Andy Stern SEIU – All-American hero

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11/11/2016 by socialistfight

Gerry Downing reviews Andy Stern’s Getting America back on track: a country that works 1-06-2007

From San Diego up to Maine ,
In every mine and mill,
Where workers strike and organize,’
Says he, ‘You’ll find Joe Hill,’
Says he, ‘You’ll find Joe Hill.’
Another great hero has emerged in the American labour movement. Andy Stern, leader of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), has a great mission – and now he has written a book making sure we all know about it.
When Transport and General Workers Union general secretary Tony Woodley spoke at the TGWU delegates’ conference on July 11 2005, he welcomed his future international partner in their new global union: “That’s why I am delighted to welcome here today my friend and comrade, Andy Stern, president of our sister union, the SEIU. What a leader. What a visionary this guy is.”
So who is this “visionary”, Andy Stern? He and the Teamsters’ boss, Jimmy Hoffa, led a 40% split in the AFL-CIO in 2005, forming the new Change to Win federation. He never made any mystery about what changes he wanted. First, he wanted to recruit more members – his union has tripled its membership over the past several years to 1.8 million today. However, he also wanted to ‘rationalise’ the union’s base by negotiating the handing over of workers who more properly ‘belonged’ to other unions. And, as well as wanting the unions to “become more democratic” and “improve the relationship with individual members”, he hoped to “find ways to persuade business leaders to work in partnership with them” (p37).
He speaks of workers “self-managing their work lives” and predicts that “one in four workers will be contingent employees [!] or self-employed by 2010. Individuals want more flexibility in their jobs” (p38). We would suggest that the “contingent employees” would give a great deal to have far less “flexibility” and more security.
As for international questions, Lech Walesa and his “brave trade unionists” had demonstrated the need for “free, democratic unions, in contrast to the government-dominated unions of the communist dictatorships” by winning the cold war and “destroying all obstacles to market capitalism” (p38).
Strangely in the preceding chapter he recounts his visit to China and the lavish reception given to his delegation by the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU). He says: “The ACFTU’s willingness to transform itself to effectively counter the impact of globalisation has far-reaching implications for the workers everywhere” (p28). This is because they have resorted to traditional American tactics of ‘blacklisting’ foreign-owned enterprises that defied Chinese labour laws. Clearly the ACFTU cannot be one of those dreadful “government-dominated unions of the communist dictatorships”, as it is entirely in favour of “market capitalism”.
So much so in fact that it had to ask Wal-Mart to put up a token show of resistance when it initially requested the right to ‘organise’ its workers. This entirely bogus organisation of 150 million members makes sure that these stores and factories are not organised – the state itself is guarding Wal-Mart against the workers. Wal-Mart will not tolerate unions in its US stores and only concedes recognition in countries where the movement is strong enough to impose its will.
There must be some problems, however, because the Communist Party of China itself decided to organise two branches in Wal-Mart – more professional state informers on militant workers were needed. It is therefore sickening to see a left publication giving an uncritical report of Jimmy Hoffa’s visit to the ACFTU under the headline “ China ’s unions organise Wal-Mart” (News Line June 11). Apparently, “The Chinese government has also drafted a law strengthening the union, so it can better protect workers.”
Hoffa is reported as saying: “We left China with a commitment to continue our discussions with Chinese organisations on how best to promote the rights of workers here, there and everywhere in the world.” The discovery this week of some 500 brick kiln slaves, including children, who were put to work with the collusion of the local Communist Party, speaks volumes of the effectiveness of ‘Chinese labour laws’ and how the CPC ‘promotes the rights of workers’. Strange bedfellows indeed – Change to Win, the ACFTU and News Line.
But maybe that’s just China . After all the book is subtitled Getting America back on track. Stern is a true-blue patriot of the American dream, so maybe he fights to the death for his own workers. An article by Alan Benjamin in the January-February 2007 issue of San Francisco newspaper, The Organizer, puts us straight:
“In his interview with The Wall Street Journal, Stern explained his reasons for seeking healthcare partnerships with the employers: ‘We must try to be partners with our employers, who have told us we should change and understand their competitive issues and try to add value, not create problems,’ Stern said. ‘Unions need to appreciate there are ways in which we add value and can be helpful. This is especially the case in relation to health-care. The employer-based healthcare system is dead. It’s a relic of the industrial economy, and it makes corporations unable to compete fairly when America is the only country that asks its employers to put the price of healthcare on the cost of its products.’”
These are not just empty words. Stern has been working overtime offering his ‘helpful’ services to some of the most anti-union and retrograde sectors of big business in this country. Stern and Wal-Mart have announced a healthcare partnership “aimed at attaining universal healthcare coverage”. The partnership also includes Intel Corp, AT&T Inc and Kelly Services Inc, a temporary staffing agency. According to an earlier Associated Press release, “no specific policies were proposed to achieve this goal. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott said that Wal-Mart is not committed to spending more on healthcare or making any immediate promises to provide health coverage to more workers” (February 7).
