November 29, 2012

Write To Two Northwest Political Prisoners

Grand Jury Resisters need to hear from you!

Please write to the heroes of the Northwest who are resisting political repression and acting in solidarity with their fellow activists.

For updates go to the Committee Against Political Repression.

Two are now imprisoned at the Federal Detention Center in Seatac, WA for refusing to talk to the grand jury. Please write to them!

Katherine Olejnik #42592-086
FDC SeaTac,
P.O. Box 13900
Seattle, WA 98198

Matthew Kyle Duran #42565-086
FDC SeaTac
P.O. Box 13900
Seattle, WA 98198

Matthew “Maddy” Pfeiffer remains free after refusing to testify. For more info:

Helpful Tips For Writing To People In Prison

Your letter can and will be read by prison officials. Think about this when including any information about your political activities, immigration status, and history of incarceration, or mentioning anything that might incriminate you or your communities. Be aware that your letter may be censored as well.

Include your full name and contact information. Many prisons won’t give the envelope to the person you’re writing, so, if you want them to write you back, make sure your first and last name and mailing address are written legibly on the letter as well as the envelope. If you don’t want to use your home address when corresponding with people in prison, the organizations listed at the end of this article may be willing to let you use theirs.

Be sure to use your pen pal’s full government name on the envelope. Most prisons won’t deliver mail that isn’t to the legal name of your pen pal. When writing to your pen pal for the first time, you may want to use their legal name in the letter as well, and ask them what name and pronouns they would like to use for future correspondence. Mail restrictions vary from prison to prison. Many prisons won’t allow stickers, paint, glitter, or any other mail art. It’s probably best to stick to white lined paper, black or blue ink, and a plain envelope for your first letter. If you continue corresponding with someone in prison, you can ask about the particular restrictions at their prison.

Criminalizing LGBTs In Turkey

From Bianet:

LGBTs Contest New Army Discipline Act

LGBT organizations protested the discipline act draft proposed by Turkish Armed force, saying that army's definition of homosexuality as "unnatural relationship" cannot be accepted.

29 November 2012, Thursday

The new act proposed by Turkish Armed Forces counted homosexuality as "unnatural relationship" with its subjects being discharged from the army once discovered.

Kaos GL, an LGBT organization based in Istanbul, told bianet the former act also punished homosexual soldiers but never used the term "homosexual" in a direct manner.

"In terms of punishment, that makes no difference. But we strongly protest the definition of homosexuality as "unnatural relationship".

"Army's trying to criminalize homosexuality"

"Turkish Army is in perfect harmony with AKP government. For years, homosexuals in Turkey were humiliated with 'pink' discharge certificates. Now the army is taking this humiliation into a higher level," Gökkuşağı Kızılları, another LGBT association, said in a statement.

The association claimed that the new draft might pave the way to the criminalization of homosexuality in Turkey, equalizing homosexuality with crimes like murder, corruption and fraud. "The new draft will encourage attack on the LGBT community in Turkey."

The statement urged the government to work on regulations to prevent hate crimes: "We will not yield to AKP government's desires to create a conservative society. Instead of trying to define homosexuality, they must define hate crimes." (GBK/ÇT)

Portland & Salem: Testify Against Coal Trains

Testify Against Coal Trains - Portland - Dec. 6

DEQ will be taking testimony from the public at 6 p.m. at the University of Portland's Buckley Center Auditorium, 5000 North Willamette Blvd.

Join with hundreds of other concerned citizens from around the Northwest. Enter your own testimony into the legal record.

For Salem-area folks: Meet at the UU Church on Center St. at Cordon Road at 3:10 to ride a bus provided by the Sierra Club. Bus returns after the hearing, about 9, arriving back in Salem between 10 and 10:30.

Contact Lucy Sedgwick,, for more information or for a bus reservation. (For a reservation, put "BUS RESERVATION" in the subject line.

Oregon wildernesses - take action.

The following is excerpted from Oregon Wild's email newsletter:

As the 112th Congress draws to a close it reveals a wildly unproductive, do-nothing session. This will be the first Congress since 1966 which has failed to pass a single Wilderness bill. Even bills with prominent Republican sponsors have been blocked by lobbyists from the oil, gas, mining, and logging industries.

But there's a chance to salvage the record of the 112th Congress
a package of fully-vetted Oregon Wilderness bills awaits a final vote.

The package includes spectacularly wild places like the old-growth forests of the proposed Devil's Staircase Wilderness in the Coast Range, the rugged canyons and thrilling whitewater of the proposed Wild Rogue Wilderness, and a proposal to extend Wild and Scenic River protection to the waters of the Molalla River, just south of Portland.

In Eastern Oregon, the rolling grasslands and hidden pine forests of Cathedral Rock and Horse Heaven are similarly ready and waiting for Wilderness designation.

Oregon's most incredible wild and special places do not deserve to be ignored or dismissed away. These natural gems are ready to move forward with wilderness designations worthy of their special, uniquely Oregon characteristics. Unfortunately, the bills are currently cooling their heels, waiting for the day when Congress remembers wilderness is a worthy, bipartisan endeavor with a grand tradition.

The good news is the elections sent a strong signal to Congress the status quo is not acceptable. For the first time in years, there is a significant opportunity to advance legislation which puts our nation's wildlands and natural heritage ahead of the whims of corporate lobbyists.

Please take a moment to contact Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and ask them to fight for the inclusion of Oregon's unfinished Wilderness business in any Senate legislation on public lands.

There is a chance major legislation could move in Congress before January, and it is vital our elected leaders take action to ensure Oregon's wildlands, wildlife, and waters are included in any package.

Whether one is a hiker, fisherman, hunter, or lives for whitewater rafting or soaking in the peace and solitude of Oregon's enviable wildlands, we all have a responsibility to protect these remaining special places.

Please take action today to ensure a heritage of protected Oregon Wilderness for generations to come.

The hard work of research, policy, writing draft legislation and reaching consensus has long been accomplished – the time to send these bills through Congress for approval is NOW.

Victory! Senate votes to end the war

From : 
Peace Action West2201 Broadway, Ste 321 Oakland, CA 94612800.949.9020
  » blog   » facebook  » twitter  » donate

, for the first time, the Senate took a roll call vote in favor of bringing our troops home from Afghanistan.
This morning, Senator Merkley’s (Oregon) amendment to bring our troops home from Afghanistan passed in an overwhelming 62-33 vote! THANK YOU to all of you who have helped make this happen.

This is the culmination of years of work to build congressional support for a quicker end to the war, and it's the first successful vote of its kind in either the House or the Senate.
Getting the Senate on record for ending the war is crucial right now. The Obama administration is beginning negotiations on a deal with the Afghan government that will determine the long-term troop presence there. Obstinate hawks and people in the Pentagon are pushing for drawing the war out as long as possible. This vote further marginalizes those staunch war supporters and gives momentum to those of us who want this war to end as soon as possible.
P.S. You can thank Sen. Merkley for his leadership by posting a note on his Facebook page:

Palestine and Israelis - an introduction video

November 28, 2012

Tunisia: Interview With Abdel Jabbar Madouri Of The Tunisian Worker’s Party


November 16, 2012 -- Green Left Weekly -- Abdel Jabbar Madouri has been a militant in Tunisia since his early secondary school days. He was jailed three times (in 1987,1993 and 2002) because of his political activism. After every arrest, he was tortured and then sentenced to more then 12 years in jail. Madouri spent four years in hiding during the Ben Ali regime. He was also deprived of the right to work or to obtain a passport.

