RAY O LIGHT Newsletter

2009 Number 55

Publication of the Revolutionary Organization of Labor, USA

The National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) — A New Union For Workers In Hard Times

[The Newsletter presented below was written in early June, prior to the just concluded union election of Fresno, California home care workers. While the NUHW did not prevail in this election, the results nevertheless support our optimistic assessment of this new and rising democratic union. A news update following this article explains the reasons for our optimism. We have left the Newsletter virtually intact because the stake of the home and health care workers of California and the USA, the stake of the working class and the organized labor movement in the USA as a whole, and the stake of the entire international working class, including its revolutionary vanguard, in the victorious emergence of a strong, democratic and vibrant NUHW is as presented here.]

New Health Care Workers Union Wins First Contest With SEIU!

On May 21, 2009, nearly 300 caregivers at Doctors Medical Center in the San Francisco Bay Area voted overwhelmingly to join the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), a newly formed democratic, rank and file-led union of healthcare workers.

In NUHW’s first official opportunity to find out whether healthcare workers are ready to support a fledgling organization in the face of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the largest labor union in the USA, San Francisco Doctors Medical Center workers gave a resounding “YES!” to NUHW. The count was 158 votes for NUHW, 24 votes for SEIU and 7 votes for “no union.”

This is great news, in the first place, for the workers at the San Francisco Doctors Medical Center. As Duka Ristic, a worker at the Medical Center, expressed it, “We’re so excited to be in control of our own union again.” Ristic continued, “NUHW is led by the local healthcare workers and leaders we know and trust, who helped us raise standards for our patients and keep our community’s hospital open.”

President Andy Stern and the SEIU bureaucracy sent dozens of organizers to campaign at the hospital. When they saw they were going to lose the vote anyway, SEIU filed multiple legal charges in an effort to prevent the election from happening. Then they filed legal actions to seal the result from the public. Now that the word is out, this much is clear: in the struggle for the hearts and minds of the U.S. working class, this first battle of a modern day union-David squaring off against a union-Goliath with deep connections to U.S. imperialism in the period of U.S. and Global economic crisis went to David by a knock-out!

As we reported earlier, National SEIU President Andy Stern had tried to crush what had been a democratically run, San Francisco-based 150,000 member United Health Care local of SEIU, local #250, led by its progressive President, Sal Roselli. The National Union of Health Care Workers was launched on January 28, 2009 as a democratic response to the dictatorial seizure of Local #250 (“trusteeship”) by Stern and his corrupt coterie of pampered and privileged trade union bureaucrats based in Washington, DC.

Stern’s union organizing strategy has amounted to promoting growth of the union through negotiating sweetheart deals with private capitalist healthcare and hospital corporations over the heads of the workers, selling out the interests of the hospital, home and health care workers in exchange for diminished corporate resistance to “unionization” of these workers. Local #250, by contrast, had become the fastest growing local in the SEIU by providing democratic empowerment of its worker-members in every aspect of union life – both internally, establishing bottom-up control of the union, and externally, where the members developed the organization and strength to stand up to the corporations, i.e. in the organizing committees, contract committees and in a strong stewards system operating the grievance procedure.

In late 2008, Stern forced a vote among three SEIU locals offering a “choice” between two negative alternatives for local mergers. Either choice would have removed sixty-five thousand homecare and nursing home workers from local #250’s membership (almost half), severely weakening this progressive alternative to Stern’s anti-worker leadership. Out of over 300,000 eligible members in the three affected locals, a total vote for both alternatives of only 25,000 was tabulated! Even more impressive were the 40,000 membership postcards to Stern and 80,000 signatures on petitions protesting Stern’s draconian tactics.

In an effort to avoid a head-on collision and outright split with SEIU, Roselli and local #250’s leadership, confident of their mass membership support, made an offer to Stern to abide by a straight up or down vote of their members on local affiliation. Stern refused to hold such a democratic vote and took over the local. Continuing their struggle for democratic and militant unionism, the membership and leadership of SEIU local #250 have mobilized and defended the rank and file-led union and its decent contracts.