Marnie Goodfriend of Labor Beat in Chicago has lambasted Stern for “rubber stamping” Wal-Mart’s empty-rhetoric support for universal healthcare: “Stern should be putting intense public scrutiny and pressure on Wal-Mart for its exploitative and degrading work conditions,” Goodfriend noted, “not using Wal-Mart’s paper-thin public support for healthcare to undermine his own campaign against the company.”
In January governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a new healthcare plan for California . Politicians and corporate heads immediately applauded the proposal and said it could become a model for ‘healthcare reform’ in states across the country.
However, the response from the trade union movement varied sharply. Unlike Stern, Art Pulaski, secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation (AFL-CIO), was highly critical. He stated: “This proposal will be a boon to insurance companies, but a bust for most workers. This plan requires all Californians to buy health insurance with no guarantee that it will be affordable or that coverage will be adequate. We are concerned that the plan creates an incentive for employers who currently provide healthcare to drop coverage and instead pay only a minimal tax … This is a plan that Wal-Mart can love and Wal-Mart workers will hate. The proposed employer contribution is so low that even Wal-Mart, a corporation known for its minimal employee healthcare coverage, already exceeds the requirements.”
The following extract from Stern’s book shows the actual direction the Change to Win federation is taking:
“I realised our priority should not be to make unionised employers non-competitive by raising the wages and benefits they offered their employees over the non-union company’s wages in the market. Instead, our priority should be to contribute to our employers’ success by organising all their competitors. Only then would we be able to bargain contracts that set the same minimum standards for all the competing employees and then take the wage differentials off the table” (p58).
It sounds in many ways like a naive 2007 version of Robert Owen’s utopian socialism until we recall that Stern’s god is Lech Walesa’s market capitalism.
The book is full of this absolute nonsense ad nauseam. We learn that in California he struck a deal with Kaiser Permanente over organising their nursing homes using these ‘principles’, but the California Nurses Association foolishly “still critics the arrangements” – they objected to the no-strike clauses, amongst other things, and have just joined the AFL-CIO.
Other points of interest include Stern’s admiration for that arch-reactionary, Newt Gingrich (p99 et seq), despite his attempts to cripple union political campaigning back in 1998 by taking away their right to make donations and use their funds for union education in the infamous ‘pay-check protection’ ballots. Stern has boundless admiration for the organisational skills of the US army – they could do with his advice in Iraq (p100-01) – and, most bizarre of all, supports the fundamentalist ‘megachurches’ that have grown up in recent years as examples of good care in the community. He even lists four best-selling books from these bigots amongst his favourites in the ‘non-fiction’ category (p104).
Stern would like his union to be an ‘outsourcer’: that is, like construction, where “employers outsource benefits administration to the union – a defined per-hour contribution for healthcare and pensions benefits – while workers are employed on the construction projects … this system provides benefits to both employers and employees. Employers gain flexibility and workers gain continuity in the management of their funds” (pp108-09). Of course, the workers do not gain “continuity” in their jobs – but he has already accepted this as a fact of life and does not intend to combat it. And the unions will gain a nice little earner, he forgot to add.
The actual plan which is going to get America “back on track” is a juvenile piece of drivel about the information superhighway, smaller schools, more taxes on corporations – all of which is more of a prayer than a practical action plan. Why on earth would they listen to a union movement that spends its time grovelling to them like Stern does? The conclusion is just plain embarrassing:
“America needs every citizen to speak out and see their collective voices transformed into the winds of change. Only then can their leaders best steer” (p182)
‘Oh for Christ’s sake,’ I’d say if I wasn’t an atheist.
Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson were elected as a reaction against the company unionism of the Bill Morris/Roger Lyons era, yet Andy Stern has a far more rightwing project than that. It is clear now that the split with AFL-CIO was to the right – and that is some achievement, given how bureaucratically reactionary that organisation was and still is. But already it seems that Stern’s views are being discussed and could well be put into practice by the Woodley-Simpson leadership of Unite, the new merged union this side of the Atlantic .
According to Harry Kelber of The Labor Educator, “The line-up of pro-business publications that eagerly gave Stern a forum to enhance his personality and promote his views includes The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, The Washington Post and a number of influential dailies around the country” (November 2006). Stern himself states:
“Like most traditional labor leaders I have been trained to be distrustful of and antagonistic with ‘the boss’ and I brought that attitude to the relationship. The distrust can be rightfully earned [apparently there are some reactionary employers], but this class struggle mentality was a vestige of an earlier, rough era of industrial unions [Chinese brick kilns?]” (p70-71).
It is very clear why you won’t find Joe Hill at Andy Stern’s side.

