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Issue #2 of the Firebrand Out Now

The second issue of the firebrand, a rank and file working people's newspaper is out. Copies of the paper can be found at cafes, union halls, and on the picket line. Come and support the Firebrand newspaper at our upcoming benefit. And don't forget about the Perry Center Strike, November 29th (monday) all day at 34th and SE powell.
Nothing's too Good for the Working Class Brunch
Saterday, December 11th, 11 am to 2 pm, Liberty Hall 311 N. Ivy, $5 a Plate, Mixed Drinks $2
The second issue of the firebrand, a rank and file working people's newspaper is out. Copies of the paper can be found at cafes, union halls, and on the picket line. Come and support the Firebrand newspaper at our upcoming benefit. And don't forget about the Perry Center Strike, November 29th (monday) all day at 34th and SE powell.
Nothing's too Good for the Working Class Brunch
Saterday, December 11th, 11 am to 2 pm, Liberty Hall 311 N. Ivy, $5 a Plate, Mixed Drinks $2

Talking about a Rank and File Movement
Firebrand Interviews a Perry Center Rank n' File Militant

Firebrand: What is your position at the Perry Center for Children?
Todd: I'm a maintenance worker, which is kinda a catch all term for somebody who takes care of the facilities. This means I garden, paint, and fix anything if it breaks; if something goes wrong we're the ones dealing with it.

Firebrand: In general, what is the purpose of the Perry Center for Children?

Todd: The Perry Center is a live in center for abused children. It's got a campus, a school that's run by Portland Public Schools. It's got something like 50 beds, a garden for horticultural therapy, a gym; all kinds of stuff. It's basically just a small world for these kids to get away to and rehabilitate themselves with the assistance of staff.

Firebrand: Right now, what labor conflict is going on at the Perry Center?

Todd: Where in contract negotiations. The contract before the contract were working on called for a two year contract extension. This means there's a wage freeze-no raises, but everybody keeps the same benefits. That contract was really screwed up because it had a draconian labor peace agreement in it that said no group actions could take place at all, which included on our own free time after work. Any kind of leafleting that would portray the company in a negative light. This is strait jacketing for any kind of direct action. So, when this contract came up the organizers had changed hands and our new organizer and the membership, there's a really high turn over at our work, so the membership will be different during each contract negotiation. The organizer and membership were much more active and wanted to get rid of these things keeping us from doing any kind of direct action and management basically called for another three year wage freeze, and no new economic gains. This constitutes about a five year wage freeze with extremely high turnover, lots and lots of injuries due to understaffing. Literally people getting kicked every day that could be prevented if there were more staff. Staff are talking about how they try to relieve negative things but don't get to do a whole lot of positive work with the children because they are basically doing triage because there's not enough workers and cause' the conditions at work are so bad. So the struggle has just been escalating to make a stand here because it will only go down hill from here if we don't win a wage increase or some kind of gain, the union will just stagnate and people will realize it's not really doing them any good if we can't learn to fight.

Firebrand: What's SEIU 503's strategy for winning the contract workers at the Perry Center want?

Todd: Escalation is basically the idea. We had our first informational picket, which is like a strike but everyone still works and you go out there and try to inform the public and management that were serious about this and why were out there. From there it's going to be more informational pickets, showing up at any fundraisers the Perry Center has. We haven't really discussed any concrete actions but the idea is to keep escalating to the point of striking, if need be. Basically, to make it so that the public image Trillium Family Services, which runs the Perry Center, is not one of a happy altruistic company benefiting children, but really one of management gone wild and kind of loosing sight of the children and staff. Management spends about three million dollars a year on capital improvements, whereas if were talking about a three year economic freeze there spending no money on personal improvements or improvement of services.

Firebrand: What sort of input does the rank and file membership of the union at the Perry Center have in this contract negotiation?

