Notes from the Politics blog

Pub date February 17, 2009

If you’ve been reading the Guardian‘s Politics blog, you know that battles between and within some major California labor unions — including Service Employees International Union, SEIU’s United Healthcare Workers, the newly formed National Union of Healthcare Workers, and the California Nurses Association — are dividing the movement at a crucial time for progressive politics.

From important federal legislation such as the landmark Employee Free Choice Act to state legislation like the single-payer healthcare bill that Sen. Mark Leno plans to reintroduce in the coming months, philosophical and turf battles between unions have hurt labor’s ability to successfully counter corporate power.

"The fight inside SEIU [involving all four unions mentioned above] is one that is going to hurt our ability to pursue and pass legislation important not just to health care workers but workers in general," labor writer David Bacon told the Guardian. "There’s lots of energy going into jurisdictional battles and I think employers will use this fight against us … Sometimes it feels like we’re going backward."

But the battles continue. On Feb. 18, NUHW plans to picket outside UHW’s Oakland offices, protesting SEIU’s efforts to hinder NUHW organizing efforts (which we discuss more online). Philosophical differences between SEIU (which has close relationships with national corporate and political leaders) and unions like NUHW and CNA (which take more adversarial roles with employers and push for fundamental reforms such as single-payer health care) animate the debate.

Meanwhile, even more radicalized unions such as the International Longshore Workers Union have increasingly taken strong stances on immigrant rights and social justice issues like the BART police shooting of passenger Oscar Grant, which they discussed at a Feb. 14 rally that featured UC Santa Cruz professor and activist Angela Davis.

For more on the unfolding labor movement battles and what it means for progressive politics, keep reading the Guardian‘s Politics blog.