SEIU’S Andy Stern Joins The Corporate Elite

Shamus Cooke

The once-powerful President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Andy Stern, recently retired his purple and gold union t-shirt. His new clothing is far more formal — to match the political and business activity he’s thrown himself into. The rank and file of SEIU will recognize Mr. Stern’s new career choice well, since they’ve battled against such people at the workplace, bargaining table, and in the streets. Although Stern has spent considerable time dipping his toes in the corporate pool, he recently dove in head first.

Itemizing and/or categorizing all of Stern’s crimes against working people would be a lengthy process, so we’ll focus on only the most heinous.

Stern has joined the board of directors of the elite, billionaire Broad Foundation, whose main activity consists in destroying public education. Like the Bill Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation throws money at projects that promote the privatization of public education through charter school creation.

The Broad Foundation also supports Teach for America, an institute that shabbily trains would-be teachers to work at poorly paying charter schools. Lastly, the Broad Foundation targets teachers’ unions — the strongest advocates of public education — by financing projects that link teachers’ pay to student achievement. Stern’s participation in the campaign against public education will earn him the revulsion of all workers. But it gets worse.

Stern is also on the Board of Directors of SIGA Technologies, a corporation that is part of the military industrial complex, and contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense. Why was Stern chosen to be on the Board of a corporation that focuses on biological warfare “defense”? SIGA’s CEO, Eric Rose, explains:

Andy is a strong leader and a great addition to our Board of Directors. His insight, experience, and leadership, particularly his understanding of how our federal government works, will complement the skill sets of our existing board members.

Translation: Stern is politically connected and can make us big profits.

Working for a war profiteer is a bad enough, but Stern has committed worse sins. His most treacherous act is his recent acceptance onto Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

Obama’s intent in creating this commission is now known to many: he plans to reduce the U.S. deficit by decreasing Social Security and Medicare benefits, and possibly reducing or eliminating other social programs, instead of ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

To do the job, Obama’s commission is stacked with corporate-minded politicians from the Republicans and Democrats, a couple of CEO’s, and lastly, Andy Stern. The reason Stern was asked to be on the commission is obvious: his job will be to sell a corporate bag of goods to the U.S. working class, using his past position as the President of SEIU.

This is the same con game he performed for Obama’s anti-worker health care bill, when Stern teamed up with Wal-Mart and other corporations in the coalition “United We Fall.”

Stern has been preaching this philosophy of labor-corporate “teamwork” for years, before he opted to switch teams and join corporate America.

But Stern cannot be singled out as an exception to the rule among labor leaders. Although Stern is swimming happily alongside corporate sharks, there are other labor leaders waiting poolside. These union leaders shamelessly promote Democratic politicians as the Democratic Party accelerates its rightward trajectory, promoting or defending the interests of Wall Street at the expense of workers.

The union strategy of “partnering” with Democratic politicians and corporate CEOs has failed — miserably. Union leaders who suggest that workers use their dues money to finance the campaigns of Democratic politicians — as these politicians attack teacher and public employee unions — are just Andy Sterns in the waiting.

U.S. unions must adopt a politically independent policy. Union money is not simply being wasted on Democrats; it is funding politicians who are attacking unions! Such a situation cannot last much longer — the rank and file will not allow it. The time is coming where union leaders must actually lead, meaning, that they must organize themselves alongside other unions to defend the interests of working families against the massive attacks being orchestrated by the Democrats and Republicans, under the guise of “fiscal responsibility.”

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Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action. He can be reached at portland@workerscompass.org