Madouri is also novelist and member of the League of Free Writers and some of his novels were banned by the dictatorship. Today he is member of the national committee of the Tunisian Worker’s Party and is editor of its newspaper Sawt Echaab (People's Voice).

Green Left Weekly interviewed Madouri by internet with with the assistance of and translation from Arabic by Tunisian journalist Haithem Mahjoubi.

* * *

The sacrifice of the young Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi opened a new wave of popular revolt across the Arabic countries and beyond to Spain and eventually the whole world through the Occupy movement. But how much has been gained by the revolution in Tunisia? Is the democratic space still opening up?

We can say that this revolution has achieved certain aims such as the abolition of the ex-ruling party (though elements of it still operate freely but with little public support), freedom of expression and media and also the dissolution of the hated secret police, if only in a formal way.

The revolution also achieved for the first time a democratic election despite some failures and lack of transparency and equal opportunity in the election campaigns. The election of the constituent assembly was one of the goals that people fought to achieve, unfortunately, the Islamic Ennahdha coalition exploited the revolution win a majority in those elections.

Many of the tasks of the revolution remain unfinished because of the strength of the forces of counter revolution seeking to circumvent the revolution. Among these unfinished tasks are the enforcement of accountability; an investigation and end to corruption in government institutions; a purge state agencies, bringing those responsible to account for crimes against the people – especially putting on trial those who murdered the martyrs of the struggle – and redress for their victims.

What has been achieved by the one-year-old Constituent Assembly? And did the workers' movement and the left have much input into its decisions?

More then a year after the election, the Constituent Assembly has still not drafted laws that reflecting the demands of the revolution. With the majority of assembly members, of representatives, Ennahdha is able to pass laws for its own benefit. This has made it clear to the people that this is no revolutionary government but a government of a new dictatorship working against the completion of the tasks of the revolution.

The people’s rejection of this government can be seen in the growing demonstrations and sit-ins in public squares and in the streets in front of government offices.

So the revolutionary process is moving slowly along with the transitional to equality.

Amnesty International says there have been some reversals of the democratisation. Protesters, activists and journalists have been attacked. What is the situation for freedom of political expression and organisation?

The Ennahda government has used the Islamic fundamentalist Salafist militias to attack independent journalists so that it dominate public media and put its loyal supporters and allies in charge of the main media institutions. It has refused to put to into practice laws guaranteeing media freedom and establishing an independent commission for information.

So, journalists are still fighting for independence and freedom.

What is the state of the trade union movement? How strong is your party in the trade union movement? Is there a problem with corruption and co-option of trade union leaders by the capitalist parties and the state?

The General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) is the biggest union in Tunisia. The UGTT has been organised since 1952 and is playing a very important role in fighting the government's plans.

It is true that this union suffered from corruption during the Ben Ali regime, but after the revolution it has regained its integrity, energy and a leading role social and political struggles in cooperation all with other popular organisations.

The Worker’s Party is is very strong in the UGTT. The trade union movement is working with the newly formed Popular Front, which was launched in October by 12 political parties that are all active in the UGTT.

The constituent parties of the Popular Front are left-wing parties and progressive nationalists that participated in the revolution and suffered repression under former dictatorship.

The Popular Front is the now largest political force apart from the ruling Ennahda and the "Tunisia Appeal" party, which represents the remnants of the old regime.

How much danger does Tunisia face from the religious fundamentalists?

Islamic fundamentalism remains part of the political landscape of Tunisia and occasionally expresses itself through attacks on bars, artists and police. Some fundamentalists have been killed in clashes with the police.

But the popular resistance has led to the isolation and decline of the influence of the fundamentalists. The recent manifestations of Salafist violence is due to growing government complicity with these groups.

There have been some recent significant strikes in Tunisia. Can you explain what this was about?

We've been organising several workers' campaigns to claim three main things. First, the passing and implementation of the laws to regulate working conditions which remain precarious for most workers. Second, wage increases to keep up with the rising cost of living and better working conditions, especially working hours and occupational safety. Third, regulation of employment and dismissal of workers in public institutions.

Can you explain the recent protests about women's rights in Tunisia?

Since it came to power the current government has tried to circumvent the demand for women’s rights, especially in relation to polygamy, the regulation of the minimum age of marriage and gender equality in rights and duties. But its attempts have failed because of the resistance from civil society, including the women's associations which are very strongly engaged. Still the struggle women's rights in Tunisia remains strong challenge.

Read more here.

PORTLAND: The Wall Street Conspiracy - video screening

Date: 2012-12-06

Event Time: 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Organization: Alliance for Democracy - Portland

More Info:

Description: Thursday, Dec 6th, 2012; 7 PM, Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton St.; Doors open at 6:30 PM.

Admission: $6.00 General; $4.00 student/senior

Sponsored by Alliance for Democracy as a fundraiser for Alliance for Democracy; co-sponsored by Move to Amend PDX, Economic Justice Action Group of the First Unitarian Church

The collapse of the U.S. banking system in 2008 had been forecast years before it happened......But no one wanted to listen!

The Wall Street Conspiracy walks the viewer through the illegal practice of Naked Short Selling, a process through which trillions of dollars have been stolen from hard working Americans by selling them counterfeit stock that does not exist. The Wall Street Conspiracy documents how this terrifying flaw in the system can destroy good public companies along with millions of jobs at these companies whose stock is being manipulated and contribute to the destruction of the economy.

Naked Short Selling - honest people call it STEALING!
Big banks like Chase and Bank of America call it PROFITS!

More Info: David Delk 503.232.5495,

Corvallis: Living Under Drones - A Report Back from Pakistan

Date: 2012-12-07

Event Time: 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Location: Corvallis-Benton County Public Library
CORVALLIS, OR, 97330-4722

Main meeting room. Use street parking, as the underground garage will close during this presentation.

Organization: Veterans For Peace, Linus Pauling Chapter 132

Description: Leah Bolger, National President of Veterans For Peace, will debrief her recent trip to the tribal areas of Pakistan with the CODEPINK delegation, protesting the use of drones against innocent civilians there. Leah will relay the first hand accounts of what life is like "living under drones" and discuss related legal and geo-political issues.

State-by-State Impact of Federal Budget Debate

The AFL-CIO has produced an easy-to-read guide on the federal budget debate. You can look up how your state will be impacted by potential cuts.

The page on Oregon is extensive. We leaqrn from it that:

• 712,216 Oregonians receive monthly Social Security checks, including 97,786 workers with disabilities and 43,537 children.
• 596,663 Oregonians get their health care coverage from Medicare.
• 564,470 Oregonians get their health care coverage from Medicaid, including 287,903 children and 55,714 seniors.

and much more.

There is clearly a need to act now.

Check out the information here.

When Postmasters Attack

We have previously covered efforts to keep the Post Office and postal facilities from being closed down and/or privatized. Here is an excellent update on the struggle by Angela Bradbury writing on ZNET.

Two years ago, there were 574,000 postal workers, not counting temps. Last year, 546,000. This year only 533,000 are braving snow, rain, and gloom of night.

The number will be fewer next year, and every year from now on, until the beloved institution shrinks beyond recognition, if the Postmaster General and other privatization advocates get their way.

