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Where Did the Love Go?

April 15, 2008 - 10:42am

This blog item -- and the angry responses to it -- are worth reading if you want to understand California and its labor politics. Those who remember the 2005 special election, where the state's leading unions achieved enough unity to deal a crushing defeat to Gov. Schwarzenegger's ballot initiatives, will recognize the players. The blog post is by Steve Maviglio, a Democratic strategist who works for Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and helped run the campaign against Schwarzenegger's measures. And the responses come from Shum Preston and Chuck Idelson of the California Nurses Assn., which showed an incredible talent for organizing its members to confront the governor at appearances around the state. As a journalist, I've had extensive dealings with all three men, and have found all three to be knowledgable, thoughtful, and professional.

But in this post, they sound sarcastic, shrill and more than a little childish. Maviglio is at odds with Preston and Idelson over aggressive tactics being used by the nation's largest union, SEIU, which is competing with CNA for members and has taken very different political positions on key issues, most notably health care legislation in California. (SEIU supported the Schwarzenegger-Nunez compromise that preserved the private insurance market but sought to force insurers to sell policies to everybody and to compel individuals to buy policies; CNA opposes the legislation and argues for a single-payer system). What's clear is that the unity of 2005 is gone.

One wonders whether this kind of divide (the nurses' guys accuse Maviglio of being corporate and conservative -- not true, he's neither -- and Maviglio accuses them of hypocrisy -- false, Preston and Idelson are highly principled people) offers a preview of a possible split among California Democrats as the party moves towards a very competitive 2010 gubernatorial election. By the numbers, the Dems should be preparing to take back the governorship and full political control of the state. But one wonders if there's enough agreement on a progressive agenda for Democrats to govern if they get the chance.

Actually ...

the California Nurses Association wasn't part of the 2005 coalition, the Alliance for a Better California. They ran their own protests and didn't contribute to the highly effective advertising campaign by the Alliance.

The California Nurses Association also endorsed Nader over Gore.

They are far outside of the progressive labor movement in California, and are making a bid to take on SEIU nationally.

My beef with them is their tactics with Democrats (like my boss, and the Democratic majority in the legislature). Hence the post.

Hear you

Understood. And Steve's right: the nurses did their own thing, but they coordinated with ABC (the union alliance) at key moments. These relations were more fraught than was publicly known at the time, but the point was that they did not work at cross purposes. CNA is an aggressive, confrontational union -- that attitude, and their political action -- is part of how they sells themselves to members. Joe Mathews Irvine senior fellow, New America Foundation www.newamerica.net/blog/blockbuster-democracy/

Incredible talent????

CNA most definitely did NOT organize it's members to confront the governor around the state. Those were mostly CNA staff dressed up in scrubs. Talk to any former CNA staffer and they'll tell you just how much of a staff-driven union CNA is. People claim that CNA is a nurse's organization for nurses, but they always seem to forget that their leader, Roseanne Demorro, is a former Teamster's organizer (NOT a nurse). By comparison, whenever you see masses of the purple SEIU people, the staff are usually seen at the fringes passing out food and water and trying to keep things orderly.

They Weren't Mostly Staff

As someone who covered those rallies in '05 and examined how they were put together (including intermal documents, emails etc.), they were about as organic as political events get. Yes, staff of CNA and other unions would get out the word via email and phone calls about Arnold appearances, but the response had real, organic heat. That's rare.

Joe Mathews Irvine senior fellow, New America Foundation www.newamerica.net/blog/blockbuster-democracy/

Actually, back at you

Steve had an entirely different point of view when he used to come to our rallies on the steps of the Capitol in 2004 and 2005 in awe of the campaign we waged challenging Gov. Schwarzenegger's attack on patient safety and working people with over 100 protests within a one-year period leading up to the special election of 2005.

The California media had no trouble recognizing the role of CNA during that campaign, so perhaps Steve should stop trying to re-write history.

To be clear, the CNA "beef" is not with Democrats. We opposed the flawed healthcare bill his boss sponsored with Schwarzenegger. So did a lot of other people. When the bill went before the Senate Health Committee in January, only one Democrat voted for it, and even its co-sponsor, the Senate President Pro-tem Don Perata withdrew his support.
Chuck Idelson, California Nurses Association

Actually not

Steve was singing a different tune when he used to sidle up to our protests of thousands of nurses on the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento, and gush with praise about CNA's role in challenging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

During a one-year period during 2004-2005, CNA held over 100 protests against Schwarzenegger's attack on our hospital patient safety law and on working people in California. The California media certainly recognized CNA's role in the defeat of Schwarzenegger's special election initiatives even if Steve wants to re-write history now.

The notion that CNA is "far outside the progressive labor movement in California" is as is as ludicrous as his fantasy about our tactics with the Democratic majority in the legislature.

His real "beef" was our opposition to the health care plan proposed by Schwarzenegger and Steve's boss Fabian Nunez that was so flawed that it was abandoned by the same Democratic majority in the Senate he touts, and opposed by not just us, but also by a substantial percentage of the state's labor movement. When last seen, the bill garnered exactly one Democratic vote in the Senate Health Committee in January.

Chuck Idelson, CNA