Todd: At the beginning of the negotiation we sent out a survey asking people what they thought was most important. We use that as our direct guide in negotiations, we kind of scraped some things that were important to some of us but not to everyone. For example, there are some part time workers, I'm one of them, and we don't have health insurance. We realized that if we opened up health insurance for discussion management might cut the health insurance for everybody. So it was a risk we had to take by setting aside our interest to go with the ones of everybody else. Pretty much everyone had a consensus on what was most important. It kind of came to a point where I pointed out to other members of the bargaining unit that no nobody was showing up to any meetings, that nobody was coming to bargaining. So if we actually had any hope of winning this we needed member input or the whole campaign would really atrophy. We can't move forward with direct action if people don't really know what's going on. So then we held some meetings at houses. Basically one meeting where we said this is really serious and we pulled a significant portion of the membership. That kind of got everyone motivated and laid the way for this first informational picket. When we did do the informational picket almost everybody came out, even if they could only come out on there breaks if they were working. It got significant numbers of people involved. We made it clear to the rank and file that we weren't doing anything as a bargaining unit; it's only the rank and file who can do anything at all. If the rank and file doesn't do it, or authorize the bargaining committee to make the steps needed then we can't do anything. I think that resonated with people and they started to take more active steps.

Firebrand: With your experience at the Perry Center, how is SEIU structured with paid organizers and the rank and file members?

Todd: I think there's kind of a common structure but what I've learned from being a participant in it and going to their trainings and seeing other shops is that it's highly decentralized; at least in practice. There's a central structure but things vary from local to local and from shop to shop. At our shop the way it works is there are open general membership meetings and that's where all the main voting happens. Theoretically, decision making lies straight in the hands of the membership. The problem is most people don't come to those meetings, so in fact the decision making takes place in the hands of the activists. There's a union organizer who is the main representative. We don't really deal with anybody except for the union organizer. Usually there's a higher up who will come along during bargaining. Bargaining consists of the union organizer, his or her supervisor, and the elected bargaining unit members. They get elected at general membership meetings. Outside of contract negotiations it's pretty much just direct democracy. I know that in other unions it's not always so participatory, even if that structures in place. Sometimes the union organizer just makes decisions. There's not total oversight into how that works. For instance another local would raise dues without having a membership vote, which I think actually violated the constitution of SEIU, so they got taken over by the international. Our shop works really democratically; I think this is because of our organizer. If you get a bad organizer it can go totally in the opposite direction unless you already have a militant organized membership.

Firebrand: As militant working class rank and file union activists, what steps do you see needing to be taken to build a larger militant rank and file?

Todd: Yeah, it's a hard question. I see unions as an education process, because the reality of it is you can make improvements in our class's lives, in the terms of wages, kind of these short term gains. When it comes down to it real change probably isn't going to happen in a union due the stresses put on bargaining and working within these limited frameworks of getting more wages rather than restructuring the economy or changing the fundamental nature of the work. You would need a high level of militancy. So I think in these current pre-revolutionary times what I have seen unions do best is show people how they can grasp the reigns for themselves and take things into their own hands; direct action in it's truest sense. What I have tried to do is not just teach my co-workers about unions and the democratic party are the be all end all, but also as I get to know people and get closer to them, introduce them to radical unionism and anarchism, presumably not under those names. At my workplace since it's really high turnover, what's really positive is you get these people who are really dedicated to unions and see how screwed up management is and then as they leave they feel a loss cause there not going to be in a union anymore you can divert them into these other causes they find fulfilling and that has actually worked really well. People have actually gotten into. I think just opening up the dialogue in unions, people are rather receptive to the ideas of democracy and direct action, and it just takes bringing those in a subtle way. Just bringing it up and having people think about it, not being confrontational. There important and initiative ideas I think people don't normally run into cause we live in such a hierarchical society.

Firebrand: What are you're thoughts on SEIU's focus on organizing? Do you think this hinders building a strong rank and file within existing SEIU shops?

Todd: I think anyway the union movement grows is probably positive, the only danger is you don't want massive bureaucracies like the communist unions of Europe, where they start to suppress strikes and that kind of thing... American unions are famous for doing those types of things. But when it comes to organizing I think it probably would be good to have industrial organizations, which the SEIU is trying to do, it's trying to set up internationals, organize cross country to unite working people so that outsourcing and the race to the bottom gets slowed... I think that's positive in the sense that once you have those organs, if you organize rank and file movements within them, or maybe even apart from the even, that's when real change can start to happen. (If you look at the Italian workers movement in the 1920's or something) If you have these big, massive union organizations, if we were able to develop a working class movement therein we could start to restructure the economy and seize power in desirable ways. In terms of the SEIU it's kinda an uphill battle just in the sense that it would be contrary to a lot of people's interests even in the union movement to see a militant rank and file movement spread on a mass scale. The question is whether the people working at the peripheries, who are usually great in the SEIU can, overcome the people who have faith and reliance on the system who work at the top.

