United States: Left-wing labour conference attacked

April 19, 2008

Union members and labour activists attending the Labor Notes conference dinner on April 12 were attacked by bus loads of staff and members of the Service Employees Industrial Union (SEIU) — wearing purple SEIU t-shirts — who forced their way into the conference venue in Dearborn, Michigan. In the ensuing melee a number of people were injured.

Labor Notes is a labour movement magazine that seeks to build union militancy, rank-and-file solidarity and has acted as a networking tool between reform groups in the US union movement. Since 1981, bi-annual conferences have been held to bring union activists together.

The 2008 conference, aimed at examining approaches to "Rebuild Labor's Power", attracted more than 1000 people from 21 countries, the largest conference since 1997.

The SEIU's attack is a consequence of the growing bitter dispute between the SEIU and the California Nurses Association (CNA), and its affiliate the National Nurses Organising Committee, over the organisation of nurses in Catholic Healthcare Partners (CHP) in Ohio.

The SEIU had negotiated for the CHP to approach the National Labor Relations Board to hold a union recognition ballot for registered nurses at nine of its hospitals in March. The SEIU was to be the only choice on the ballot.

Such a ballot would ordinarily be precipitated by a union membership card check to indicate that the union had support among the workforce. Such a check did not occurr. In response the CNA, which has also sought to organise nurses at the CHP, launched a campaign for nurses to be given a genuine choice in the union they join.

On March 12, days before the scheduled ballot, the SEIU announced that the ballot had been cancelled and launched a public attack on the CNA, accusing it of union-busting.

The attack on the Labor Notes conference was aimed at disrupting the speech by CNA director Rose Anne DeMoro during the conference dinner. As there had been rumours of an attack on the conference, DeMoro cancelled her speech.

DeMoro had been invited to speak on CNA's work to achieve the establishment of single-payer health insurance (where the government or a separate sub-contracting agency provides a universal system of health insurance) and successful campaign to win improved nurse-patient staffing ratios in California, which are the best in the US.

Mark Brenner, director of Labor Notes said "Labor Notes has always been a space for open debate, but when a union decides to engage in violence against their brothers and sisters, we draw a line. Violence within the labour movement is unacceptable and we call on the national leadership of SEIU, including President Andy Stern, to repudiate it."

[For information on Labor Notes and the conference visit http://labornotes.org.]

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