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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 FLETCHER, JR.: Leaders of unions.

BILL MOYERS: And you're saying they don't recognize it?

BILL FLETCHER, JR.: They don't. They continue, they are fearful, Bill, of fundamentally becoming organizations that are viewed as disreputable. They're very worried about being in a situation where they're no longer invited to the White House dinners. And what we have to understand is that unions did not get started based on White House dinners. They got started based on exactly what Stephen is suggesting. That you have to be ready to throw the dice. And most of the leaders of the movement, unfortunately at this point, remain fearful of shaking the table. We need battle stations. A new level of vitality, a new level of tactics, new strategies, new forms of organization that we have not previously used. That's where we are.

STEPHEN LERNER: I think many of us at least have spent our life sort of waiting for the great leader to come and, you know, come and save us. And I actually am not waiting. I don't think that there's going to be somebody in Washington that's going to emerge and do that. I think instead we have to look at where are the battles that we can have that we can both win but also become symbolic and exciting that inspire and move people. Because the labor movement's suffering a version of Stockholm Syndrome. That we've been held captive by capital for so long, we're so used to losing, that we almost identify with our oppressor. And that part of what has to happen here is brilliant strategies and tactics, but there's another piece which is that we just have to be willing to say slowly dying is worse than having a really big fight and trying to win.

BILL FLETCHER, JR.: Let's use this Wisconsin example. Labor has spent very little time focusing on educating its own membership. Thirty-eight percent the families of union members voted for Walker as opposed to voting for the recall. People look at their self interests in very different ways and it's up to the unions to really create a framework where there's a dialogue. Not simply telling people what to believe, but really a dialogue about what's happening with working people in the United States. There are 16 million union members.

BILL MOYERS: Private and public?

BILL FLETCHER, JR.: Private and public. The organized labor needs to look to educate those 16 million people, because it's not simply about building alliances between the leaders of different unions and various community organizations or social movements. It's that the members of the unions have to feel themselves that they're part of something larger. People have to have that bigger picture. Unions can do that. They should be doing it now. But that necessitates putting resources that many leaders feel could best go elsewhere.

STEPHEN LERNER: It's too easy to blame the bad guys. That sort of corporations try to destroy unions 'cause that's what they do. Is that the labor movement, really for 30 years, 40 years, has, with, you know, with some exceptions of great work, not been focused on organizing private sector workers. It's not been focused. And I think workers are much more likely to organize if they think the consequence of organizing is life gets better than you get your brains blown out, which is really, when I knock on a door and say, "Do you want to join the union?" what most workers are thinking, "Oh, do I want to lose my job?" And so I think part of, we have this funny moment where we have to both inspire people to take a risk 'cause there's a vision grand enough to fight for, but also people have to think there's some hope of winning and that's not what we've offered—

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