Firebrand: Could you talk about the culture within SEIU, in regards to it being a service sector union and drastically different from traditional trades unions?

Todd: I've gotten a taste of this culture from going to their leadership trainings, which are basically trainings on how to be a shop steward or organizing a contract. It's kind of interesting just because it's so diverse. I'm in the Oregon Public Employee Union, but that constitutes home care workers, nurses, non-profits, all kinds of shops, it's really a monthly crew, united in the sense that we're all in the service industry, but it's a very vague term, it's not industry in the sense that carpenters. It's kind of nice that way because when I would meet all these people they would tell me about things going on at their workplace and the commonalities and differences were a good educational process. I think that's one thing the SEIU can benefit from is having all kinds of different people informing and cross-pollinating each others labor ideas. One really great example of that is the department of health services which decides whether or not a kid comes to the Perry Center, they are in the same union, SEIU 503, so we have each others backs and that makes the boss really scared that if were going to go on strike, DHS is going to say you can't move those kids, which means they have to stay at the Perry Center but there is no one help the kids, so basically the boss would be screwed and need to sign any contract we asked for. In terms of health care, it's a real danger. Health care costs are getting out of control and I think the SEIU is going to have to fight much harder than other unions for it because it represents so many members and when the boss is bearing this weight, its gets kind of scary. If you think about restaurants, often times the boss just can't afford health care, that's the scary thing. If the profit margin starts getting so low then unions are gonna find themselves in a real quandary where they are going to have to take on the system rather than just individual bosses. SEIU does have a good strategy for that, and that's going for the industry level. If you do just hit a shop you can make a shop rather inefficient and just crumble. If you actually got enough gains for the workers that you actually deserved perhaps that would make the business non-competitive. So the business competitors would drop prices and the business would fail and the union movement would be crushed in the industry. But if you hit the whole industry that's when it starts to make sense because then no shop has any advantage over any other shop and they all have to treat the workers at the same standard.

Firebrand: What are you're thoughts on SEIU's strong endorsement of Kerry? Especially since SEIU represents a lot of public workers, could you address the relation between public workers and funding for public workers jobs coming from the state.

Todd: I think it's really complicated. I used to think it was simple that unions don't have any business endorsing or not endorsing political candidates. That unions should derive all their power from their membership and shouldn't have to grovel with politicos for whatever they need. And I still believe that to a large extent. Yet, now I've started to see there's really weird things, like, one of the SEIU locals in Portland endorsed Francesconi because he's really close with two of the building owners and because of that they would be ensure to get a really good contract for janitors. I argued with a bunch of organizers about it for a long time but it kinda just made me realize that sometimes to get direct things that really, really matter to people, unions do have to make political endorsements or have to establish relationships. It's sketchy, you know? But the reality is in my industry, social services, all the funding comes directly from politicians and so having politicians forcing your bosses to negotiate with you is incredibly powerful and that's how my union had gone about doing it. I fell like ideally you wouldn't do any of that, you wouldn't have to ask for any support from politicians. I'm not totally clear on how I feel about it, because short of a militant working class movement there are not too many options for us and I think its one of those 'in the meantime' things. I don't want to participate in it personally and I want to raise people's consciousness against it, working to show why it's stupid for unions to engage in this kind of activity. But in the same vain what I think is more important is building a mass base that's motivated and mobilized rather than quibbling over political ideals. If we spend too much time just being purists people are going to get left behind because they are not going to have healthcare. It's about balancing your ideals against the needs of everyone. There has to be compromise at some level, just hopefully not at every level.
spelling 17.Nov.2004 21:38

B

It's "Parry Center"

quick correction 28.Nov.2004 22:43

todd

So I got interviewed for this and wanted to just mention something real quick. This article was originally supposed to be edited and looked over, but went out nonetheless based on a miscommunication. I don't really have time to correct the mistakes in it, but will be doing a follow up in the next firebrand where I correct the things I felt that were either said wrong or misprinted. Thanks!

replies 29.Nov.2004 00:26

todd

I wanted to reply to this, and I should probably sleep soon :) Below are my replies. I apologize if this article upset, confused, or bewildered anyone. Hopefully my clarifications will help.

The bold and italics aren't coming up, so I attached it too. I am being lazy about typing in the bold and italics tags instead.

