SEIU Chief Says the Democrats Lack Fresh Ideas

Posted by Peter

From The Washington Post
July 27, 2004

Breaking sharply with the enforced harmony of the Democratic National Convention, the president of the largest AFL-CIO union said Monday that both organized labor and the Democratic Party might be better off in the long run if Sen. John F. Kerry loses the election.

Andrew L. Stern, the head of the 1.6 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU), said in an interview with The Washington Post that both the party and its longtime ally, the labor movement, are "in deep crisis," devoid of new ideas and working with archaic structures.

Stern argued that Kerry's election might stifle needed reform within the party and the labor movement. …

Asked whether if Kerry became president it would help or hurt those internal party deliberations, Stern said, "I think it hurts."

Stern's dissatisfaction with the AFL-CIO and the Democratic Party is not new, but his decision to voice his frustration on the opening day of a carefully scripted convention was an unwelcome surprise to Kerry's convention managers, who had been proclaiming their delight at the absence of any internal conflicts.

Speaking of the effort to create new political and union organizations, Stern said, "I don't know if it would survive with a Democratic president," because Kerry, like former president Bill Clinton, would use the party for his own political benefit and labor leaders would become partners of the new establishment.

"It is a hollow party," Stern said, adding that "if John Kerry becomes president, it hurts" chances of reforming the Democrats and organized labor. …

Stern made it clear that his complaints long preceded Kerry's nomination. He said that when Clinton was president, he demonstrated how little he cared for the Democratic Party. Calling the former president "the greatest fundraiser of his time," Stern asked: "If you think the Democratic Party is valuable, why would you leave it bankrupt?" … [H]e said, adding that if Kerry is elected "he would smother" any effort to give it more intellectual heft and organizational muscle. …

But Stern complained that motivating blue-collar families who have not voted in the past is being impeded because Kerry and the Democrats have declined to address what he calls "the Wal-Mart economy," a system in which he says employers deliberately keep wages so low and hours so short that workers are forced to turn to state Medicaid programs for their families' health care.

He also criticized what he called the vagueness of the Democratic platform on trade issues. …

He said he is convinced from his experience in the civil rights movement that "pressure is needed" to bring about real change. "It was not enough to have Martin Luther King Jr.," Stern said. "You needed Stokely Carmichael" to raise the threat of disruption unless demands were met. Carmichael was the flamboyant civil rights activist known for coining the term "black power." …

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