the Chinese state and the workers consider this comment by the China Labour Bulletin in a research report late last year:

“In 2005-2006, while the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was seeking to create a ‘harmonious socialist society,’ factory managers withheld wages and forced employees to work excessive overtime for little or no additional pay. The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) called for migrant workers to “come to the union with their problems,” but millions of migrant workers and others ignored the call and took to the streets to demand their rights.”

It is those millions with whom our labor leaders should be meeting and supporting – through the China Labour Bulletin and in any other way that is feasible, just as the AFL-CIO did in support of eastern European workers’ movements like Polish Solidarity in the 1970s and 1980s.

Chinese Labor Leaders [sic] Meet with Bay Area Airport Labor Unions