My replies are in italics and bold:

"We"

Firstly, I was not speaking on the behalf of anyone. I was conversing with a member of firebrand to get an interview going that we agreed on editing and then publish. I began to edit it after I received it, and communicated that, but took too long or the FB member forgot and published it. I have and had grave reservations with things expressed there, and wanted to rewrite it.I blame myself for not speaking carefully and editing quicker. I defend what I said, except not as its written. So when I was saying 'we' in this article I was telling what had happened casually and not speaking from any authority. I have written replies to correct the errors I found quickly.

Firebrand: What is your position at the Perry Center for Children?
Todd: I'm a maintenance worker, which is kinda a catch all term for somebody who takes care of the facilities. This means I help with the garden, paint, and fix anything if it breaks; if something goes wrong we're the ones dealing with it.

Firebrand: In general, what is the purpose of the Perry Center for Children?

Todd: The Perry Center is a live in center for abused children. It's got a campus, a school that's run by Portland Public Schools. It's got something like 50 beds, a garden for horticultural therapy, a gym; all kinds of stuff. It's basically just a small world for these kids to get away to and rehabilitate themselves with the assistance of staff.

This was sloppy. The Parry Center is a residential treatment center for children with behavioral disorders. The last line was just plain wrong. I am not qualified to speak on any of this with any authority, but suffice it to say that that's a bad description of the work that goes on. The kids are in treatment programs to stabilize them to where they can return to the community.

Firebrand: Right now, what labor conflict is going on at the Perry Center?

Todd: Where in contract negotiations. The contract before the contract were working on called for a two year contract extension. This means there's a wage freeze-no raises, but everybody keeps the same benefits. That contract was really screwed up because it had a draconian labor peace agreement in it that said no group actions could take place at all, which included on our own free time after work. Any kind of leafleting that would portray the company in a negative light. This is strait jacketing for any kind of direct action. So, when this contract came up the organizers had changed hands and our new organizer and the membership, there's a really high turn over at our work, so the membership will be different during each contract negotiation. The organizer and membership were much more active and wanted to get rid of these things keeping us from doing any kind of direct action and management basically called for another three year wage freeze, and no new economic gains. This constitutes about a five year wage freeze with extremely high turnover, lots and lots of injuries due to understaffing. Literally people getting kicked every day that could be prevented if there were more staff. Staff are talking about how they try to relieve negative things but don't get to do a whole lot of positive work with the children because they are basically doing triage because there's not enough workers and cause' the conditions at work are so bad. So the struggle has just been escalating to make a stand here because it will only go down hill from here if we don't win a wage increase or some kind of gain, the union will just stagnate and people will realize it's not really doing them any good if we can't learn to fight.

Ok so, the workers who bargained the contract I came in under bargained for a wage freeze due to the economic situation of the time (2002 I believe). The frozen wages and all the other things in the previous contract an increase to pay for increased healthcare costs. In that was an addendum that curtailed Parry Center's workers's rights to portraying the company in a negative light in the public's eye or other group activities directed against the company. I could go get the exact language, but that is close enough for this write-up. Needless to say this restricts worker's rights perhaps even constitutionally (the right to assemble???), and it is an amazing thing that anyone ever signed it. I've been told the logic was that by signing this labor peace agreement, the union and management were to lobby together to get the money needed for raises. To the SEIU's credit, management shirked that duty, and this year their work yielded a promise by some politicians that they could lobby. To the SEIU's discredit, why would anyone want to sign away workers's rights like that, ever! From what I saw when I arrived, and what others before me have told me, activity was extremely low between contracts, and I wouldn't be surprised if this was a big cause of that.

Turnover is high. Morale had been low. People were being overworked, and felt like they, the kids, and their union rights were being violated. Over the years benefits have, I've been told, dwindled. Some of us saw that the union was becoming obsolete through inactivity, and got involved. The mood that this article was written in was that the union was under attack and failing and we needed to organize to save the place. Otherwise the union rights at work would be lost due to alienated membership who felt like the union did nothing. Luckily that didn't happen... .

Firebrand: What's SEIU 503's strategy for winning the contract workers at the Perry Center want?

