Sunday, December 31, 2006

SEIU's adopt a block and free lance unionism

Arlene Jones, Percy Giles, and Emma Mitts will be contending with this effort by SEIU. (To my knowledge SEIU has yet to endorse any candidates yet -- correct me if wrong).

Join SEIU’s Adopt a Block Program and help shake up Illinois politics in ‘06 and ‘07!

The Adopt a Block program will be a lasting precinct based organization designed to maximize our ability to elect pro worker politicians.

The SEIU Adopt a Block program will identify union members who are willing to take ownership over their home precinct and get to know the voters that live there so that we can produce results that will help us to elect politicians that care about our families—working families—more effectively than ever before.

When you sign up to be an SEIU Block Captain you will receive a BLOCK CAPTAIN KIT and step-by-step instructions that show you how to build power for working people in your own neighborhood!

As an SEIU BLOCK CAPTAIN you will be a part of the SEIU political team, receive all the political news and learn how to:

Circulate petitions
Voter registration
Recruit Volunteers
Set up “Coffees”
“ID” and “GOTV” Voters

For more information, contact your union rep or Jasson Perez, Adopt-a-Block coordinator, at SEIU Local 73. Jasson can be reached at 312-981-2436, or jperez@seiu73.org.
I had hopes of Andy Stearn shaking up the union establishment a bit. I'd be real doubtful if they shake up Illinois politics much. I'd be more worried of politicians shaking my union down.

Reality is your SEIU neighbor likely to be holding a public service job and I don't know how convincing they're going to be talking to non-public sector workers working in our post-industrial economy.

This is something the living wage folks never quit get. We no longer have Donna Reed families in America with a breadwinner and stay at home mom and kids. We've got lots of single parents instead, with kids moving back and forth between care givers, and a lot of demand for part-time jobs and flexibility.

Go out to the cemeteries along Des Plaines avenue and you'll see the plot for Workmen's Circle. It's the same spirit of practical radicalism and unionism you find today with Sara Horawitz and the Free Lancer's Union. From a recent article on her in The Economist,
“I had an epiphany that existing labour laws and regulations didn't fit the way people were working,” she says. At Harvard's Kennedy School, she set about rethinking unionism from first principles. What do modern workers need? What gives a union power? She concluded that a union is a means for workers to join together to solve problems. To be effective it needs an economic model that makes it independent of government, employers and other institutions. And the biggest problem for freelancers? The lack of health insurance, which in America is mostly provided by employers, and only to permanent staff.

Not for nothing has Ms Horowitz been described as the “quintessential example” of a social entrepreneur—someone who applies the innovative spirit and business discipline of a Silicon Valley start-up to try to solve society's thorniest problems. After Harvard, with seed capital from some charitable foundations, she started a non-profit organisation in 1995 called Working Today to address the needs of freelancers, such as affordable health insurance. She quickly rejected the traditional union model of confrontation and charging membership dues unrelated to benefits received. Instead, with an un-unionlike enthusiasm for the discipline of the marketplace, she adopted a customer-centric approach. She would provide members with a menu of services that they could choose to pay for, thus generating the funds to spend on the union's advocacy of freelance-friendlier labour laws. (Freelancers in America are generally not entitled to unemployment insurance, for example, even if a job they have done for, say, 18 months comes to an end.)

After a couple of false starts, she found a way to use the bulk purchasing power of her members to drive down health-insurance premiums, ultimately by around 40%. In 2001, Working Today launched the Portable Benefits Network (renamed the Freelancers Union in 2003) to provide benefits including education and advocacy, as well as health care, to independent workers in New York's Silicon Alley technology district. Now the union's members—some 13,000 of whom buy its health care, some of them complaining that it is too basic even as they do so—come from industries ranging from finance and alternative health to technology and non-profit organisations. The union has annual revenues of $38m, of which $4m funds advocacy.
This is Walmart thinking on the economies of scale applied to the problems of working people. Go ahead and organize politically. Endorse Jones or Giles. But if you want to impact people's lives, then Tom Balanoff ought to consider making Unionism a lot bigger then just Illinois Democratic politics. Those SEIU shirts say We make Politics Work. Work for who is the question union members ought to ask.... and if politics is really enough.

Update: a footnote quote from Horowitz,
,...she says. Ironically this progressive idea is inspired, she says, by some past giants of American trade unionism, above all Sidney Hillman, president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, who created lasting institutions such as the Amalgamated Bank, Amalgamated Life Insurance and Amalgamated Housing. “Compared with the bosses of the firms they were going up against, the early labour leaders were the geniuses,” says Ms Horowitz. That is not something anyone would say of today's union leaders—with the notable exception, perhaps, of Ms Horowitz herself.

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