“This was a great job, one of the best jobs in America,” said recently retired Oregon letter carrier Jamie Partridge. “It pisses me off that it’s being dismantled.”

With customers and workers up in arms at his original plan to close nearly 4,000 post offices and half the nation’s mail sorting plants (see more here), Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe has responded to pressure by postponing some closings and spreading the pain.

Donahoe’s latest revised list of 13,000—about 40 percent of the post offices in the nation—will either see hours slashed or close altogether. In mid-November the cuts took effect at the first wave of 500 post offices, reducing their open hours to six, four, or even two hours a day. The sorting plants are now slated to close in phases as well, leaving for last the areas where communities are resisting.

Predictably, the planned cutbacks target low-income and rural areas, which may bring in less revenue but also rely on postal service the most.

Workers say some of the harshest blows would hit seniors and veterans who receive prescriptions through the mail and people in rural communities, where post offices can double as hubs of community activity.

Read the rest of the article here.

Stevie Wonder pulls out of IDF fundraiser


World famous singer Stevie Wonder has reportedly pulled out of performing at a fundraiser for the Israeli army that was scheduled to take place December 6, according to one anonymous source who spoke with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Here's the news outlet's report:

Stevie Wonder is set to pull out of a performance at a fundraiser for the Israel Defense Forces, a source told JTA.

Wonder's representatives will claim that he did not know the nature of the group, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, and that he believes such a performance would be incongruent with his status as a U.N. "Messenger of Peace," according to a source who has read email exchanges between Wonder's representatives and organizers of the event.

Wonder was scheduled to headline the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces annual gala in Los Angeles on Dec. 6. The event raises millions of dollars annually to support the Israeli military...

Wonder had come under intense social media pressure to pull out of the event. An online petition calling on him to cancel his performance had garnered more than 3,600 signatures.

The petition was launched more than a day ago on the website.

"You were arrested in 1985 protesting South African Apartheid, now we ask you: please remember that apartheid is apartheid, whether it comes from White Afrikaaner settlers of South Africa or from Jewish Israelis in Israel," the petition reads. "Desmond Tutu has recognized that Israel's Apartheid is worse than South Africa's -- will you stand with us against apartheid and cancel your performance at the IDF fundraiser."

A second petition, launched by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, calls on Wonder to "(p)lease continue your legacy of speaking out for the oppressed. Please be a 'full-time lover' of justice by standing on the right side of history and canceling your performance for the Israeli army."

Wonder performed at a 1998 gala honoring Israel's 50th anniversary.

Obama Cut Pell Grants by 33%

Students - This is a Learning Event!!

During his campaign for president Obama claimed credit for increasing funding to the Pell Grant program, which provides eligible students with money for college (undergraduate only).  There is no requirement of re-payment.  It is a GRANT.  Millions of students who would not have been able to afford college have received Pell Grants.

In an email recently sent out to students by the Dallas County Community College District students were given the details about the changes to their Pell Grant.  The changes are already in effect starting  with Fall 2012 Semester.

It seems that Obama left out some details when he was campaigning on those college campuses.  The length of time a student can receive a Pell Grant has been cut by as much as three years. The number of semesters a student can receive a Pell Grant has been cut from 18 down to 12.  This detail is unknown to most students.

This cut in eligibility was part of a bill President Obama signed in 2011.  On December 23, 2011 he signed the Consolidated Appropriations  Act 2012 (Public Law 112-74).  This law states that the amount of Pell Grant funds a student may receive over his or her LIFETIME will be reduced from 18 semesters (or its equivalent) to 12 semesters (or its equivalent).  This applies to ALL Federal Pell Grant eligible students, effective 2012-2013.  It began July 1, 2012.  The cut of course hurts part-time students and adults who go back to school, including retraining for a new career.  In other words students who work and go to school and the unemployed.  I wonder how this works for schools on the quarter system.  I am sure there is a calculation.  It can't be good.

This cut was never mentioned by President Obama when he was boasting about increasing funding for  Pell Grants.  The cut will come as a rude awakening to students who thought Obama was expanding their educational opportunities.  For those on a slow learning curve about the Democratic Party.  Write this one down.

NO to the "Grand Bargain"

National Candlelight Vigil

Say No to the Grand Bargain
Support Working People

Monday, December 10, 5:00pm
Senator Wyden’s Office
911 NE 11th Ave – Portland

Join Jobs with Justice, Oregon AFL-CIO, Northwest Labor Council and Oregon Action in a candlelight vigil to tell Senator Ron Wyden

•    End Bush tax cuts for the richest 2%
•    No cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid
•    No cuts to vital services for low income people

Since the election, the media has been beating the drum on the so-called fiscal cliff.  Wall Street, big business and their allies in Congress are calling for working people to pay the price for their phoney debt and deficit crisis.  Their solution is more money for them and cutting the safety net for everyone else.  So mark your calendar and join us on December 10, International Human Rights Day.

And stay tuned for more information.

GM may get award, while their workers starve

General Motors Nominated for “Corporate Excellence”Award
as Disabled GM Workers and Families Starve

It is a critical moment to support the ASOTRECOL hunger strikers in Colombia in their struggle to seek justice from General Motors. Tomorrow GM is nominated to receive an award for "corporate excellence" at the State Department in DC. GM will be in the public spotlight and we need to mobilize our networks to make sure they get the message loud and clear that they will be held responsible for the exploitation and mistreatment of their workers. International solidarity is needed now more than ever. 
There is a protest being planned at the State Department in DC at 10:00 AM, and another is being planned for the GM headquarters in Detroit (400 Renaissance Center Drive) at 3:30 PM. Please pass this on to any contacts you have in Detroit and DC -- let's get a strong crowd out there tomorrow!  
For more background on the struggle, visit and watch the short videos on the ASOTRECOL Youtube channel. For more information about tomorrow's events, contact Diana Sierra .
Please also consider making a financial contribution to the hunger strikers and their families; they have sacrificed so much in this struggle and they could really use our support.  PCASC is also raising funds to send to ASOTRECOL and to El Salvador as part of our fall membership drive, so if you'd like to contribute to both of these in one go you can donate on our website as well. Thanks in advance for anything you can do. 

TO MAKE A FINANCIAL DONATION:  Send a donation check to
“Wellspring UCC” with “Colombia relief” on the memo line. Mailing
address: Wellspring UCC, Box 508, Centreville VA 20122.

November 27, 2012

Herbert Hill: NAACP Official And FBI Informant

For those who throw around the term "Ultra Left" in relation to being FBI informants, it may be a cautionary tale that the informant in this case was an official in a reformist organization like the NAACP.  It also of course shows how extensive and repressive the State Police apparatus is and has been in the United States.

Herbert Hill was a respected National Labor Secretary of the National Association For The Advancement Of Colored People (NAACP) for 20 years.  He was known for his work to eliminate racial discrimination in the trade union movement in the U.S.

In the 1960's he informed on Socialists he knew in his youth.  This is now exposed by Dr. Christopher Phelps who has done an analysis of Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) releases publicly available on the FBI website.  Phelps is an historian of Modern American Political and Intellectual Life at the University of Nottingham.  His research was just published in the journal of "Labor History".