Todd: Escalation is basically the idea. We had our first informational picket, which is like a strike but everyone still works and you go out there and try to inform the public and management that were serious about this and why were out there. From there it's going to be more informational pickets, showing up at any fundraisers the Perry Center has. We haven't really discussed any concrete actions but the idea is to keep escalating to the point of striking, if need be. Basically, to make it so that the public image Trillium Family Services, which runs the Perry Center, is not one of a happy altruistic company benefiting children, but really one of management gone wild and kind of loosing sight of the children and staff. Management spends about three million dollars a year on capital improvements, whereas if were talking about a three year economic freeze there spending no money on personal improvements or improvement of services.

So... an informational picket is not like a strike. Its purpose is to inform. Nor is escalation the strategy. The strategy has been to establish and utilize a broad base of political, community, and worker support for improving treatment of staff and workers. This has involved info pickets, vigils, press conferences, working with local politicians, bargaining, etc. Now this stuff did and will get escalated to put pressure on to settle. Just like any other contract campaign.

Firebrand: What sort of input does the rank and file membership of the union at the Perry Center have in this contract negotiation?

Todd: At the beginning of the negotiation we sent out a survey asking people what they thought was most important. We use that as our direct guide in negotiations, we kind of scraped some things that were important to some of us but not to everyone. For example, there are some part time workers, I'm one of them, and we don't have health insurance. We realized that if we opened up health insurance for discussion management might cut the health insurance for everybody. So it was a risk we had to take by setting aside our interest to go with the ones of everybody else. Pretty much everyone had a consensus on what was most important. It kind of came to a point where I pointed out to other members of the bargaining unit that no nobody was showing up to any meetings, that nobody was coming to bargaining. So if we actually had any hope of winning this we needed member input or the whole campaign would really atrophy. We can't move forward with direct action if people don't really know what's going on. So then we held some meetings at houses. Basically one meeting where we said this is really serious and we pulled a significant portion of the membership. That kind of got everyone motivated and laid the way for this first informational picket. When we did do the informational picket almost everybody came out, even if they could only come out on there breaks if they were working. It got significant numbers of people involved. We made it clear to the rank and file that we weren't doing anything as a bargaining unit; it's only the rank and file who can do anything at all. If the rank and file doesn't do it, or authorize the bargaining committee to make the steps needed then we can't do anything. I think that resonated with people and they started to take more active steps.

This was meandering. Basically negotiation demands came from member bargaining surveys. The bargaining committee chose what most wanted. Then there was the massive inactivity by membership. So we held a meeting at a house on a weekend that was well attended. Unfortunately there was not much more staff involvement thereafter until the strike drew near (With some very notable exceptions). This was a problem, and stressed out the bargaining committee since it was unclear the degree to which workers were on board. This was a constant struggle. Strangely enough it seems like once the heaviness came around, the strike, people did begin to pull together. We'll see how that plays out.

Firebrand: With your experience at the Perry Center, how is SEIU structured with paid organizers and the rank and file members?

Todd: I think there's kind of a common structure but what I've learned from being a participant in it and going to their trainings and seeing other shops is that it's highly decentralized; at least in practice. There's a central structure but things vary from local to local and from shop to shop. At our shop the way it works is there are open general membership meetings and that's where all the main voting happens. Theoretically, decision making lies straight in the hands of the membership. The problem is most people don't come to those meetings, so in fact the decision making takes place in the hands of the activists. There's a union organizer who is the main representative. We don't really deal with anybody except for the union organizer. Usually there's a higher up who will come along during bargaining. Bargaining consists of the union organizer, his or her supervisor, and the elected bargaining unit members. They get elected at general membership meetings. Outside of contract negotiations it's pretty much just direct democracy. I know that in other unions it's not always so participatory, even if that structures in place. Sometimes the union organizer just makes decisions. There's not total oversight into how that works. For instance another local would raise dues without having a membership vote, which I think actually violated the constitution of SEIU, so they got taken over by the international. Our shop works really democratically; I think this is because of our organizer. If you get a bad organizer it can go totally in the opposite direction unless you already have a militant organized membership.

I used bad words. What I meant to say was that every business union local seems to work slightly differently. Some are run well, others poorly. You can't judge it till you see it. My local is a good democratic one. My point though was that democracy only extended so far since the workers were largely ignorant of what was going on, had the chance to vote but didn't, and had little role in actually making the decisions due to inactivity. The organizer comment was bad. I was not saying that you need a good organizer. You don't. A bad one will hurt you, but you don't need one if you have a well organized shop. My point was just that some locals get set back by bad organizing, and some don't. I didn't mean to say we need nice leaders to show us the way, it comes off like that to me when I read it.