In late January, faced with the trusteeship and the forced removal of the democratically elected officers, more than a hundred union officers and staffers, led by Roselli, in consultation with 5,000 local union stewards, resigned from the SEIU and launched the formation of the new National Union of Health Care Workers (NUHW).

In the four months since, almost one hundred thousand home, hospital and healthcare workers in bargaining units representing more than 360 facilities, responding to non-stop organizing efforts as well as their own prior positive experience with local #250, have filed election petitions indicating a majority commitment to NUHW. The membership dues of these workers would sustain the new union as it strives to organize the home, hospital and healthcare workers of the USA.
However, through powerful connections to the Democratic Party which now controls both the Congress and the Presidency, including the U.S. Labor Department, Stern and the SEIU bureaucracy have frustrated the attempts of the workers to express their desire to leave the SEIU and join the new NUHW through union elections. Hoping to starve the NUHW out of existence, using the SEIU’s huge dues revenue and income and its battery of lawyers and staffers, SEIU officials have filed hundreds of frivolous charges with state and federal labor boards to delay all the union elections, until now. Doctors Medical Center is the first facility in the state where the workers were finally able to express their desire to cast their lot with the NUHW.

Thus, secondly, this vote represents a victory for all the approximately 100,000 healthcare workers in bargaining units that have petitioned to leave SEIU and join NUHW. The overwhelming support by the Doctors Medical Center workers for NUHW in its union recognition election serves to strengthen the NUHW’s fight for the workers right to vote in all the other 360 facilities where they have been denied thus far. According to NUHW, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) continues to uphold the Stern-SEIU-Democratic Party position blocking the right of the workers to vote in fair and timely elections. The California Public Employment Relations Board, however, has begun scheduling elections for public sector healthcare workers.

Such victories can only increase the pressure on the NLRB to unblock the voting rights of the vast majority of the already committed supporters of NUHW among the workers still entrapped by SEIU-Company collaboration in the workplace. And such overwhelming support from their members will inspire the staff, stewards and member volunteers to keep up the demanding but just and rewarding fight to build this new national union among hospital, home and healthcare workers across the country.

Third, the working class of the USA shares in this victory. This Spring, in his desperate effort to crush NUHW before it can get off the ground, Andy Stern made a deal with the California Nurses Association (CNA), a heretofore progressive independent union which had recently affiliated with the AFL-CIO. Until the agreement with Stern-SEIU, the CNA had in fact been at odds with SEIU in a number of organizing efforts. The CNA had been more compatible with the new NUHW; and its staff had already indicated much sympathy and support for NUHW. But Stern now offered to recognize CNA’s claim to nurses in joint organizing campaigns, while CNA would recognize SEIU’s claim to the rest of the healthcare workforce, an offer that CNA found too good to refuse from the narrow, selfish standpoint of the CNA, though at the expense of the new NUHW and of the labor movement as a whole.

Interestingly, the SEIU-CNA agreement represents cooperation between an AFL-CIO union and the leading Change to Win Coalition (CTW) union, the SEIU. Stern had been the leader of the 2005 CTW effort to found an alternative replacement for the stagnant and decaying AFL-CIO under the bankrupt, class collaborationist leadership of John Sweeney. Nevertheless, despite this history, the SEIU-CNA agreement obviously had the blessings of Sweeney and the AFL-CIO bureaucracy.

As we pointed out at the time of the AFL-CIO split, “…among the exiting organizations, especially Stern’s SEIU, some small amount of real organizing of the unorganized has taken place over the past decade… On the negative side, the formation of the CTW coalition unions had little input from the rank and file. CTW’s ‘mega’ union model appears to carry with it the elimination of much local union democratic life where the rank and file is nurtured and developed and young working class fighters emerge.”