Phelps focused attention specifically on the FBI COINTELPRO to disrupt and neutralize the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) which the government classifies as "subversive".  Herbert Hill belonged to the SWP during the second world war and resigned in 1949.  Phelps discovered that in May of 1962 W.C. Sullivan, Head of Domestic Intelligence for the FBI, wrote to another official that an "SWP member from 1943-1949 who is currently employed by the NAACP as a labor relations official, has been contacted on several occasions by New York agents and has been cooperative."

Phelps says that while the name was redacted, this points to Hill alone as their informant.  Besides the specific description in the report (NAACP had only one labor relations official), Phelps had tape recorded interviews with Hill before he died in 2004 and Hill gave him other corroborating information. 

Dr. Phelps:  "That a key official of a mainline civil rights organization was assisting the FBI in pinpointing radicals shows how extensive was the federal government's monitoring of social movements.  It is laden with irony that an official dedicated to civil rights for racial equality could simultaneously provide assistance in naming names that would contract political and civil liberties."
Dr. Phelps noted that in the 50's and 60's political dissenters often lost their jobs, faced deportation or other reprisals when identified to the FBI as a result many refused to cooperate.

An Anonymous Phone Call And Monroe, North Carolina

The documents show that Hill was also used by the FBI in their 1962 attempt to obstruct work between the moderate NAACP and the more militant Committee To Aid The Monroe Defendants (CAMD).  This was an organization initiated by SWP members in support of the controversial black advocate of armed self defense Robert F. Williams and the movement he lead in Monroe, North Carolina.

The FBI feared that CAMD would gain legitimacy and power through the support of the NAACP.
The FBI Agent In Charge advised J. Edgar Hoover that an anonymous call should be placed to Herbert Hill complaining about the SWP's involvement with CAMD.  "It is felt that as a disruptive tactic, considerable damage could be done to the SWP by having the NAACP be aware of their controlling influence in CAMD.  Phelps comments, "The FBI's attempts to use Howard Hill is a vivid example of the FBI's practice of opposing the civil rights movement and sowing dissension within it, especially between the militants and moderates.

As a member of the SWP during the 1960's and early 1970's my perspective tends to go to the big picture of which this is a part.  But maybe there is a lesson for the left in these types of revelations.
The SWP was always proud of their upfront work as socialists in the mass movements of the time. Believing in the importance of not being forced to go underground and use codes and secrecy.  Those of us today can see with curiosity the work of the FBI COINTELPRO that we were a victim of and the ultra lefts and reformists who gladly informed on our meetings, our changes of address and their  attempts to sow dissension.  Of course we knew all this but continued doing the work that needed to be done. The SWP is now a different organization and considerably smaller than it was but there are complex reasons why that is but none of them have to do with the attempts by the government to disrupt. All of us who are still around learned the lessons of the time from the prior generation.  That it is important to talk about your ideas, run election campaigns in your own name and always be aware of the betrayals that will come from the reformists.  This is also why those of us who came from that period of history are the best builders of Defense Committees both for ourselves and others.  We will continue to try to be the best builders of the mass movements of our time and whatever organization we are with now will benefit from our knowledge and experience.

Book Review by Steve Early, and Response by Author Jane McAlevey

Response to Steve Early's Review of Raising Expectations
By Jane McAlevey

The editors have graciously offered me the opportunity
to respond to Steve Early's review of Raising
Expectations (and Raising Hell). I want to respond to
Early's review, which focuses primarily on about ten
percent of the book, but also to give people some idea
of what the other ninety percent is about.

It will be no surprise to knowledgeable readers that
Steve Early's review is heavily focused on the National
Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).  In Early's The
Civil Wars in US Labor, he declares himself as not only
a partisan, but as among the biggest cheerleaders of
the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).
However, in his review of my book, Early keeps his
sympathies under the table. This does a disservice to
readers who try to make sense of all this. Readers of
his review of Raising Expectations might get the
impression that my book is all about his interest,
NUHW. Not at all. My book is about organizing, and how
to rebuild the US labor movement in a time of
tremendous difficulty and multiple setbacks.

In my book, I clearly identified myself as someone who
tried to steer an independent course amidst complicated
turf wars--the issues that matter most to Early.
That's apparently enough for Early to direct a lot of
criticism at me, some of it directly on NUHW matters,
some of it spillover about somewhat related points.  (I
am not, it might be noted, alone as an object of
Early's criticisms.)

Some of what's at stake has to do with political
interpretations and loyalties, some of it is simple
matters of fact.  A factual question that might matter
on these issues is that Early gives the impression that
my tenure on the International Executive Board or IEB
was several weeks long. Early states that I was elected
to the board in June of 2008 and that I left a few
weeks later. In fact, I was elected to the IEB for the
first time in early 2007 to fill a vacancy, and later
re-elected. Of interest to Early, during this period on
the IEB, I declined to sign an infamous letter IEB
board members wrote to academics, scolding them for
what they considered to be interference in the pending
trusteeship of California's big healthcare local,
United Healthcare Workers West (UHW).

Similarly, Early reports that "...her illustrious SEIU
career...[was] a mere 4 years," an assertion he makes
seemingly to undermine my credibility. In fact, I
worked for SEIU for 7 years, and worked so closely with
an SEIU local, District 1199 New England, for an
additional 3 years, that my total SEIU experience is a
full decade (as the title of the book suggests).

Since I am not 100% aligned with Early's views, Early
apparently sees me as the enemy and is looking to
discredit everything I do and say. Turf wars have the
potential to lead to that approach, and I gather that
Early is known for it; readers need to judge for
themselves if that's the most useful way to advance the
labor movement and help workers improve their
conditions. For example, although I condemn the raid
against Sal Rosselli, head of what is now NUHW, Early
says, "Raising Expectations displays minimal sympathy
for the dedicated organizers and workplace leaders who
created NUHW...." I praise the work of several of UHW's
staff organizers by name including Glen Goldstien, Dana
Simon and Brian McNamara, in addition to acknowledging
Rosselli's local sending us their purple RV (an
important resource our local was far too small to own),
and offer other instances where Roselli's local
supported the Nevada workers. But Early can't tolerate
that I also expose some painful experiences where
Rosselli acted in less than stellar ways--as when
Rosselli sided with Stern against the Nevada workers
when we were disputing whether or not our rank-and-file
had the right to strike. The world isn't as pure or as
binary as partisans might see it.

The review is drenched with sexism, best--though not
only--reflected by this line, "McAlevey is a woman
organizer scorned...." My, my, my, the "woman" there
certainly is needed. You'd think Early could see
reasons why people might be upset with SEIU. And that,
"a woman scorned" wouldn't be at the top of the list.
This is not exactly his proudest political moment,
though perhaps his most revealing.

