Stephen Lerner, the Banks, and the Right-wing Scare Machine

Labor Organizing National Politics

New Orleans     stephen-lerner-headshot-small The right blogosphere and websites were all heavy breathing about another “secret” tape claiming longtime SEIU organizer and strategist, Stephen Lerner, was an “economic terrorist” advocating that the masses should bring the banks and Wall Street to its knees.  At one level it is hard to suppress a yawn.  Anger at Wall Street and the banks from TARP to the botched foreclosures to the sudden profit taking while some still owe money to the U.S. Treasury is one of the great unifiers of the American people right now from the so-called left to the Tea Party people!  Why wouldn’t Stephen be on that bus?

Furthermore how “secret” is a tape filmed at as part of a public presentation at a panel discussion of some sort at Pace University:  answer – not a secret at all!   I’ve known and worked with Lerner for decades and his long experience with union lawyers and what used to be called “corporate campaigns,” has made him one of the more careful commentators on his work that I know.  The rest of us are verifiable flap jawed loose lips compared to Steve!, the loud and furious factually challenged hate machine run by Andrew Brietbart, who I gather now is a journalist with the Huffington Post where he must have found a home after being blocked from Fox during the mid-term elections, while labeling Lerner an ex-SEIU official who was signaling that unions and community organizations were “dead,” also reported hook-line-and-sinker that in May, according to Lerner, there would be days of rage in ten cities around JP Morgan Chase signally the beginning of the anti-banking jihad.  Hmmm.  An ex-official issuing the call to “dead” troops to storm the barricades?  Does something not add up here?

The New American website went for the bait, but at least commented on the irony behind their uproar:

“It’s unclear exactly how much influence Lerner holds or who his fellow conspirators might be. He was reportedly fired recently from SEIU, one of America’s largest and most influential unions with around two million members, for spending vast sums of money on a plot similar to the one he described during the speech. The person who introduced him at Pace University said Lerner was working on building alliances with unions and other organizations in Europe and South America.  But regardless of Lerner’s true degree of influence, the tape has attracted considerable attention and condemnation.”

Well, yes, that seems right.  You need organization and members or someone to storm the barricades, and certainly Stephen is not airlifting boots on the ground from Europe and Latin America to do actions in the US.

In short welcome to the hate-and-scare hooey machine hard at work again.

Without talking to Stephen there are some simple facts that get in the way of this fantasy, no matter how pleasing it is to contemplate:

  • Lerner has not been “fired” by SEIU as they report.  He was placed on paid leave last fall to think through his contribution to the union, but was certainly present at the recent international executive board meeting.  He’s in a curious position no doubt, but it’s something like being an “injured reserve” in the NFL and waiting for the team to find a place to bring him back on the roster.
  • Lerner has written a number of well circulated papers over the last year expanding on his analysis of the impact of the recession and the need to frame larger campaigns around accountability of banks and the financial system for working Americans.  He is an avowed advocate of developing campaigns to finally bring them to account, but who among us hasn’t written something close to the same, isn’t engaged in such pursuit, and doesn’t believe this is necessary?  I’ve been on TV panels with Tea Party folks, and when we get to the subject of the banks, we all sound like we are part of the hallelujah chorus and have prayed at the same church forever.  That should really share you, Glenn Beck!
  • Finally, the Wall Street Journal has already reported from unnamed sources on the SEIU IEB that the union is embarking on a major 15+ city organizing campaign with expansive plans to mobilize labor and community members on economic issues from banks to local corporations.  They are following their own, different drum and clearly have their hands tied up in what may be a $100,000,000 organizing campaign mobilizing the entire union to win “climate change” in favor of unionizations again.

The right wingers need to leave Lerner alone rather than erecting yet another statute in their wax gallery of threats to America.  Knowing Stephen, he’s having a hearty laugh at all of this.   Especially since the more the Becks and Breitbarts embrace the banks, the more they are inadvertently building a huge, peace and unity bridge that will unite all of us against the ways that Wall Street, tax evading corporations (see GE in today’s papers), and the banks have ripped us off royalty from stem to stern and coast to coast.