We concluded then, as follows: “The split in the AFL-CIO is not principled on either side. Lines of demarcation have not been drawn on key working class questions – class struggle unionism, labor solidarity, the war against Iraq and Afghanistan, independent working class political action.” (“The AFL-CIO Split and the Fight for Workers Power,” Ray O. Light Newsletter #41, November 2005, p.11)

The Change to Win Coalition (CTW) had been created by a number of large national unions leaving the AFL-CIO. This represented several million workers and approximately forty percent of the entire organization! Despite the massive character of the CTW exodus, the main positive significance we saw in the AFL-CIO split was that, “the shake-up of this reliable social prop of U.S. imperialism has within it the possibility for new opportunities for working class organization of a more militant character to emerge.” (“The Iraqi National Liberation Movement and the World Proletarian Revolution,” Ray O. Light Newsletter #40, September 2005) Thus, for Sweeney and Stern to now close reactionary, bureaucratic ranks against a rising democratic movement among the rank and file workers of NUHW is not at all surprising.

Indeed, unlike the creation of the CTW, the emergence of NUHW, despite being an eruption by only one (though large – 150,000 member) local of one national union, is extremely positive and significant. The protracted and mass struggle for union democracy being carried out by NUHW, occurring in this period of economic crisis and nascent working class ferment, has the potential for helping to pave the way for class struggle-oriented, democratically-run, rank and file-led unions, capable of leading a crusade of working class organization and struggle against capital such as were born and thrived in the last Great Depression with the rise of the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO).

This potential is reflected in the current struggle against Stern-SEIU being waged by another one of the major unions that left the AFL-CIO and joined the CTW – UNITE HERE, itself the product of a 2004 merger which is now coming apart. The Stern-SEIU machine has been a major factor in the current internal problems in UNITE HERE.

At the time of the merger, UNITE’s membership had dwindled under the impact of the dying domestic textile industry. But UNITE had the immense (for a union) multi-billion dollar Amalgamated Bank. HERE, representing the hotel, restaurant and gaming industries, brought the potential for membership growth. Not surprisingly, in the period since merger, while UNITE stagnated, HERE has organized about 70,000 members. While the original merger gave UNITE’s Bruce Raynor the top position, HERE’s John Wilhelm presided over the hospitality division and now has the clear majority of the membership’s support. Wilhelm, whose approach to organizing and representing workers is closer to the democratic unionism practiced by the NUHW leadership, has denounced Stern-SEIU’s attempt to take control of UNITE HERE, stating that “Stern’s Prey Is Unite-Here.”
Underscoring the union democracy versus bureaucracy line of demarcation within UNITE HERE, Raynor and Stern-SEIU have jointly crafted sweetheart agreements with Sodexho and Compass, two multinational companies that provide laundry, housekeeping and food services. These secret agreements, at the expense of the workers, were exposed in May 2008. In concert with Stern, Raynor has promoted a largely fraudulent secession movement of former UNITE locals, claiming that tens of thousands of members have voted to secede. Wilhelm has exposed how Raynor’s maneuvers have violated many constitutional guidelines. As Wilhelm stated, “This is not democracy. This is electoral fraud.”

Wilhelm stated: “The real hand guiding this activity is SEIU and Andy Stern … Stern plans to swallow Raynor’s followers into his union and take the Amalgamated Bank in the bargain.” Wilhelm points out that, “SEIU has a history of mounting brazen onslaughts against other unions in the hope they will surrender to his crushing direct mail, robo-call and mud-slinging tactics.” Wilhelm concludes: “While he [Stern]poses in public as a champion of ‘free choice’ for workers seeking to unionize, he tramples workers’ rights behind the scenes with the same tactics used by anti-union employers: intimidation, mudslinging and threats.”

Thus, the NUHW victory at Doctors Medical Center, with the workers’ repudiation of Stern-SEIU’s class collaborationist betrayal, also strengthens the Wilhelm-led, HERE-led effort to keep the UNITE HERE union from falling victim to Stern-SEIU’s anti-worker juggernaut.

