Monday, January 29, 2007

Breakfast With Andy Stern

Breakfast With Andy Stern

Much delayed but finally served.

Well, that wasn’t anything like I expected. I went in expecting a speech, or a low-key talk, and instead I got a discussion. I thought maybe I was doing too much talking before we started, at the beginning, then I realized, wait a minute! We HAVE started and this is what it’s going to be!

Anyway, here’s some of the play by play. We had a dozen or so of us: long-time and new activists and a couple elected officials (Amy Correia from the city council, and later county auditor Slockett arrived)

Stern said labor’s membership in 2004 was looking less at the candidate “who can win” and more at the candidate who was best on the issues, and in the very glitzy 2008 cycle he hopes labor can steer the campaign back toward issues. He asked us – asked us! - how best to do that, when the press is already focusing on glitz.

Amy Correia cited a local group, The 49 (named for the 49% of Americans who DID NOT vote for George Bush) that was involved in local races in 2005 and in the 2006 general. Another local group cited was FAIR. (Pardon the GeoCites URL. Local activism doesn't have to be fancy, he said from the free Blogger account.)

Amy C: the 49 – issue forums

Other comments:
Jason Friedman: Iowans are very conversant in issues. Get candidates to focus on them. We believe Dems will win in 2008, and want to make the right choice.

Me: Sometimes Iowans also over-think the electability “issue.” (OK, I was a bruised Deaniac.)

Stern had a great analogy: Democrats think a campaign is Jeopardy, where you win if you get the most answers right. "But Republicans know it’s American Idol." So we get folks who win the quiz but don’t connect with people.

Mike Carberry wants an American Idol winner who’s talented! Some thoughts that Hillary’s events this weekend seemed scripted, and we Iowans don’t want fawning and star worship. I ask if it will wear off; most of us think so.

Stern talks about the incredible new level of accountability the net (particularly youtube) creates. Candidates have less control, and the roots can use the net do drive the campaign.

Andy then discusses SEIU’s “Running for president? Walk In My Shoes” campaign; they’re trying to get candidates to spend a real day with a real person, getting members to tell their unfiltered stories then have that person report their real-world observations.

He noted SEIU’s working on a health care forum in Nevada, but the DNC trying to shut down, since candidates are saying they’re not ready for joint appearances (“they’re ready to be president, but not ready for a debate.”

Andy notes that an interesting thing about the globalized economy is that multinationals now do business in countries where the health care issue has been dealt with (Everyone else in the world has it figured out”), and are learning that “you don’t have to have socialism to have health care.” This reduces the old-fashioned ideological opposition.

One of us asked what were the three most important issues SEIU’s dealing with. The bullets:

In health care we’re reaching a 1994 moment. Even insurance and business and GOP governors are discussing universal coverage. (He thinks we’ll have to get universal coverage first before pushing ahead to single payer.) Right now, labor is telling the Democratic leadership “you don’t have to wait for a Democratic president.” Unlike `94, one-time opponents now believe collapse of the health care system (“we have a SECTOR not a system”) is worse than change. Now it’s about political will

People understand we’re in an economic revolution, akin to the agricultural or industrial revolution but in a much shorter time frame. But while the economy is GROWING growth is not DISTRIBUTED. Even Alan Greenspan says the rich poor gap is threatening capitalism. And unions are part of the solution. “Unions are one of the few anti poverty programs that work and that don’t cost the government money.” Sharing when a company succeeds is what used to make America great. People should have a stake, a voice.

This war is a huge problem. Militarism is not our future, and being a world community is different than being a superpower

When asked if progress is likely on labor organizing rights, Stern says it’s rhetorically closer. People feel the balance of power in the economy is tipped to capital. In many states, unions are not a factor. And we’re beginning to be a public sector movement – one risk of that is private sector unions are associated with fighting corporate greed while public sector unions risk association with higher taxes. Labor to give a vision of unions as part of solution. Labor is not talking about other country’s models of unions (as opposed to health care). He notes we’re as far in time from the New Deal as the New Deal was from the Civil War. And we can’t build a 2007 economy around 1935 laws or mindsets.
And he adds “I cringe when John Sweeney says ‘we won they owe us’”

Peter Fisher notes that the immigration issue is puzzling to labor.

Stern says a consensus is growing that we need a path to citizenship for the 12 million people already here, and that we can’t vilify people who are trying to do what’s best to take care of their families. It’s getting hateful – when people are economically insecure they look for someone to blame. A lot of problems get solved when economy gets better.
We also need a plan to match immigration and job skills without driving down wages, and make it a criminal offense to hire the undocumented; he notes employers have a hard time complying without slipping into racially profiling. And once you tie a guest worker program to a specific job and employer, there’s a risk of exploitation.

The discussion turns to Wal-Mart; I ask how to make the case against shopping at Wallyworld to folks who worry about making their own ends meet. Andy says to keep at it; they’re lost 5-8% of sales on negative PR. The argument “You’re paying for their employee’s health care is also is effective. He notes the “fear based” corporate culture of Wal-Mart; the’;; pay for security cameras if anyone mentions low wages, but once the union talk simmers down, they stop staffing the cameras for less important matters like people getting mugged in the parking lot.

Back to the subject of other international models of labor, Stern notes that China is obsessively scared of scared of instability, and a large wealth gap is unstable. So China is actively, ironically, promoting unions.

And a quick straw poll of the Iowans at the table produces this list of likely caucus winners (predictions, not endorsements!) Edwards 3, Clinton 1, Obama 1, and one Edwards/Obama waffle. (No one actually had waffles but there was a nice looking omelet. Andy’s not a breakfast guy, which is a shame because the Hamburg Inn is the best in town). As we leave Stern “we’re counting on you for the methods and the methodology” to put issues in the forefront.

Followup: Andy is reading tonight at Prairie Lights, the greatest bookstore on the planet, from A Country That Works: Getting America Back on Track. The reading will be broadcast on public radio WSUI's "Live From Prairie Lights" rogram. I was a semi-conventional journalist at WSUI back in the first Bush era.

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