Firebrand: As militant working class rank and file union activists, what steps do you see needing to be taken to build a larger militant rank and file?

Todd: Yeah, it's a hard question. I see unions as an education process, because the reality of it is you can make improvements in our class's lives, in the terms of wages, kind of these short term gains. When it comes down to it real change probably isn't going to happen in a union due the stresses put on bargaining and working within these limited frameworks of getting more wages rather than restructuring the economy or changing the fundamental nature of the work. You would need a high level of militancy. So I think in these current pre-revolutionary times what I have seen unions do best is show people how they can grasp the reigns for themselves and take things into their own hands; direct action in it's truest sense. What I have tried to do is not just teach my co-workers about unions and the democratic party are the be all end all, but also as I get to know people and get closer to them, introduce them to radical unionism and anarchism, presumably not under those names. At my workplace since it's really high turnover, what's really positive is you get these people who are really dedicated to unions and see how screwed up management is and then as they leave they feel a loss cause there not going to be in a union anymore you can divert them into these other causes they find fulfilling and that has actually worked really well. People have actually gotten into. I think just opening up the dialogue in unions, people are rather receptive to the ideas of democracy and direct action, and it just takes bringing those in a subtle way. Just bringing it up and having people think about it, not being confrontational. There important and initiative ideas I think people don't normally run into cause we live in such a hierarchical society.

This paragraph goes poorly as it sounds exploitive to me. I was trying to make the point that a militant rank and file movement probably will not happen in our current AFL-CIO unions. I believe this in part because of their nature which is to bargain, without having any vision or means transitioning to a society with democratic worker run industries. So in this light I think the current task for those stuck in AFL-CIO type unions is to try and develop militancy and consciousness of the struggle for democracy in the work place. I don't mean that I teach that, but that the work unionists do can educate others through its impact on their lives. This will hopefully introduce them to radical unionism and direct democracy (I am intentionally removing the word anarchist here) through teaching them about how changes can be made on the job, and how this relates to workplace democracy and worker self-management. The lessons I was hoping workers's would teach themselves were about democracy in the workplace, not some political ideology. I also don't believe at all in the democratic party or mainstream unions.

Firebrand: What are you're thoughts on SEIU's focus on organizing? Do you think this hinders building a strong rank and file within existing SEIU shops?

Todd: I think anyway the union movement grows is probably positive, the only danger is you don't want massive bureaucracies like the communist unions of Europe, where they start to suppress strikes and that kind of thing... American unions are famous for doing those types of things. But when it comes to organizing I think it probably would be good to have industrial organizations, which the SEIU is trying to do, it's trying to set up internationals, organize cross country to unite working people so that outsourcing and the race to the bottom gets slowed... I think that's positive in the sense that once you have those organs, if you organize rank and file movements within them, or maybe even apart from the even, that's when real change can start to happen. (If you look at the Italian workers movement in the 1920's or something) If you have these big, massive union organizations, if we were able to develop a working class movement therein we could start to restructure the economy and seize power in desirable ways. In terms of the SEIU it's kinda an uphill battle just in the sense that it would be contrary to a lot of people's interests even in the union movement to see a militant rank and file movement spread on a mass scale. The question is whether the people working at the peripheries, who are usually great in the SEIU can, overcome the people who have faith and reliance on the system who work at the top.

I would take 90% of this back if I could, since I disagree with it worded as such. I don't want to correct this since it would lead into a long conversation that I don't think would be fruitful without a lot of analysis. Needless to say, what I said above is grossly inaccurate about the SEIU, and cuts them too much slack whilst fumbling their positives. Especially the parts about industrial organizing, international organizing, and so on. This was supposed to be skeptical at the end. The idea was that though their innovating the cards are stacked against the great people working at the lower levels of the union, who are in the mercy of a large centralized reactionary organization.

Firebrand: Could you talk about the culture within SEIU, in regards to it being a service sector union and drastically different from traditional trades unions?

