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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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BILL MOYERS: But there was a lot of hope of winning in Wisconsin and workers and their families did exactly what you are recommending. They got out in the streets. They had strikes. They had protests. They prolonged their demonstrations. And still you lost.

STEPHEN LERNER: Well, you know, what I would raise as a question is whether the primary field where we're going to change the country is through elections. And that that may not be the place. That may be, that's where, you know, one of the things a good organizer does is try to figure out is where can we maximize our power and how do we play in the field where we're most successful. And it's important we win the presidency and important we do politics, but thinking we're going to vote our way out of this mess when we have a declining base I think is a mistake.

BILL MOYERS: President Obama stayed on the sidelines in Wisconsin as he has in so many of these labor fights of the last three years. Do you feel betrayed by Obama?

BILL FLETCHER, JR.: Not at all. First of all, I think that it was correct for Obama not to go into Wisconsin because he would have become the issue. But the deeper question is I don't feel betrayed by Obama. I feel disappointed in Obama. But I think that if anyone has looked at who he was in 2008 they would have understood, this is a corporate liberal.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean by that?

BILL FLETCHER, JR.: He is someone who sees his relationship with Wall Street, with the major corporations, that's the critical alliance for Obama. He was, he saw himself as preserving capitalism and he saw himself not as a champion of working people. He saw himself, he gave wonderful speeches to working people, but he does not see himself as the person who was saying, "We're going to take on the economic royalists."

STEPHEN LERNER: I think in 2008 the labor movement failed because we thought one human being was going to fix everything and we went into neutral. And, I think the real moment of lost opportunity was when the economic crisis hit. That unions and other progressives were waiting for somebody to fix it versus being in the street and really challenging the power of Wall Street. There was a moment where the entire country was questioning.

BILL MOYERS: Trade unions keep giving money to the Democrats because they, you think they'll come to your rescue and they don't. I mean why do, why does labor keep depending on a party that is always hanging it out to dry?

STEPHEN LERNER: I think the things that unions, and it's not just unions, but progressives need to think about, is who really has the country in a mess? And I think we've been very nervous about really, with red-hot anger, naming who the bad guys are and then talking about it in terms that resonate with people. Not abstractions about trillions of dollars. But talking about this teeny group of people at the top that are pillaging the country. And I think when we start to focus that and then have ways that people can act that's not just about rhetoric. I'll give you a specific example.

In California there is a program to pass a series of laws that defend homeowners and protect them from their homes being foreclosed on illegally, protect, if a bank forecloses on a home they now get fined $1,000 a day every day if they don't maintain the home. There's a whole set of legislation that's been passed.

 
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