The civil wars in labor may be at the top of Early's
agenda, and they matter to my story, but they are a
side issue in a book focused on organizing.  Quoting
from the third paragraph of the "Introduction:"

"So first and foremost, this book is about organizing.
Why? Because if there is any one message I hope to
convey, it is that present-day American service workers
can militantly confront corporations and government and
win. .... The organizing I have been involved in for
the last ten years has won. As a result, there are
thousands of workers who now expect to have a greater
say in what goes on at their workplace, expect their
jobs to be more productive and effective, and
anticipate a better quality of life when they are old
and that they will have more money for their children's
education. Their relationship with their coworkers has
become richer, they feel less intimidated by their
superiors, and when they face a collective problem they
have a realistic chance of finding a collective

I very much appreciate Steve Early's assessment that
"Several of the best chapters in Raising Expectations
describe her jousting with management and provide
detailed examples of how open negotiations (what the
author calls, "big, representative, bargaining") can
increase rank-and-file participation and restore
members confidence in the union as their workplace
voice." There are sixteen (16) chapters in the book,
and by my count fourteen (14) of them are dedicated to
the nuts and bolts of what constitutes good organizing.
Additionally, a top goal of the book is to reach a
broad audience so that the central issue of the
importance of unions, and of why we still believe
American workers can win, reaches beyond the already
converted. The personal approach the book takes was
done intentionally (and because, as I discuss in the
epilogue, I wrote the book while I was grounded for
several months fighting cancer; most people familiar
with organizers know it would literally take tying us
down to get us to focus on writing for months on end;
cancer replaced the ropes for me). Remarkably, this
becomes an example of how I am just an uppity,
self-centered woman, "a progressive prima donna." Go

The book begins with my reflections on being in the
trenches in the 2000 Florida Recount. I use the
experience of being a senior organizer for the AFL-CIO
assigned to the Gore campaign to create a metaphor for
the deeply problematic relationship between the
Democratic Party and organized labor--a theme that I
raise throughout the book. The Democrats were unwilling
or unable to mobilize a movement in support of Gore;
unfortunately, labor went along with (or possibly even
agreed with?) that mistaken call by the Democrats. I
describe in detail several efforts we led to buck the
mainstream Democratic Party from within the primary
system and run opposition candidates against what we
call bad Democrats--a category of politicians I refer
to in the book as a "target-rich environment." We were
successful every time and the approach constituted a
sort of left wing precursor to the Tea Party--an effort
to seize the party from within, with the hopes that we
can one day build our own.

But the vast majority of the book deals with a
blow-by-blow account of what it takes to win at a time
when labor is losing, and to rebuild moribund union
locals. This segment comes from the end of a chapter
called, "Laying the Foundation"--and reflects how much
we had accomplished in just one year in Las Vegas:

"By late spring of 2005 we had set new standards for
Las Vegas hospital workers in the contracts we'd won at
Desert Springs and Valley hospitals, and then topped
those standards with the even better contracts at the
two CHW hospitals. We had organized workers at three
more hospitals into the union, and had forced the
county manager to resolve the outstanding issue in the
civil service contract in the workers' favor. We had
played a key role in a successful county commission
race, and in defeating a right-wing effort to gut
property taxes in the state. Internally, our local had
tripled the size of its staff, built an organizing
department, and fundamentally changed the way the union
was run. It had been a busy twelve months."

There are many workers in this country who desperately
need a year like that.

As Early mentions in his review, we discuss what I call
"whole worker organizing." This approach goes beyond
solidarity building between unions and "the community,"
and suggests a better approach is for unions to
understand their members are the community. This
critique is at the heart of the book. In the
Introduction, I describe what I mean by this,

"Whole-worker organizing begins with the recognition
that real people do not live two separate lives, one
beginning when they arrive at work and punch the clock
and another when they punch out at the end of their
shift. The pressing concerns that bear down on them
every day are not divided into two neat piles, only one
of which is of concern to unions. At the end of each
shift workers go home, through streets that are
sometimes violent, past their kids' crumbling schools,
to their often substandard housing, where the tap water
is likely unsafe."

In my experience, this approach is not a distraction
that hurts the "real" focus on workplace organizing;
this approach is a key to winning.

At a time when less than 7% of the private sector
workforce--and less than 12% of the total workforce is
in a union--a whole worker organizing approach is
urgent. We have to use the base of the labor movement
we still have to quickly persuade millions of Americans
in neighborhoods nationwide that unions remain the best
hope for improving their lives. The book describes an
approach that worked with different kinds of workers
and in different states, in the private and public
sector, at the higher and lower ends of the pay scale,
workers considered hard-to-replace and those regarded
as easy to replace--and argues that there are no
shortcuts to face-to-face organizing to win back the
confidence of the members or their communities to the
purpose and promise of a good union. In Las Vegas we
set new standards, and then topped those standards with
even better contracts, and this did not come at the
cost of new organizing.

Early's review is pretty much what I expected when I
wrote the book, and I decided I would live with it
because I had a story I thought was important to tell.
I do hope, however, that the entirely predictable
criticisms that will come my way (and Early's is
certainly only the first of many) will not totally
obscure the story I tried to tell, a story I hope can
contribute to revitalizing the labor movement and
improving workers' lives.


Jane McAlevey has served as Executive Director and
Chief Negotiator for a union local, as National Deputy
Director for Strategic Campaigns of the Healthcare
Division for SEIU, and she was the Campaign Director of
the one of the only successful multi-union, multi-year,
geographic organizing campaigns for the national
AFL-CIO. She has led power structure analyses and
trainings for a wide range of union and community
organizations and has had extensive involvement in
globalization and global environmental issues. She
worked at the Highlander Research and Education Center
in her early 20's. McAlevey is currently a PhD
candidate at the City University of New York's Graduate
Center and is a contributing writer at The Nation

An Historic Cross-Border Organizing Rally & Summit

mayday2012On Saturday, December 1st, 2012...
at Peace Arch Park in Blaine Washington
Rally at 1pm and Organizing Summit at 2pm 

Join The Alliance for Democracy, Oregon Fair Trade Campaign, Jobs with Justice, Labor Radio, Northwest Alliance for Alternative Media and Education  (NAAME) and others..  (No fear, no compromise, and no surrender!)
Defeat the Trans Pacific Partnership!(TPP)

The 1% are planning to limit our governments' power to regulate in the public interest. The TPP is a threat to democracy, undermining national sovereignty, workers' rights, environmental protections and Internet freedom. We urge you to reject this corporate takeover. We are the 99%!

ORFTC has endorsed the historic Cross-Border Organizing Summit & Rally against the
Trans-Pacific Partnership taking place along the U.S./Canada border in Blaine, Washington on Saturday, December 1. at Peace Arch Park in Blaine, Washington.  Starts with rally at 1pm and organizing summit at 2 . 
The Blaine summit and rally’s organizing partners include the AFL-CIO, Citizens Trade Campaign, Council of Canadians, Sierra Club and over a dozen other local social justice organizations.  It’s timed with a similar event along the U.S./Mexico border, and will be kicking off an exciting new tri-national campaign on the TPP just prior to Mexico and Canada’s first round of TPP negotiations, which take place from December 3 – 12 in Auckland, New Zealand.
To learn more, please contact us at (503) 736-9777 or

Help stop the largest corporate power grab in ten years! The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is bad for working people. 

Join hands with Canadian, Mexican, and American Trade Justice Advocates from the labor, environmental, family farm, immigrant-rights, internet freedom, occupy, peace and social justice movements to help launch an historic new tri-national campaign to defeat the TPP.

Come Join the Rally and Summit!  
more info: at or call 503-736-9777

MAP: Peace Arch Park / Blaine, WA

What to expect on December 1st:

Meet rock-awesome local activists. Learn about the TPP from organizers  throughout North America. Strategize on how to spread the word  and mobilize in your community. Participate in a fun border action. Make movement history! Seize the day!

November 26, 2012

More Repression Directed At Revolutionary Grup Yorum

We have previously covered political repression in Turkey and the revolutionary band Grup Yorum. Bianet is running the following story.

Fellow Artists Support Suspected Musicians

13 suspects including members of popular music band Grup Yorum were ordered to stand trial today, with artists, politicians and intellectuals supporting outside the courthouse.