Most important of all, for the entire U.S. labor movement, saddled with a leadership corrupted and ossified by sixty years of collaboration with the bulwark of world capitalism, the U.S. monopoly capitalist class of the hegemonic imperialist power, this victory helps raise up the banner of union democracy and militant struggle against capital. In this time of capitalist economic crisis, in the absence of militant class struggle by the working class in its own defense, the current epidemic of unemployment can only lead to drastic reduction of wages and intensification of exploitation for those “fortunate” to still have a job. NUHW success, based on militant and democratic union principles, points the way forward; it helps to illuminate the working class path of escape from the stranglehold of U.S. finance capital and its government.

Fourth, the entire international working class can take inspiration and encouragement from the Doctors Medical Center union election. Recently, we pointed out that Stern and the SEIU have gained a global labor presence over the past several years. For example, “in Puerto Rico, the colonial government has brought Stern and his SEIU gang of international ‘scabs’ into the labor movement there in an attempt to replace the militant and patriotic Puerto Rican teachers union [and thus undermine the cause of Puerto Rican education and ultimately of national self-determination]. This has sparked a popular resistance on the part of Puerto Rican teachers and their many allies.” (“The Inauguration of a new President – The Continuation of U.S. Imperialist Rule,” Ray O. Light Newsletter #52, January-February 2009)

In 2002, the Chinese government first brought in Stern-SEIU at a time described by the Wall Street Journal as “a ‘high tide’ of worker dissatisfaction as the nation took steps toward becoming a market economy.” (WSJ, 6-22-07) According to the Journal, “Thousands of workers staged protests after being laid off from state factories or seeing their benefits disappear thanks to corrupt bosses. Labor activists were imprisoned and official union membership sank.” In this situation of massive worker unrest, Wal-Mart and some other foreign companies refused to respect Chinese labor and trade union laws. With the official blessing of the capitalist Chinese government and its ruling “Communist Party,” Stern began working with the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU). SEIU helped the Chinese federation successfully organize Wal-Mart Stores Inc. which, the Wall Street Journal noted, had not been accomplished by the SEIU or any U.S. union in the USA itself!*
*Of course, the irony of Stern-SEIU, representatives of the U.S. labor movement that has been the most anti-communist of any working class movement in the world in the past sixty years and most servile toward U.S. imperialism, the main bulwark of world capitalism, being brought into “Communist China” to help workers “organize,” was not lost on the reactionary capitalist thinkers at the Wall Street Journal.
This ACFTU union “victory,” aided by Stern-SEIU, was a win-win proposition for both Stern and the Chinese bureaucracy, but not for the new union members, the Chinese workers themselves.

For Stern, it represented an apparent vindication of his global union leadership as well as his leadership of the Change to Win Coalition, especially as compared to the bankrupt leadership of John Sweeney and the AFL-CIO.

For the Chinese government, the union victory provided several advantages: First of all, foreign companies, lacking the bourgeois nationalist “patriotic” appeal that they are “building China,” could easily become a flashpoint of class struggle for the Chinese working class, especially at such a time of working class mass dissatisfaction. Each organized company in China is required to contribute 2% of its local payroll to support union activities, including union clubhouses equipped with karaoke machines, ping pong tables, etc. The union functions as a sort of social and welfare club dispensing small cash bonuses during Chinese festivals. So the union victory at Wal-Mart contained a sop for the workers there. It also provided a limited safety valve for the expression of grievances. In addition, the unionization of such foreign companies provides leverage for the Chinese government in dealing with these companies and helps strengthen the competitive position of Chinese companies in relation to foreign ones.

Of course, the Chinese capitalist government is run by a political party which still uses the name “Communist.” It therefore, demagogically, speaks in the name of the “working class.” Many top union officials also are in the top ranks of the Chinese Communist Party. The ACFTU describes itself as “a union with Chinese characteristics.” It mediates to promote harmonious relationships between employers and employees. It has no collective bargaining rights and no right to strike, even in relation to private foreign capitalist corporations, rendering it impotent on important workplace issues such as wages, job safety, etc. Such unions will help the rulers at the company and country level to keep control over the working class. For those U.S. workers familiar with Stern-SEIU’s top down approach in the USA, their presence in China has been exactly what they would have expected.