Andy Stern, now former SERIU leader has produced a new book, Raising the Floor: How a Universal Basic Income Can Renew Our Economy and Rebuild the American Dream which is reviewed in Time Magazine online by Rana Foroohar @RanaForoohar on July 19, 2016. It is clear that by now he has totally collapsed into pessimistic terror before the capitalist system, against which there is now hope he assures is as can be seen in this review:

In a new book, former labor leader Andy Stern takes on technological disruption and offers some (possible) solutions.

Most of the people who’ll tell you unions are dead are business types. Andy Stern, former head of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), is the rare labor organizer who says the same thing.

His book, Raising the Floor: How A Universal Basic Income Can Renew Our Economy and Rebuild the American Dream, is in many ways a total downer. After losing faith in the ability of unions, which represent only 11 % of American workers today, to effect economic change, Stern went on a five-year quest to better understand how globalization and technology were impacting labor’s declining share of economic power. His conclusion: you can’t fight the machines. Stern lays out tales of just how far the robots have already come–Charles Schwab’s automated financial advisors and humanoid attendants at a Japanese theme park are two memorable examples–as well as where they are going. His take, based on data from McKinsey and others, is that at least 58% of jobs will eventually be automated, meaning that what little bargaining power that labor has now will eventually evaporate all together. Much of the disruption will be driven by the ethos of shareholder “value,” which puts a premium on keeping costs, including labor, as low as possible.

By way of tales about investors, entrepreneurs and workers in the new gig economy, Stern sketches a disturbing story of an economy in which technology will make even cheap developing-world labor obsolete. “This is Vietnam,” he says. “No one can win this war.” All of which will give rise to a society that will be ever more productive except in creating new jobs. We’re already seeing the fall-out in the form of stagnant wages and political populism. But when unemployment levels eventually get much higher–say 20% or so–the consequences will be far more extreme. Without radical change, “we could be looking at an economic version of the Hunger Games,” Stern argues.

Plenty of economist would agree. But Stern rejects the conventional solutions such as education reform being the key to helping people move up the socio-economic ladder or infrastructure projects that put them to work en mass. These, he argues, amount to too little too late. He believes that technology-driven labor market change will simply happen too broadly and too fast. The only way to provide “a dignified way to transition people” to this new economy during the next 15 years or so is to give all American a universal basic income (UBI), something that keeps them out of poverty and ensures social stability. It’s a kind of salve for an economy moving out of the period of mass job disruption and into job creation.

Historically, new technologies have always been a net job creator. But many policy experts and academics now feel that the breadth and depth of the technological changes we face now could take years or even decades to play out. Years or decades of greater social and political turmoil, if early trends continue.

While a policy of UBI was recently rejected in Switzerland, it’s being taken seriously in policy circles in the U.S. In some ways, the successful earned income tax credit plays on this idea by offering income subsidies to the working poor. While a full basic income has never been enacted at a national level by any country, Canada and Finland are planning to experiment with it. Some Silicon Valley big thinkers have also toyed with the idea at a company level.

Stern’s belief is that UBI could help jobless millennials make peace with the new economy and spend more time on leisure activities, as economist John Maynard Keynes famously predicted they might. In his famous “Economic Prospects for Our Grandchildren” speech, written in 1930, Keynes correctly estimated the size of today’s economy, but also predicted that such an increase in wealth would cause people at all parts of the socio-economic to work far less by choice. The history of predicting the end of work is a long, rich one in the 20th century.

Instead, what we ended up with was extreme bifurcation: The wealthiest work the most and reap the majority of the economic rewards, and most everyone else is increasingly under-employed. (For an interesting philosophical and economic musing on why the richest people in society still feel compelled to work the most hours, check out How Much Is Enough, by historian and Keynes biographer Robert Skidelsky and his son Edward.)

Stern’s hope is that millennials faced with this changing world will simply develop a new attitude towards work, placing less importance on paid labor and more on the pursuit of personal interests. While that may work for people in their 20s for a while, it’s hard to see how it plays out when they need to buy a home or educate their kids. And while American millennials certainly have less interest in old-line corporate careers than their parents did, one could argue that this is because the social compact itself has broken down. Perhaps if they had better options, they’d take them. In any case, Stern believes that line of thinking is a dead-end. “I lived in a world where everything was better, but unlike many of my counterparts in the labor movement, I don’t think we can go back to the 20th century,” he says.

