US Labor Organizing in the Age of Obama, Racism and NeoLiberalism
Bill Fletcher Jr. and Stephen Lerner on Unions in Peril
July 6, 2012
Lost in the Supreme Court media chatter last week: a disturbing ruling in Knox vs. SEIU Local 1000 that restricts labor unions from directing collected dues toward political causes. There’s no similar limit on corporations, naturally – yet another indication that the power and status of modern unions is waning, especially when compared to the unbridled influence of Corporate America. With a sharp decline in union membership, a legion of new enemies, and a series of legal and legislative setbacks, can unions rebound and once again act strongly in the interest of ordinary workers?
Bill talks to two people who can best answer the question: Stephen Lerner and Bill Fletcher, Jr. The architect of the SEIU’s Justice for Janitors movement, Lerner directed SEIU’s private equity project, which worked to expose a Wall Street feeding frenzy that left the working class in a state of catastrophe. Fletcher took his Harvard degree to the Massachusetts shipyards, and worked as a welder before becoming a labor activist. He served as Assistant to the President of the AFL-CIO, and is author of the upcoming book “They’re Bankrupting Us!”: And 20 Other Myths about Unions.
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Activist and Writer
Bill Fletcher, Jr. was involved in activism as early as high school, and carries that torch today as an internationally-recognized racial justice and labor activist. After graduating from Harvard, Fletcher took a job as a shipyard welder as a way into the labor movement. There he became involved in issues such as union democracy, health and safety, and racial justice.
Fletcher involved himself in the desegregation of the building trades in Boston, and later was a staff member in various unions including District 65-United Auto Workers, the Service Employees International Union, the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, and the national AFL-CIO. Fletcher served as Education Director for the AFL-CIO and, eventually, Assistant to the President. A visiting professor at Brooklyn College-CUNY, Fletcher was also president of TransAfrica Forum, a non-profit advocacy, research, and education center focused on justice for the African world.
During his prolific writing career, Fletcher co-authored The Indispensable Ally: Black Workers and the Formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, 1934-1921; and Solidarity Divided. His most recent book, “They’re Bankrupting Us!”: And 20 Other Myths about Unions, will be published by Beacon Press this August.
Labor and Community Organizer
Stephen Lerner spent much of the past three decades unionizing hundreds of thousands of farm workers, garment workers, and janitors. His efforts as a labor and community organizer have resulted in wage increases, paid sick days, first-time health benefits, and additional improvements for workers in these and other trades. Lerner was a key leader in the Justice for Janitors campaign and now directs much of his attention to supporting unions and community groups looking for ways to fight Wall Street’s grip on democracy in America.
As director of the SEIU’s private equity project, Lerner launched a campaign before the current economic crisis to expose the impending economic disaster by documenting lax regulations and unsustainable practices of private equity firms. Lerner has published many articles on the future of the labor movement in an effort to confront the complex challenges of a global economy.