Todd: I've gotten a taste of this culture from going to their leadership trainings, which are basically trainings on how to be a shop steward or organizing a contract. It's kind of interesting just because it's so diverse. I'm in the Oregon Public Employee Union, but that constitutes home care workers, nurses, non-profits, all kinds of shops, it's really a monthly crew, united in the sense that we're all in the service industry, but it's a very vague term, it's not industry in the sense that carpenters. It's kind of nice that way because when I would meet all these people they would tell me about things going on at their workplace and the commonalities and differences were a good educational process. I think that's one thing the SEIU can benefit from is having all kinds of different people informing and cross-pollinating each others labor ideas. One really great example of that is the department of health services which decides whether or not a kid comes to the Perry Center, they are in the same union, SEIU 503, so we have each others backs and that makes the boss really scared that if were going to go on strike, DHS is going to say you can't move those kids, which means they have to stay at the Perry Center but there is no one help the kids, so basically the boss would be screwed and need to sign any contract we asked for. In terms of health care, it's a real danger. Health care costs are getting out of control and I think the SEIU is going to have to fight much harder than other unions for it because it represents so many members and when the boss is bearing this weight, its gets kind of scary. If you think about restaurants, often times the boss just can't afford health care, that's the scary thing. If the profit margin starts getting so low then unions are gonna find themselves in a real quandary where they are going to have to take on the system rather than just individual bosses. SEIU does have a good strategy for that, and that's going for the industry level. If you do just hit a shop you can make a shop rather inefficient and just crumble. If you actually got enough gains for the workers that you actually deserved perhaps that would make the business non-competitive. So the business competitors would drop prices and the business would fail and the union movement would be crushed in the industry. But if you hit the whole industry that's when it starts to make sense because then no shop has any advantage over any other shop and they all have to treat the workers at the same standard.

This was a bad attempt at the following statement: Shop to shop campaigns don't work, We have to organize by industry. The SEIU is doing one version of that, I think there are better ones but will stop there. The last part sounds like boss rhetoric. My sentiment was that in theory (not in practice) workers at a single shop could bankrupt a boss if the other non-union shops conspired against it in a price war. This was just to stress that capitalism fights against workers not just in the workplace but in the market of the industry. I think we need to organize an industry correspondingly, and big unions aren't doing that as far as I can see.

Firebrand: What are you're thoughts on SEIU's strong endorsement of Kerry? Especially since SEIU represents a lot of public workers, could you address the relation between public workers and funding for public workers jobs coming from the state.

Todd: I think it's really complicated. I used to think it was simple that unions don't have any business endorsing or not endorsing political candidates. That unions should derive all their power from their membership and shouldn't have to grovel with politicos for whatever they need. And I still believe that to a large extent. Yet, now I've started to see there's really weird things, like, one of the SEIU locals in Portland endorsed Francesconi because he's really close with two of the building owners and because of that they would be ensure to get a really good contract for janitors. I argued with a bunch of organizers about it for a long time but it kinda just made me realize that sometimes to get direct things that really, really matter to people, unions do have to make political endorsements or have to establish relationships. It's sketchy, you know? But the reality is in my industry, social services, all the funding comes directly from politicians and so having politicians forcing your bosses to negotiate with you is incredibly powerful and that's how my union had gone about doing it. I fell like ideally you wouldn't do any of that, you wouldn't have to ask for any support from politicians. I'm not totally clear on how I feel about it, because short of a militant working class movement there are not too many options for us and I think its one of those 'in the meantime' things. I don't want to participate in it personally and I want to raise people's consciousness against it, working to show why it's stupid for unions to engage in this kind of activity. But in the same vain what I think is more important is building a mass base that's motivated and mobilized rather than quibbling over political ideals. If we spend too much time just being purists people are going to get left behind because they are not going to have healthcare. It's about balancing your ideals against the needs of everyone. There has to be compromise at some level, just hopefully not at every level.

I think I missed the Kerry thing all together in that question actually. Here I wanted to say that against my better judgment the union has worked closely with politicians. It taught me a minor lesson that if your workplace deals with government funds, they're your boss. So you have to use leverage and deal with them. Some of this has been good, some of it seems to me to be a waste of time. I feel actually uneducated about these matters, and will reserve judgment for a bit. This has made me think hard about government-union relations. I am not comfortable with using union member votes, or endorsements as bargaining chips. It seems wrong in fact. But I was trying to point out to militant anti-government types that sometimes workers have to talk to the feds, and to ask how should workers do that (assuming you want a democratic workplace)?
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