In a recent episode of Open Source Radio, Ezra Klein outlined the main groups contesting the immigration bill. While restrictionists on the right did the most to bring it down in the Senate, Klein also touched on an interesting dynamic on the left. Unions were divided between the older AFL-CIO, which opposed the bill, and the SEIU, which supported it. The SEIU is a new coalition of unions that broke with the AFL-CIO in 2005, and represents mainly service workers, including many more immigrants than the industrial worker dominated AFL-CIO. Immigration is upsetting the usual boundaries, at a time when American political parties are polarized on most issues.
I was reminded of this by Andrew Leonard’s post on more efforts by the SEIU to coordinate with the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU). Globalization is the dominant economic trend, often to the detriment of labor, and an international labor movement seems highly ambitious, unlikely, and yet necessary. But associating with a union that, as the only union allowed in China, also happens to be controlled by the Chinese government, has obvious contradictions. I don’t have anything original to say about it, but as Leonard puts it:
The obstacles to overcome in achieving global labor solidarity are vast. Some on the left call the very idea utopian and unworkable. The rump unions left in the AFL-CIO want nothing to do with the ACFTU, which they feel condones and facilitates slave-laborish exploitation. Sovereign governments and multinational corporations will both look askance at any kind of cross-border challenge to their autonomy.
But there’s a reason why SEIU is the fastest and largest growing union in the United States. And that’s because Andy Stern recognizes the nature of reality. One big union. Somehow, some way.
Of all the many unpredictable changes in a globalized world, this may be one of the most worth watching.