Lenin could have been talking about Andy Stern when he observed: “…objectively the opportunists are a section of the petty bourgeoisie and of certain strata of the working class who have been bribed out of imperialist super-profits and converted into watchdogs of capitalism and corrupters of the labor movement.” (Imperialism and the Split in Socialism, 1916)

Thus, the Doctors Medical Center workers’ union election repudiation of Stern-SEIU, helps to expose the treacherous character of these opportunist forces and of their opportunist supporters in the leadership of Puerto Rico and China. Beyond Puerto Rico and China, the entire international working class has a stake in the defeat of bureaucratic, pro-imperialist trade union leadership and the victory of militant and democratic unionism.


One hundred and fifty years ago, in the era of industrial capitalism, Karl Marx made the profound observation that, under capitalism, in any class struggle confrontation between the workers and the capitalists, where the workers had more unity than the capitalists they made advances; where the capitalists maintained stronger unity than the workers, the working class was pushed back.

Over the past nine months or so, as a new world capitalist crisis has unfolded, the international working class has witnessed bottomless bailouts of U.S. and international banks and financial institutions based on naked power relations, such as observed by Marx in the pre-monopoly capitalist, pre-imperialist era, but now on a national and global scale.

In the USA, for example, the initial $700 billion dollar bailout sought by Bush’s Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, had the backing of Republican President Bush as well as Republican Presidential candidate John McCain. It also had the support of the then leader of the Democratic Party, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party Presidential candidate Barack Obama. So even though the people of the USA had been saturated with a presidential race unceasingly for almost two years, there was no political option to not give the financial pirates who control the USA the ransom money. U.S. finance capital was united. The U.S. working class was not.

There has been virtually no accountability nor rational explanation provided for the several trillions of dollars, i.e. millions of millions, in handouts to international capital. Nor has the international working class demanded any. One of the biggest corporate bailouts, the approximately $180 billion U.S. tax dollars given to insurance giant AIG, exposed the fact that the monopoly capitalists and imperialists of the world were largely united. Much of AIG’s bailout was passed through not only to Citibank and Merrill Lynch but also to “foreign” firms such as Deutsche Bank of Germany and Barclays of Great Britain.

Likewise, no specific wage is fated or predetermined for hospital, home and health care workers or any other workers. Rather, wages, benefits, hours of work and working conditions are based on the level of unity and willingness to struggle against the affected capitalists by the group of workers in the affected labor pool. Over the long run, the level of unity and willingness to struggle of the workers of a given country and the workers of the whole world against capital is matched up with the level of unity and willingness to struggle of the capitalists against us. In this light, clearly, NUHW’s victory is a victory for all workers.

We, workers throughout the world have been strengthened by NUHW. We need to show our proletarian international solidarity by sending resolutions of support and other appropriate support to NUHW! (One example:non tax deductible contributions to the work of building the NUHW can be sent to the Fund for Union Democracy & Reform. See www.FundForUnionDemocracy.org)

Reflecting this class reality, the International Solidarity Affair sponsored by the Kilusang Mayo Uno (May First Union), the militant trade union center of the Philippine working class, meeting in Manila in the period around May Day 2009, passed a “Resolution in Support of the New National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) in the United States.” As the resolution points out, “NUHW’s success will be a critical step in re-building the U.S. labor movement on militant and democratic principles and will thereby also help to strengthen international workers solidarity…”

In the immortal words of the Communist Manifesto:

The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.
They have a world to win.

Workers of All Countries Unite!

NUHW News Update:

A Close Loss in Fresno Promises Good Things For The Future

On June 19, 2009 the ballots were counted in an important union election to determine if the approximately ten thousand home care workers of Fresno County in California would remain members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the largest union in the USA, or become members of the new National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). SEIU narrowly won the vote 2,938 to 2,705 with 90 challenged ballots. But, as Randy Shaw reported, it is not the SEIU but the NUHW that is leaving Fresno “with the wind at its back.” (“Is Fresno SEIU’s Vietnam?” The Huffington Post, 6-22-09)

Why do we believe that this loss, nonetheless, demonstrates NUHW will ultimately be successful in building the democratic, rank and file member-led union that tens of thousands of home and healthcare workers are hoping and striving for?!

