Andy vs. George
Okay, so you're wondering how this can be true -- the progressive labor leader and the right-wing president. How can they have anything in common? But just stick with me for a moment.
They both go where none have gone before
Andy Stern is the main man behind the disemboweling of the AFL-CIO. He and his team -- including Jimmy Hoffa Jr. of the Teamsters, and Joe Hanson at the UFCW -- have pulled up stakes. This means 4 million members and $25 million are gone from the AFL-CIO, and likely more will follow. Despite conventional wisdom, the advice of many, and huge hand-wringing for "unity," Stern went ahead anyway. The AFL-CIO staff are probably still scratching their heads, wondering what happened.
George Bush and his team -- including Dick Cheney and Colin Powell -- plunged into Iraq, also going against much conventional wisdom and the advice of many around the world, leaving a peace movement of tens of millions scratching our heads, realizing we never had a chance.
They're both headstrong, maybe reckless
Andy Stern was criticized for not engaging in a real debate with his brothers and sisters in labor about his pullout. Well, if you've already decided what you are going to do, there really isn't much reason to have a debate, right?
George Bush was criticized for going into Iraq without waiting. He was tired of debating, and in the end, he actually didn't care what happened at the UN. He decided he was going in, no matter what -- whether WMDs were found or not. What's the use of waiting, if you've already decided what you are going to do?
They both seized the narrative
By acting so boldly, Andy Stern has grabbed the narrative. He is the labor story. He has the momentum, and he has stayed on message: The AFL-CIO is part of the problem, not the solution; we're changing labor for the better; we'll invest big bucks in organizing. In this narrative, the AFL-CIO are the losers, now left far weaker and holding the bag. Their only narrative is the other guys are bullies, and we are victims.
For six years, George Bush has been the American political narrative. He got his tax cuts, invaded Iraq, and has stayed on message from the beginning: cut taxes, make government smaller, build the military and fight terrorism. By acting so boldly, enough Americans voted for George Bush to elect him twice, claiming they know where he stands. The Democrats have been the losers at every turn -- with the presidency, the House, the Senate, and now the Supreme Court. No counter-narrative has taken hold.
They both fight dirty
Andy Stern fights dirty. AFL-CIO chief John Sweeney says that Stern was moving in a very negative way, raiding AFSME members in California. Some think Stern seemed to be saying: "Screw you, AFSME and AFL-CIO!"
George Bush? Well, let's just count the ways he plays dirty. How do you spell O-H-I-O? How about F-L-O-R-I-D-A? Arm twisting in Congress, Tom Delay ... the list is endless. The message: Screw you Democrats, liberals, progressives and anyone else who doesn't see it my way.
They both have father issues, more or less
Incidentally, though the media keeps referring to the old father/son, mentor relationship between Stern and Sweeney, after Sweeney became head of the AFL-CIO, Seeney stayed "neutral" while Stern fought a nasty battle with the corrupt SEIU "old guard" to succeed him as SEIU president. Stern won without his support -- so much for father/son stuff.
And George W. Bush showed up his real dad too, who decided it wasn't wise to invade Iraq.
It's hard to debate the fact that George Bush has changed history and shocked us all. With his response to 9/11, court appointments, the PATRIOT Act, the huge deficit from tax cuts and much more, he has altered our lives far into the future.
Like Bush's huge impact, Andy Stern is changing the union movement irrevocably -- it will never be the same. We can't know for sure, but don't be surprised if Stern and the Change to Win Coalition become one giant union with 5 million members, employing Stern's model of dividing the country according to industry, to give them more clout. This could make a big difference.
Well, is it a good thing?
And as for whether Stern resembling Bush is a good thing? We don't know how it will end up in the long run. But labor can't get much weaker without becoming totally irrelevant; it has lost twice to George Bush, spending upwards of $100 million to come out with the short end of the stick last November, with its crack team in the field. By the way, Stern as much as said, maybe the Dems should lose. But he did invest $60 million in the contest. Maybe he realizes he wasted his money.
Labor -- except for SEIU, which has grown to approximately 1.8 million -- has been losing all over America, as our low-wage, non-union, not-much-healthcare, Wal-Mart-ized society gains ground. For example, the governors of Indiana and Missouri simply eliminated the unions representing state government employees. And who is leading the fight against Wal-Mart? SEIU and the United Food and Commercial Workers.
Clearly, Stern and his partners, Hoffa and Hansen -- with others waiting in the wings -- concluded that there was no way for the AFL-CIO to change in the dramatic ways necessary to save the labor movement. For him, it was not possible for the existing AFL-CIO, balkanized with a consensus model, to invest in organizing and crack the heads necessary to toughen up.
And by being allied only with Democrats, there was no competition for their dollars or attention. Maybe Stern is right. And maybe he isn't playing fair or nice, and some good, well-meaning people are going to get steamrolled. It is not a pretty picture, but it might be a necessary picture.
Now that Stern and his teammates have declared independence, might they consider other AFL-CIO unions' workers fair game for poaching? After all, he has suggested that globalization must be reckoned with. Maybe competition for union members in the marketplace could create some positive change, putting workers more in the driver's seat, for a change.
Yes, George W. and Andy Stern, almost two peas from the same pod. One is a servant to global capital and the rich and powerful, and the other is poised to be the new working-class hero. Stay tuned.