June 13, 2012
I met up with Keith Kelleher just after Governor Walker survived the recall campaign in Wisconsin. Walker was able to keep his job thanks to spending nearly ten times what his opponent spent – over 30 million and 4 million respectively. Keith is the President of one of the fastest growing locals within the Service Employee International Union. And SEIU had just invested some serious muscle (volunteers and cash) in the campaign to kick Walker out for his anti-union policies that have dealt a serious blow to workers wages and benefits in Wisconsin. The timing was good for reflecting on an answer to one of my central questions: How can community groups and unions build power on a scale to compete with the conglomerated interests of financial sector, conservative corporations, and the elite?
Keith has been organizing with low-wage workers and community groups for longer than I have been alive. SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana is a union local that he helped build from the ground up. The membership is made up of caretakers who provide for the health and wellbeing of seniors, people with disabilities, and children. Historically, this group of workers didn’t even qualify for minimum wage despite their long hours spent doing physical and thoughtful work. Over the years they have indeed won the protection of minimum wage, union recognition, wage increases and healthcare coverage. SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana is now one of the largest union locals in the country. They recently added Missouri and Kansas to their organizing region.
In this bit, you can see a clarity of purpose and strategy that is focused and patient. This interview starts out with me asking what can be done to fight back against growing power of money in politics. He goes on to describe what type of work can be done to up the ante for working people and their organizations to build the kind of power needed to where workers can support their families on one job, not three.
The sound is a bit funky so I put in sub-titles. There are a lot of good lessons here if you listen close. I am especially keen on Keith’s understanding of the need for unions and community groups to work together – a practice he has years of experience with.
More info about SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana can be found at http://www.seiuhcilin.org/