Daly is back in a progressive leadership role

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Chris Daly has been named interim political director of SEIU Local 1021.
Steven T. Jones

Chris Daly, a pivotal organizer of progressive politics during his decade on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, has returned to a high-profile role in the movement. Last month, he went to work for Service Employees International Union Local 1021, the city's largest public employee year. And today, he was named its interim political director.

“I'm excited and I think everyone here is excited to have Chris's talent and experience and energy on this team,” local President Roxanne Sanchez, who was elected as part of a progressive reform slate in 2010, told the Guardian. “Part of the vision of the executive board, and the mandate that we were elected on, is to build a long-lasting sense of power at the rank-and-file level.”

Even before lending support to the Occupy movement and its challenge to the power of the richest 1 percent of society, Local 1021 was targeting banks and other downtown financial institutions with its Fight for a Fair Economy campaign. Now Daly can continue pushing that agenda and connecting the dots between the consolidation of wealth and the hardships faced by workers and local government.

“The spark has been the Occupy movement, but it's been 1021 that has been helping to instigate some of these possible next steps...It has an opportunity to be successful if there's some institutional support for it,” Daly said of San Francisco's progressive movement, which suffered a setback when he and other board progressives were termed out, and a bit of a revival in the fall with the emergence of OccupySF.

“Occupy is going to need some foundation to continue its work,” Daly said. “Without organizational or structural support, that could have been a one-time thing.”

But now, during an important election year when the union's contracts with the city expire, Daly sees an opportunity to forward the interests of both union members and the broader progressive movement. Both Daly and Sanchez say educating their members and the general public about the importance of progressive issues is essential to advocating for their members, who are among the city's lowest paid workers and those who have suffered the most layoffs in recent years.

“If there's not a notion of the distribution of wealth and the 99 percent, we won't be successful,” Daly said. “Downtown is powerful, and labor needs to be here to offset the power of downtown. Without that, we're stuck.”

Sanchez said the reorganization now underway in her union, of which hiring Daly is a key component, is about turning the clock back on the labor movement and returning to an agenda of broadly building working class power, as unions did in the '30s and '40s before becoming more bureaucratic institutions in the '50s.

“Chris, and his perspective of building community strength, is our focus,” Sanchez said. “This is the time when unions have to help move a working family agenda and to push back on the opportunistic wealthy interests in this society.”

In the year since he left the board, Daly has been running the bar he purchased, The Buck (formerly Buck Tavern) – which became like a progressive clubhouse and gathering spot – as well as helping John Avalos's mayoral run and other campaigns. Daly says he wants to maintain that role by continuing to tend bar on Friday nights, but he plans to pour most of his energies into a new role that is really a continuation of his old role.

“For me, it was never about being on the Board of Supervisors. It was about trying to make the progressive movement strong and more effective...In some ways, I was one of the unofficial political directors of progressive San Francisco,” Daly told us. “I have a strong motivation to build a progressive political program, and now I have the opportunity to do that.”