26 November 2012, Monday

13 suspects were ordered to stand trial for allegedly becoming members of the leftist "terror" organization DHKP/C (the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front), resisting to police intervention and vandalism. The suspects might receive sentences from 25 to 110 years.

In their initial defense, suspects claimed to be innocent, saying that they only used their legal rights to protest and make public statements.

Grup Yorum members Ezgi Dilan Balcı and Ayfer Rüzgar were also present in the trial.

Turkish Criminal Court Judge Ali Alçık postponed the trial to April 2, 2013, while none of the suspects being dismissed.

In May, police raided Grup Yorum members during rehearsals in a concert house, detaining their music instruments and subjecting to harsh treatment. The musical instruments were returned a year after the incident, with none of them playable.

The suspects were supported by a dozen of intellectuals, politicians and artists, including Deputy Efkan Şeşen, Pınar Aydınlar and Nur Sürer.

Some Grup Yorum members protested their partners' trial with chains on their musical instruments and black tapes on their mouths.

"They [authorities] are afraid of folk songs because they are the people's sole weapons," Caner Bozkurt, a band member, said.

Folk singer Pinar Aydinlar said that the target of the attacks on band members indeed aimed at the people.

"No government should fear music, theater and cinema," Nur Surer, theater actress, said. (AS)

Bidding Adieu to SEIU: Lessons for Its Next Generation of Organizers?

From WorkingUSA, December, 2012, Volume 15, #4.    
By Steve Early
A review of Raising Expectations (And Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting For the Labor Movement, by Jane McAlevey with Bob Ostertag. New York/London: Verso Books, 2012. 318 pp. $25.95 (hardcover)

(NOTE: also see this post  for another review of same book.)

Few modern unions have done more outside hiring than the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), America’s second largest labor organization. Beginning in the mid-1970s and continuing unabated today, SEIU and its local affiliates have employed tens of thousands of non-members as organizers, servicing reps, researchers, education specialists, PR people, and staffers of other kinds. While most unions hire and promote largely from within (i.e. from the ranks of their working members), SEIU has always cast its net wider.

It has welcomed energetic refugees from other unions, promising young student activists, former community organizers, ex-environmentalists, Democratic Party campaign operatives, and political exiles from abroad. (One prototypical campus recruit was my older daughter, Alex, a Latin-American studies major who became a local union staffer for SEIU after supporting the janitors employed at her Connecticut college.)

Many, if not most, of SEIU’s outside hires no longer work for the union, in part because of its penchant for “management by churn.” This means that its network of distinguished alumni today is far larger than its current national and local workforce, which is not small. And not all of these SEIU alums have fond memories of their tour of duty in purple, the union’s signature color. For an institution that demands great loyalty from its staff, SEIU is not known for its reciprocal attachment to those who do its bidding. Ex-SEIUers include many dedicated, hard-working organizers who were useful for a while, until they were not.

In several recent purges, SEIU even managed to forget about the past services rendered by organizers sometimes described as “legendary.” I refer here to Bruce Raynor, former head of Workers United/SEIU, and Stephen Lerner, a fellow SEIU executive board member who directed the union’s Private Equity Project and devised its much-applauded “Justice for Janitors” campaigns two decades ago. 

Cut From The Purple Team

Raynor began his labor career as a southern textile worker organizer in the 1970s, helping workers like the one portrayed by Sally Fields in Norma Rae. While still serving as national president of UNITE HERE in 2009, Raynor rather messily defected to SEIU, a fellow Change To Win affiliate. In the face of stiff rank-and-file opposition, he steered about a quarter of UNITE Here’s membership into the far larger union run by his friend, Andy Stern.

Raynor was given a new title-- Executive Vice-President of SEIU. Yet, just two years later, he was drummed out of Workers United/SEIU on disputed charges of expense account fiddling (Why someone earning more than a quarter of a million dollars a year needed to bill SEIU for $2,300 worth of “non-business” lunches remains an unsolved mystery of American labor, right up there with the final resting place of Jimmy Hoffa).

Stephen Lerner’s fall from grace (and loss of his $156,000 annual salary) began, more incrementally, in the fall of 2010. Lerner had just unveiled what was supposed to be a global, multi-union SEIU-coordinated bank workers organizing campaign, only to find himself put out on paid administrative leave for three months, after a noisy beef with his new SEIU headquarters boss.   Lerner had been an influential publicist for many SEIU causes, including the New Unity Partnership (a predecessor to Change To Win), when his longtime patron, Andy Stern, was still Service Employees president. Under Stern’s successor (and protégé), Mary Kay Henry, Lerner’s contributions were far less appreciated and, soon, no longer wanted at all.

Under President Henry, Lerner’s bank worker organizing was shut down. But, when his SEIU staff pension and job severance issues were eventually sorted out, he became free to rail, to his heart’s content, about Wall Street and “the banksters” bereft of any meaningful union base. Henry then ran, un-opposed, for re-election in May, 2012, with an “administration slate” cleansed of both Lerner and Raynor.

A “Deep Organizer” Scorned

Jane McAlevey, author of Raising Expectations (And Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting For the Labor Movement, was very briefly, in 2008, a member of the same national union executive board graced, in happier days, by both men. While the normally quite vocal Lerner and Raynor have been very reticent about their involuntary departure from SEIU, McAlevey is a woman organizer scorned (or unburdened by any non-disclosure agreement?). Her resulting fury, or political frustration, is reflected in many parts of her memoir about being undermined and driven out of a 9,000-member SEIU affiliate in Nevada that she labels “one of the most successful in the nation.” Written with the assistance of Bob Ostertag, Raising Expectations settles old scores with numerous members of what McAlevey calls “the Stern gang in D.C.,” who helped shorten her illustrious SEIU career to a mere 4 ½ years. The book should, therefore, be required reading for anyone hoping to last longer at SEIU—“before the rug is pulled out from under them” by the same “people at the top” who so disdained McAlevey because she wouldn’t cop to their “paranoid institutional culture.”

Lest anyone think that the author’s own employment was a little short-term for such a blistering critique of SEIU and other unions, I should note (as the book’s subtitle does) that McAlevey actually spent an entire decade trying to straighten out organized labor before concluding it was pretty hopeless. As she writes in the book’s final chapter:

"I operated on the assumption that, if you just kept winning in a principled way, the work you were doing would create the conditions for its own continued existence. The people at the top might not like you, they might not understand what you were trying to do, they might consider you a big pain in the ass, but if you consistently succeeded at the assignments they gave you, ultimately they would give you more assignments and the work would go forward. I was wrong….Past a certain point, winning actually becomes a liability, because the people at the top will feel threatened by the power you’re accumulating unless they can control it; they cannot imagine that your ambition would not be to use that power in the same way they use theirs. It took ten years of banging my head on a wall to finally knock that into it."

Power Structure Analyst?

Forty-eight year old McAlevey had a varied non-labor career before she started “winning in a principled way” and power-accumulating (without personal ambition) in “the house of labor.” She was a student government leader at the State University of New York at Buffalo, an activist in the environmental justice movement at home and abroad, associate director of the Highlander Center in Tennessee, and a program officer for Veatch, a progressive foundation backed by the Unitarian Church.

