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W: We’re going to hear from Steve Lerner next, of SEIU, the Architect of the Justice for Janitors campaign. Currently, he’s working on partnering with unions and groups in Europe and South America, it’s building campaigns to hold financial institutions accountable.
S. Lerner: It seems to me that we’re in a moment where we need to figure out in a much more, through direct action, much more concrete way how we really are trying to disrupt and create uncertainty for capital, for how corporations operate. And it may sound like that’s a crazy thing that in a moment of weakness we could deal with it, but the thing about a boom and bust economy, it is actually incredibly fragile, because it’s not based on real way, well, it’s based on gambling and all of that. And so there are actually extraordinary things that we could do right now that would start to de, destabilize the folks that are in power and start to rebuild a movement. And for example, 10% of homeowners, going back to where you started, who are under, a quarter of all people who own a home are under water. Right? Their home is under water, they’re paying more for it than it’s worth. Ten percent of those people are now in strategic default, meaning they’re refusing to pay but they’re staying in their homes. That’s totally spontaneous. Right? They figured out it takes a year to kick me out of my home because the mort, the foreclosure’s backed up. I’m going to say I won’t pay. It’s just what business does, it’s a good, a good business decision. If you could double that number, you would make banks, put banks on the edge of insolvency again
And so the question would be, what would happen if we organized homeowners in mass to do a mortgage strike. Just say if we get, and, and, if we get half a million people to agree, we’ll all not, we’ll agree we won’t pay our mortgages, it would literally cause a new financial crisis.
There are four things we can do that could really upset Wall Street. One is if city and state and other government entities demanded to renegotiate their debt because they’re paying too much interest. And you might say, well why would the banks ever do it? Because they, the cities and counties could say we won’t do this and this in the future with you if you don’t renegotiate the debt now. Meaning, about a third of bank profits generate from dealing with cities and states. So we could leverage the power we have of government to say we won’t do business with you, JP Morgan Chase, anymore unless you do two things: you reduce the price of our interest, since your interest rate is down; and second, you rewrite the mortgages for everybody in the community so they can stay in their homes. We, we could make them do that.
The second thing is there’s a whole question in New York now about austerity and student’s rates and the question of the debt structure. What would happen if students said we’re not going to pay? It’s a trillion dollars. Think about your …sweeping that debt, a trillion dollars from students debt?
There’s a third thing that we could think about, what about if public employee unions, instead of them being on the defensive, put on the collective bargaining table when they negotiate they said we demand as a condition of negotiation that the government renegotiate, we want, we believe in good financial management. It’s crazy that you’re paying too much interest to your buddy the bankers. It’s a strike issue for us. We will strike unless you force the banks to relieve the debt of the city. I’m not going to go through all the detail except to say there’s extraordinary things we could do and if you add on top of that, if we really thought about moving to the kind of disruption in Madison, but moving that to Wall Street and moving that to other cities around the country where we basically said you stole $17 trillion, you’ve impoverished us and we’re going to make it impossible for, for you to operate.
Labor can’t lead it, but we can be a critical part of it. We do have money, we have millions of members who are furious, but I don’t think this kind of movement can happen unless actually the community groups and other activists take the lead. And that’s a big reversal of how a lot of these coalitions have even thought about it, so unions helping community groups, or communities who cover this narrowly. And if you’re se, if we really believe that we’re in a transformative stage and what’s happening in capitalism, and we need to confront this in a serious way and develop a real ability to put a boot in the wheel, then I think we have to think not about labor community alliances. We have to think about how together we’re building something that really has the capacity to disrupt how the system operates.
And so I just, I guess raise that we need a whole new way of thinking about things, which is not a partnership, but building something new. Because the bottom line is, as soon as the union gets sued, it’s going to be terrifying. When we get an injunction that says, you know, you, un, the union backs down. So we need to build a movement based on we know the oppression we’re going to face. And I think the only way we can do that is to think much more creatively, and the key thing I …is we have to say what does the other side fear most? They fear disruption, they fear uncertainty. Every article about Europe says a riot in Greece, the markets went down. The folks that control this country care about one thing: how the stock market does; how the bond market does; and what their bonus is. So I think we weed out a very simple strategy: how do we bring down the stock market, how do we bring down their bonuses, how do we interfere with their ability to, to be rich. And if we don’t do, and that means you have to politically isolate them, economically isolate them and disrupt them. So, it’s not all theory, I’ll do a pitch.
So, a bunch of us around the country are thinking about who would be a really good company to hate? We decided that would be JP Morgan Chase. …. And so we’re going to roll out over the next couple of months what will hopefully be an exciting campaign about JP Morgan Chase that is really about challenge the power of Wall Street. And so what we’re looking at is in the first week of May, we get enough people together – we’re starting now – to really have a week of action in New York with the goal of … I don’t want to go into any details because I don’t know which police agents are in the room, but the goal would be that we would roll out in New York the first week in May—
M: (Can’t hear speaker)
S. Lerner: Yes. …connect three ideas – that we’re not broke, there’s plenty of money; they have the money, we need to get it back; and that they’re using Bloomberg and other people in government as the vehicle to try to destroy us. And so that we need to take on those folks at the same time and that will start here. We’re going to look at a week of civil disobedience, direct action all over the city, then we’ll roll into the JP Morgan shareholder meeting, which they moved out of New York because they were afraid, I guess, of Columbus, where there’s going to be a ten state mobilization to try to shut down that meeting. And then looking at bank shareholder meetings around the country and try to create some moments like Madison, except where we’re on offense instead of defense. Where we have brave and heroic battles challenging the power of the giant corporations, and we hope to sort of inspire a much bigger movement about redistributing wealth and power in the country.
W: You were talking about why unions are so invested because of their pension plans and why ungovernability, as Frances Fox Piven and Cloward taught us, you know, poor peoples’ movements are successful when they create conditions of ungovernability. And then you win victories.