The Civil Wars in US Labor

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Jonathan Neale

This book tells how the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in the US has gone rancid. It also shows what's wrong with US unions as a whole.

In their model, organising means recruiting. SEIU is a public sector union. It pays lots of full-timers to sign up members and supports local and state politicians. In return, the politicians let them recruit without hitting them with the full force of a modern American anti-union campaign.

But "organising" does not mean "organising". Steve Early himself, a very experienced full-time trade union official, supports an older model of unions. So do I. In our model, organising means shop stewards and local officials elected by the members.

In the last few years SEIU has also introduced call centre unionism in many states. Instead of a steward, you call the call centre and whoever answers gives you advice, without knowing your workplace, your contract, your job or your management, or speaking to you face to face.

Building strong unions in hard times always requires three things. You need a sense of a cause that will change the world, a cause worth dying for if you have to. You need leaders with the courage to back strikes no matter what the courts or cops do. And you need local workplace leaders elected and trusted by their members.