The Progressive Quandary About SEIU

Abstract: The terrain of "progressive labor" in the U.S. has shifted dramatically in recent years. The two-million member Service Employees International Union (SEIU)–long associated with the remaking of labor as a force for social justice–has become embroiled in a series of controversies that have alienated past campus, community, and political allies. A union that once commanded almost automatic support in left-liberal circles now finds many "friends of labor" arrayed against it, rhetorically at least, and, in some cases, actively assisting organizational rivals such as UNITE HERE and the new National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). The following article reviews the history of the labor-intellectual alliance that emerged in the mid-1990s, in response to changes in the national AFL-CIO leadership. It assesses the current state of relations between labor-oriented academics and leading unions that formed the Change To Win coalition in 2005.

 In late June, 2009, the garment workers and hotel employees union known as UNITE HERE held its national convention in Chicago. There, the fellow labor organization recently described in New Labor Forum as our "most dynamic, fastest growing, and (many would argue) mo

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