In 1998, McAlevey was recruited by then-AFL-CIO Organizing Director Richard Bensinger to head up the Stamford Organizing Project. SOP was a collaborative effort by local affiliates of SEIU, the Auto Workers, Hotel Employees, and Food and Commercial Workers. Raising Expectations reports that it “helped 5,000 workers successfully form unions and win first contracts that set new standards in their industries and [local] market.” This multi-racial, cross-union model wasn’t replicated elsewhere, the author suggests, becausepost-1995 efforts “to reform the national AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C. were shipwrecking.”  One casualty was the federation’s short-lived experiment with Stamford-style “geographical organizing.”

 Even after she moved on, McAlevey’s methods earned high marks from campus fans like Dan Clawson, author of The Next Upsurge: Labor and the New Social Movements, who lauded the Stamford project as an expression of new “social movement unionism.”  McAlevey prefers to call her work “deep organizing” or, in other parts of the book, “whole worker organizing.” This approach involves “bring[ing] community organizing techniques right into the shop floor while moving labor organizing techniques out into the community” after conducting “power structure analysis that enables workers to systematically pool their knowledge of their communities and integrate this knowledge with conventional research done by union professionals.” Workers themselves, not union staffers or some “union front group,” are empowered to decide “when and where to take on ‘non-workplace issues,’” like affordable housing, that too many unions fail to address.

A Mission in Las Vegas
After Stamford, McAlevey worked for SEIU in New York, Washington, D.C., Kansas, and California as the union’s Deputy Director for Strategic Campaigns at Tenet Healthcare and other companies. Her longest and last stand was in Las Vegas, working as the Andy Stern-installed executive director of 9,000-member Local 1107, a public sector and health care affiliate of SEIU that also represented thousands of non-dues payers.

McAlevey variously describes the local she took over in 2004 as “a rat’s nest,” a “joke,” and a dysfunctional “grievance mill.” Her opinion of her new home wasn’t much higher. It’s “a myth” that Las Vegas is a model “union town,” she contends. UNITE-HERE Local 226 may have done “a stellar job of winning good contracts”—but that only means the city has “a union street…universally known as the Strip.” As for the rest of the place, according to the author, it’s “a phony city built on gambling and prostitution” located “in a corrupt right-to-work state” where “the temperature climbs above 110 for days on end.” Sin City’s one redeeming feature, for McAlevey, was “land so cheap that I could get a little place where my horse could live with me.” (According to the author, her equine companion, a Tennessean named Jalapeno, later came in handy when she tried to bond with local politicos, who also spent off-duty time in the saddle.)

Prior to arriving in this desert, McAlevey’s headquarters handlers all agreed that she “should present herself as a seasoned hand at negotiating contracts,” a major responsibility of her new appointed position. Her actual bargaining experience was shockingly thin, for someone who was now representing thousands of workers at Hospital Corporation of America, United Health Services, Catholic Healthcare West, and other large employers. “I had hardly even read a union contract,” the author admits. “I had never negotiated and there all sorts of technicalities of the collective bargaining process I had no clue about.” (One SEIU headquarters helper reassured her that workers would soon discover how “really talented and terrific” she was anyway.) Fortunately, with much long-distance telephone call coaching from New England 1199/SEIU leader Jerry Brown, McAlevey proved to be a fast learner.

Derailing “the little juggernaut”

During her first several years as its staff director, McAlevey helped strengthen Local 1107 by overhauling the local’s financial and administrative practices, hiring younger staffers, encouraging member involvement in bargaining, better integrating internal and external organizing, and reviving SEIU as a political force in Nevada. Several of the best chapters in Raising Expectations describe her jousting with management and provide detailed examples of how open negotiations (what the author calls “big representation bargaining”) can increase rank-and-file participation and restore members ‘confidence in the union as their workplace voice.

McAlevey now believes that, despite this promising beginning and favorable contract results, her commitment to “building real worker power”—though “activism on the shopfloor”—conflicted too much with the “vested interests” of those “higher up” in SEIU. Her headquarters critics favored labor-management partnering and no longer wanted to deal with members’ day-to-day job problems.  Her personal string of “who-would-have-believed-it” victories, in a “maverick local,” was just too much of an affront to top officials, who frowned on strikes and other forms of worker militancy. Her adversaries in the SEIU bureaucracy made sure she remained politically “vulnerable” and, if necessary, easily discarded.  According to McAlevey, “the national SEIU sucked” and was just itching “to derail the little juggernaut we had put together in Vegas.”

In reality, the author’s political demise was hastened by her role in a failed attempt to remove Local 1107 President Vicki Hedderman and her allies from their elected positions, a campaign assisted by President Stern. A former unit clerk at Clark County Hospital, Hedderman was, in McAlevey’s view, too focused on filing grievances and not sufficiently supportive of new organizing. McAlevey depicts her nominal boss as “tenaciously” clinging to the perks of office, while keeping 1107’s public sector and healthcare members at odds, and thwarting the author’s ambitious plans for unifying and transforming the local. According to McAlevey, Hedderman and other incumbents “had maintained control of the local by trading their attentiveness to individual grievances for the votes of the workers who filed them.”

It was not part of McAlevey’s formal job description to meddle in the local’s internal politics or round up votes a different way. But that’s what she did, rather in-expertly and disastrously. She  recruited opposition candidates who ended up being covertly financed by out-of-state SEIU donations solicited by Stern. One of these $5,000 gifts—from Ohio SEIU leader Dave Regan—“turned out to be money that technically could not be used for [union] elections.” The U.S. Department of Labor intervened—and found other misconduct as well. A membership uproar ensued and much bad publicity was generated. Hedderman survived both McAlevey’s original electoral challenge and a hasty re-run ordered by SEIU.  To restore peace to 1107, an emissary from SEIU headquarters negotiated the joint resignations of both women—an exit strategy for McAlevey that she now describes as “taking the fall for Andy Stern.”

There’s a saying, popular among judges: “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” In this most murky section of her book, McAlevey pleads ignorance nevertheless. She claims that her extensive knowledge of “real world election laws” (i.e. those applying to “county commission races” in Nevada) and the federal “labor laws that relate to beating multi-national corporations” just didn’t extend to the Landrum-Grifffin Act, which protects workers’ rights as union members. “Internal union election law was all news to me,” she confesses.

Disliked By “The Queen of Petty” 

Equally disingenuous is McAlevey’s claim to have been victimized by “the pervasive sexism among the men who are most in control of the resources in unions today.”Lack of women in the leadership and insufficient nurturing of female rank-and-file activists is, indeed a continuing labor problem, notwithstanding the valiant efforts of various women’s caucuses. Yet Raising Expectations is full of praise for McAlevey’s “beloved and invaluable mentors”—almost all of them high-ranking men (like Brown and Bensinger; Bensinger’s successor at the AFL-CIO, Kirk Adams, who is now a top SEIU official again; and ex-SEIU healthcare division head Larry Fox, who along with current SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina, was responsible for “shoehorning” the author into Las Vegas).

In contrast, almost every personal nemesis we meet is female (with the exception of McAlevey’s two problematic allies, Andy Stern and Dave Regan). First, we encounter Mary Kay Henry, who “was clearly not comfortable with me” and failed to return the author’s phone calls; next, “The Queen of Petty,” longtime SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger, makes an appearance, blocking McAlevey from speaking to the SEIU executive board (because Jane was “someone she doesn’t like to have around);” and then there is Judy Scott, SEIU General Counsel, who calls to “browbeat” Jane “into “capitulating to Hospital Corporation of America” so “labor peace” in Las Vegas could be traded for “organizing rights” elsewhere.