The book fails to acknowledge another possibility, namely that the economic disruption it sketches, which will destroy both blue and white-collar jobs, could actually create a bigger, broader labor movement in the long run, perhaps the very long run. A just-released McKinsey Global Institute report shows rising numbers of people with flat or falling incomes in 25 advanced economies—while only 2% of the population in such countries were downwardly mobile between 1993 and 2005, a whopping 70% of households saw their incomes fall in real terms between 2005 and 2014.

Tech-related job disruption will affect all of us. That in itself may provide fresh impetus, and a big new market, for the next generation of labor

US: Continuing Publicity for Andy Stern and Raising the Floor

andystern1
Former SEIU leader Andy Stern and his book Raising the Floor: How a Universal Basic Income Can Renew Our Economy and Rebuild the American Dream have received a considerable amount of publicity since the book’s publication in June. Here are some highlights.

Over the past two months, Andy Stern has been interviewed in many notable podcasts, journals, and other media outlets. In June, for example, Bourree Lam interviewed Stern in The Atlantic about his background with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) among other topics, and Stern summarized his argument for UBI in video interviews for the American television channel CNBC and the international news agency Bloomberg.

The Guardian also published a piece on self-driving trucks that drew upon Stern’s work, describing future automation in the transportation industry as an example of the impending “tsunami” of job disruption that Stern discusses at length.

Then, in July, Stern appeared as a guest on the Diane Rehm show, a long-running talk radio show sponsored by the National Public Radio, followed by Vox’s popular The Weeds podcast. (The latter included an invigorating discussion with journalists Matthew Yglesias and Ezra Klein, both of whom have recently written about UBI for Vox, along with Sarah Kliff.) Shortly thereafter, Stern participated in a UBI-themed episode of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s podcast The Money, along with journalist Megan McArdle (US) and public policy researcher Henning Meyer (UK).

During the Democratic National Convention, Stern joined Salon’s Josh Zepps for a Facebook Live chat about the new direction American politics.

 

andystern2

Most recently, Stern appeared on the August 8 episode of NPR’s Think podcast with Krys Boyd.

Reviews of Raising the Floor also appeared in a variety of publications, including TIME, Psychology Today, AlterNet, and Co.Exist.

One reviewer, psychologist Michael Bader, had once worked as part of group hired by Stern to help local unions “develop visions and long-term planning processes which were unfamiliar in many local union cultures” — an experience that made clear to Bader that “Stern broke the mold of a traditional union leader and was willing to experiment, take risks, and anticipate future trends.” In reviewing Raising the Floor, Bader remains impressed by Stern’s vision and ambition; however, he shows some hesitance to accept the forecast of a “tsunami” of job disruption:

If you buy Stern’s analysis of the magnitude of the catastrophe coming our way in the form of skyrocketing unemployment and underemployment driven by automation, artificial intelligence, robotics, and other new technologies, then you have to question whether traditional progressive solutions—stronger unions, a redistributive tax and regulatory system, a more activist government, and a broader and more effective social safety net—are sufficient to meet the challenge. If the answer is no, then radical ideas like the UBI start to break through our cynicism. In that case, we owe Andy Stern a debt of gratitude.

On the other hand, TIME editor Rana Foroohar is willing to accept that massive job disruption will take place, but she questions whether Stern has been too pessimistic regarding the future of organized labor:

The book fails to acknowledge another possibility, namely that the economic disruption it sketches, which will destroy both blue and white-collar jobs, could actually create a bigger, broader labor movement in the long run, perhaps the very long run. … Tech-related job disruption will affect all of us. That in itself may provide fresh impetus, and a big new market, for the next generation of labor organizers.

Meanwhile, Ben Schiller, a reporter at Co.Exist and known supporter of UBI, agrees with the main ideas expressed in the book, and commends Stern for getting into the “nitty-gritty” of implementation: “In the last chapter, he offers a blueprint for introducing UBI, covering the funding side, the politics side, and the out-in-the-streets mobilization side.”

As would be expected, reviewers, interviewers, and callers to radio shows have all varied in their willingness to accept both Stern’s forecast of cataclysmic economic disruption and his proposed solution of a universal basic income. In any case, the far-reaching publicity has helped to bring the idea of UBI, and some of the major arguments in its favor, to many people throughout America and the world.

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