New Orleans Andy Stern’s convention speech in San Juan as International President was expansive, unbending, and appropriately celebratory. Some of us had been in Pittsburgh when the 1,000,000 member mark was broken, and now the 2,000,000 member mark was smashed as well. Stern in pledging to implement the Justice for All package being presented and passed by the convention delegates also became labor’s Babe Ruth tilting his bat towards the stands for a homer, as he pledged that at the next convention SEIU would have 2,500,000 members, be the largest public sector union in the USA, and have won comprehensive health care and labor reform.
Big talk, and the crashing of the tectonic plates of huge local unions at the Convention into alignment as they pledged more centralization, consolidation, and resources to the International union was an impressive display of organizing. Steven Greenhouse in his Times wrap-up commented that Stern came out of the convention with more power. Sal Roselli, the head of the large West Coast health care local, was left saying that the rank-and-file had been heard. Hopefully, that is sufficient consolation for Roselli, since the delegates also passed a resolution that put the power of the convention itself behind the inevitable transfer of 65,000 of his home health care members to the Los Angeles behemoth home health local union headed by Tyrone Freeman.
There were some interesting side notes in Andy’s remarks worth remembering and thinking about. Among other things he said:
* SEIU was the largest “advocacy” organization in the US
* 81% of the 2M SEIU members live in only 6 states
* Reaching 2.5 M members would make SEIU the largest union ever in history in North America.
Greenhouse noted that a $10 Million “punishment fund” was created to be used to go after politicians who made promises to SEIU and then reneged. I missed that one, but it’s an speaks to a politics that has real power in SEIU.
SEIU undoubtedly heard its critics, but brushed them aside effortlessly with the intensity of the vision of growth and the power that comes from “the numbers to the members” as Stern repeatedly said in his speech. Not surprisingly, the members — and their leaders — are willing to put all their bets on building power now, and worry about how the chips may fall later.