Meanwhile, throughout much of her narrative, the author is continually harried by Hedderman, and her “old guard” allies (many of them female) who resist internal change. Circling outside Local 1107 is the predatory California Nurses Association (CNA), headed by the always Machiavellian RoseAnn DeMoro, who descends on strife-torn Nevada SEIU to recruit hundreds of Reno nurses who’ve become disenchanted with SEIU and Jane.

A “Retrogressive” DeMoro
In McAlevey’s view, the CNA’s high-profile Executive Director is badly miscast as the progressive heroine “of academic Marxists, student radicals, and others on the margins of unions.” According to the author, DeMoro’s craft-union “approach….is completely retrogressive” and “encourages an attitude of elitism rather than solidarity” among nurses in relation to other lower-paid, less skilled hospital workers. But Raising Expectations debunks the CNA as labor’s “self-styled left-wing” only in passing. McAlevey mainly frames her book as “Exhibit A in the case against Stern, SEIU, and the ‘shallow organizing’ vision for American labor that they have come to personify.” According to the author, this “shallow mobilizing approach” leaves members with “only the most tenuous relationship with their union.” As a result, “the political endorsements their unions give to candidates or ballot initiatives mean little more to workers than the endorsements of their bosses or Fox News.”

"[T]he union becomes nothing more than the contract and the contract is only engaged when a worker files a grievance. The union becomes an insurance plan, like car insurance, to which workers pay dues “in case you need it.” Staff talk to workers like Geico claims adjustors after an accident."

Given Mary Kay Henry’s “many years as Stern’s loyal protégé, and her role in the events described in this book” McAlevey finds it “hard to imagine she will alter SEIU’s course in any significant way.” The author takes direct aim at Henry’s “Fight for a Fair Economy,” a current SEIU campaign much ballyhooed in the blogosphere and publications like The Nation. According to the McAlevey, FFE is just another form of “tactical and transactional engagement” with the community that involves union staff   renting or buying community groups, or simply setting up their own fully controllable” ones.” As she accurately observes:

"SEIU is spending tens of millions of dollars ‘mobilizing underpaid, underemployed, and unemployed workers’ and ‘channeling anger about jobs into action for positive change.” What’s beyond bizarre is that the program is aimed a mobilizing poor people rather than SEIU’s own base. SEIU looks everywhere except to their own membership to gin up popular revolts."

 A “Popular Revolt” Within SEIU

The author’s overall report card on SEIU echoes the better-articulated critique developed by its California rival, the new National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). NUHW was born out of a popular revolt that didn’t have to be ginned up. In January,2009, Stern put members of SEIU’s third largest affiliate, United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW) under trusteeship for challenging him at the union’s 2008 convention in Puerto Rico, resisting his attempted dismantling of their local afterwards, and publicly questioning the same kind of heath care industry “growth deals” that McAlevey also found troubling.

However, in 2008, when soon-to-be-ousted UHW President Sal Rosselli and other would-be reformers opposed Stern’s further consolidation of personal power at the SEIU convention, McAlevey was no ally of theirs. Instead, without ever having served as an elected local officer of SEIU, she accepted Stern’s invitation to run on his slate for the SEIU executive board, a body that Rosselli was purged from. Getting this promotion, of course, required that she distance herself from the vocal minority of delegates critical of the union’s increasingly undemocratic practices and lax contract enforcement. (She describes their brave efforts as just “fizzling” out.) Her own IEB tenure proved to be short-lived, due to her SEIU-brokered resignation from Local 1107 in late June, 2008, and subsequent year-long struggle with cancer.

In Raising Expectations, McAlevey’s brief elevation to the SEIU board goes unmentioned, since that episode might undercut her claim now that she was among those more “moderate” SEIU progressives who were quietly “working to build opposition to [Stern’s] policies,” while avoiding “a frontal assault on Stern’s leadership” of the sort launched by the “loud” and “bombastic” Rosselli. Among McAlevey’s convention running-mates was Dave Regan, the same “Stern loyalist” and “stooge” whose Ohio “political fund Stern tapped for the money he had promised for our union election in Nevada—the down payment that turned out to be technically illegal.” The truly bombastic Regan later became Stern’s trustee over UHW, a role he has transformed into a lucrative $300,000 a year local union presidency.

Now representing more than 10,000 workers, NUHW continues to challenge SEIU in California healthcare units because of the top-down, management-friendly deal-making (by Regan and others) that McAlevey decries in her book. Nevertheless, Raising Expectations displays minimal sympathy for the dedicated organizers and workplace leaders who created NUHW, after Stern slammed the door on their internal SEIU reform efforts. Unlike McAlevey’s smaller-scale Nevada tiffs with SEIU headquarters, the California health care workers’ rebellion represented a real threat to national union control. That’s why SEIU sued 28 NUHW founders for $25 million dollars and won a very unjust $1.5 million federal court judgment against 16 of them (that is still under appeal).

Captive Members?
All we learn about “the resulting war” is that McAlevey opposes “raids” because they’re “one of the sleaziest things one union can do to another.” In her view, union leaders, not workers, end up “decid[ing] whether an existing union is bad enough to warrant being raided by another union.” Left unexplained by the author is why “workers with bad unions” should be denied “the chance to jump to more effective ones”—particularly, where the alternative choice, NUHW, is a more militant, democratic, and member-driven union (plus, one that’s backed by respected SEIU veterans like Jerry Brown, the now-retired Connecticut leader who was McAlevey’s most trusted advisor in Las Vegas).

In Raising Expectations, McAlevey expounds instead on her own preferred community and labor organizing models. She provides little or no practical guidance for members still trapped in her old union (other then maybe learning from her mistake of breaking federal law to influence local union election results?). McAlevey’s book is neither well-documented labor reporting nor an academic study of U.S. union dysfunction (although, post-SEIU, the author enrolled in a City University of New York graduate program).  Instead, it’s a memoir more self-absorbed than self-aware, whose main strength lies in its several very detailed and useful case studies of contract campaigns worthy of emulation in other open shop states. Too often, however, Raising Expectations is so narcissistic that the book’s factual narrative (and overall information value) suffers as result.

Most rank-and-file oriented organizers—as opposed to the egocentric top officials criticized by the author—try to make union-building a collective effort, not a one-person show. In  Raising Expectations, McAlevey seems to be less the “left-wing troublemaker,” she claims to be, and more of a progressive prima donna, operating in episodic “Lone Ranger” fashion (albeit always with a coterie of admiring young staffers).  In contrast, labor’s more effective grassroots organizers tend to be long distance runners, not sprinters or relay team members who have trouble cooperating with others on the squad and maintaining enduring relationships with workers. They also don’t make the project of union renewal so much about themselves or their own heroic endeavors. In the case of those activists still challenging SEIU in California, many have paid a far higher personal price than McAlevey ever did, because their labor reform efforts involved real risk-taking, not just self-promotion (and literary-reinvention) as a martyr to the cause.

(Steve Early worked as an organizer and contract negotiator for the Communications Workers of America from 1980 to2007. He is a longtime supporter of Teamsters for a Democratic Union, Labor Notes, and other union democracy and reform networks. He is the author most recently of The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor from Haymarket Books, which chronicles the struggle between SEIU and NUHW in California. He can be reached at