Tuesday, April 20

High intrigue as SEIU mandarins battle for Andy Stern's throne

Steve Diamond has more news about the doings at the Service Employees International Union in the wake of Andy Stern's announcement that he was giving up the union's presidency. Steve writes on his King Harvest blog:
Battle for Helm of SEIU Underway After Stern
by Stephen Diamond, April 19, 2010

Andy Stern is not yet out of the way but the battle among SEIU's top officials for control of the 2.2 million 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.

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 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 during 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.
As you might tell from the title of this post I'm pessimistic that the union will become democratic under a new president. Steve himself noted in his April 15 post about the mystery surrounding Stern's real reason for leaving SEIU:
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.
Once a union leader gathers that much power I can't feature his replacement handing any of the power to the peasants -- beyond a few cosmetic changes in a nod to criticism.

As to Steve's comment that Stern's departure means the union won't have as much political leverage -- again, as Steve pointed out in his April 15 post, it's the numbers that really make the union so powerful politically -- more than 2 million members. I can't see Obama cold-shouldering SEIU's next president for that reason.

What I can see is the possibility that once the iron-fisted Stern is gone SEIU would break into two or more unions.

History is littered with similar situations accompanying the demise of a powerful emperor. A warlord who never had enough power to take on the emperor is quick to mobilize restive peasants and disgruntled elements of the emperor's army once the emperor is gone. Even if the warlord can't have the palace, he figures he can scare up a big enough army to set up a rival seat of power.

In that event, yes, the next person to head SEIU would not enjoy as many visits to the White House as Stern. Not only would the union membership be smaller after a split but it would also be a political landmine for Obama to show favoritism toward one side, in what would be a bitter rivalry for several years.

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