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How to Get People to Go After Bankers and Financiers and Stop Attacking Public Employees

Bill Moyers talks to experienced organizers Stephen Lerner and Bill Fletcher, Jr. about what it will take to really revitalize the labor movement.

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STEPHEN LERNER: But this is why I think we need to look at some of the good things that are happening. When we did the demonstrations at the shareholder meetings of Bank of America and Wells Fargo, we did a version of what Bill just described, which is we talked about housing, we talked about how they treated workers, we talked about their role in funding private prisons and we talked about their role in destroying the environment and we talked about money in politics. And all the groups who normally don't work together came together. And in the case of Wells Fargo, lots of people are arrested, both inside and outside the meeting we sat in. And we took all those issues and said, "You know what? It all stems, the story, from the same problem which is the power of giant banks." And so when we were in Charlotte, North Carolina, the city invoked an emergency order and said, it suspended civil liberties in downtown Charlotte for this march. But we built enough pressure that we backed them off and we sat down and took over downtown Charlotte for two hours.

But the thing I'm trying to pull out of this is issues that are normally separate and siloed, became the same issue. It's how to giant banks hurt the environment. How do they hurt workers. How do they hurt communities. How do they hurt immigrants. And in looking at that you can imagine the kind of movement we need to build. That's not separate movements. One movement to focus on who these guys are.

BILL MOYERS: I can understand and appreciate the victories that you win here and there. But there's another side of the ledger too. And I looked at the details of those votes in San Diego and San Jose where voters who went for Barack Obama in 2008 voted by large margins to cut the pensions of public employees. The folks you care about.

BILL FLETCHER, JR.: I'm not surprised when people vote to cut pensions because what they look at is that they say, it's like crabs in the barrel. "These folks have something I do not have." And almost no one is saying to them, "Yes, that's true, but you lost it because of what happened and we need to fight to get it back."

STEPHEN LERNER: So let me give a specific example of what public employee unions could do that would make a different. What I'd love to see, which I think could actually demonstrate leadership, and the Chicago Teachers' Union actually did this. They said that they would take a wage freeze if the mayor would move his money out of all the banks that are continuing to foreclose on people in Chicago.

I think one of the things that we could do that would really make a difference. Is we need to turn collective bargaining into a vehicle not just for the narrow group of people who are bargaining, into a battle for the common good. So if public employee unions said, "We're willing to strike to force the city or the state to renegotiate debt with Wall Street," then I think people would rally behind them and say, "Oh, that's where the money went. It went to Wall Street. It's not goin' to those workers."

BILL MOYERS: Twenty California counties allow some public workers to make more in retirement than they did while working. And then there's one county executive retired at 62 so she could bring down a pension of $272,000 a year for life. In a county whose public pension system is underfinanced by 3/4 of a billion dollars. Now, against that minute particular, a telling story repeated over and again in an election, you're trying to say there's another story that will mitigate that example?

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