First of all, SEIU outspent NUHW 50-to-1! SEIU flew a thousand staff members into Fresno from across the USA; and SEIU poured $10 million dollars into this campaign – a thousand dollars a worker and about three thousand dollars per vote. Meanwhile, SEIU’s debt had grown by thirty percent in 2008. It is financially strapped due to heavy spending in the 2008 election campaign, huge legal bills incurred around corruption scandals by President Stern’s union cronies in California and elsewhere and around SEIU’s involvement in the (Illinois Governor) Blagojevich scandal, declining dues revenues and the ongoing inter-union battles with NUHW and UNITE HERE. In fact, Bank of America, whose employees SEIU has been trying to organize, evidently has offered SEIU at least $88 million dollars in prohibited loans. Acceptance of such monies would make SEIU “an employer-dominated union,” according to federal law. SEIU cannot afford to keep spending at this rate.

Secondly, SEIU’s massive campaign used attack mailings, robo-calls, television and radio ads and still had to break the labor law to barely win the vote. Thousands of eligible voters were directly threatened that they could lose their wages and health insurance if they voted for NUHW, an illegal act. SEIU used physical threats, lies, fraud, and bribes as well. Accordingly, NUHW is filing a legal challenge to the election and would not certify the results.

Thirdly, SEIU told the Fresno homecare workers they would stop the Fresno Board of Supervisors from instituting $1 dollar per hour wage and benefit cuts. On July 1st, every homecare worker in Fresno County will see SEIU’s failure firsthand in their paychecks. As Interim NUHW President Sal Roselli observed, “at the exact moment SEIU failed to defend Fresno homecare providers’ wages, NUHW succeeded in defending homecare providers’ wages in Sacramento and San Francisco where more than 35,000 are preparing to vote to join our union.” (“Message on the Fresno Election,” 6-21-09)

Fourthly, NUHW’s membership base in Fresno County was relatively weak and the physical isolation of the homecare workers from each other made this voter pool particularly vulnerable to SEIU-Stern’s shenanigans. And yet SEIU barely won the Fresno vote. The upcoming elections in early Fall among the 35,000 home care workers in San Francisco and Sacramento counties, where NUHW prevented the pay cuts and where NUHW’s base had already been much stronger, should result in a dramatically different outcome. Following those elections, the next year will unveil union affiliation elections at the state’s major hospitals, an arena where NUHW is particularly strong due to the collectivized work force and the strong steward and grievance system Roselli and the former SEIU local 250 (now NUHW) leaders and members had created.

Finally, SEIU’s failure at Fresno was essentially admitted by Stern’s hand-picked leader of that dirty campaign, Dave Regan. Regan had promised “to drive a stake through the heart of the thing that is NUHW… put them in the ground and bury them.” Regan continued, “This is not an election that we want to win 52 to 48, or by a few hundred votes. We want them to believe that when we are done here that it is hopeless.” Given the first four points mentioned above, it is clear why Regan, Stern and the SEIU bureaucracy needed to win big in Fresno. Their failure to do so gives NUHW sufficient life to persevere until the more favorable elections are finally held.

The loss in Fresno, though so close an election that it is a harbinger of good and great things to come for workers everywhere, means that there is an even greater and more urgent need for all justice-loving and revolutionary-minded working people to rally in support of this outstanding new union.

In our unity lies our strength!

“For the proletariat needs the truth and there is nothing so harmful to its cause as plausible, respectable petty-bourgeois lies.”

– V.I. Lenin,
Selected Works, Vol. X, p. 41

*    *    *    *    *

For other materials from the Revolutionary Organization of Labor, USA (formerly Ray O’ Light Group) opposing the U.S. imperialist generated economic crisis and U.S. imperialist-led war of terror on the world’s peoples as well as all correspondence, including information on obtaining Ray O. Light Newsletters, pamphlets, bulk materials, etc. please write to:

607 Boylston St.
Lower Level Box 464
Boston, MA 02116

Click here to return to the U.S. Index