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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: Well, I tell you a funny piece of it is one of our weaknesses is that we're not, that we're afraid to sometimes just to say, "Yeah, that's wrong." And here are things—

BILL FLETCHER, JR.: Yeah, exactly.

STEPHEN LERNER: --and we have this knee jerk defense. Of course it's absurd.

BILL FLETCHER, JR.: People will respond to the story the you just told, because, again, it relates to something I was saying before, that it's easier to blame that public sector worker who is gaming the system than to go after the people in Wall Street who have walked away with billions. It's much easier.

BILL MOYERS: But Bill, with all due respect, the voters in San Diego, and San Jose see the particularities of this particular county—


BILL MOYERS: --executive more clearly than they do Jamie Dimon's situation.

BILL FLETCHER, JR.: We have to provide some answers, better answers than we're giving. I don't mean just in simply explanations, but what people can do about the morass that they find themselves in. In addition to saying, "Yeah, this is a problem," we've got to say, "This is how we would--"

STEPHEN LERNER: So let me give a very specific example. There's 16 million homes, which is really 30 million people are underwater. Their homes are worth less than they paid for them. They're overlaid with all the key battleground states. So we've launched a thing called The Home Defender's League—

BILL MOYERS: We being?

STEPHEN LERNER: We being a bunch of different community groups and unions. We've, in the last couple weeks, called half a million people. We're having meetings around the country. We have a very simple demand. Every mortgage should be reset to current market value.

That would put $700 billion in the economy, create a million jobs, save the average homeowner $5,000 a year and it would extract the money from Wall Street who stole it from them in the first place. Very concrete. An answer. Good math. Economist supported. And we have a chance to win that.

BILL MOYERS: What’s the website?


BILL MOYERS: Many of the people who are in their homes are not losing them. They're property owners. They're paying taxes. And they're fed up with what they perceive to be the heavy burden imposed on them by public employees.

BILL FLETCHER, JR.: And the person that you're describing that's paying those taxes and is feeling squeezed, we need to begin with the fact, you are being squeezed. There is a squeeze. It's not your imagination. So the question is then where is the money? Is the money to be found in crushing public sector workers or is the money to be found in reversing a practice over the last 50 years of decreasing taxes on corporations and on the wealthy?

Because the problem is that what's happened as the tax burden on the wealthy has shrunk, of course the people in the middle are bearing more and more of that. And they're resentful. And they should be.

STEPHEN LERNER The majority of those people, as mad as they may be at a public employee, know when in every poll, every discussion, the systems imbalanced, the people at the top are sucking up all the wealth. Financial capitalism is failing as a model in this country and in Europe. And I think as they start, if we survive this period and if we go on offense and let me just be clear. Offense is not defense yelling louder. Offense—

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