One of the economic terrorists behind the neo-communist Occupy Wall Street campaign.
[Editor's note: The following is the third installment of FrontPage's new series, "Union Gangsters." In this profile, award-winning investigative reporter Matthew Vadum unmasks economic terrorist Stephen Lerner. To read about union consigliere Craig Becker, click here. To read about Big Labor kingpin Richard Trumka, click here.]
One of the boldest labor thugs in America today is Stephen Lerner, a crafty economic terrorist who manages to sound like a folksy self-improvement seminar leader while he explicitly calls for the overthrow of capitalism.
“People are ready to move,” said Lerner, an organizer with the radical Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
“We have solutions. We just have to build it bigger and larger,” he said during a panel discussion Oct. 3 at the Take Back the American Dream conference in Washington, D.C.
“If we are really serious about movement building then we think one part is we have to act heroically, that we have to inspire people by our actions and we have to be willing to take incredible personal and collective risks, that that’s the time and there’s moments where history shifts and we’re going to decide if it shifts. That’s where I think we are and it’s a wonderful place to be because for the last couple of years it’s been shifting the other way.”
An SEIU board member, Lerner is one of the architects of a subversive plan that aims to destroy the nation’s financial system through intimidation, mass protests, and the mob violence that accompanies it. As part of it, Lerner targeted JPMorgan Chase for attack earlier this year because the bank would be “a really good company to hate.”
Lerner told a receptive union audience that it is necessary to demonize people like JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon in order to generate hatred and envy that will help to foment revolution. “We’ve got to be clear on the human beings who are bad,” he told the SEIU 775 convention in Seattle on Sept. 22. Wealthy corporate leaders must be made into social outcasts, despised even by their children, he said. “How do we make it so politicians don’t even want their money because their money’s toxic, it’s dirty, it’s evil.”
“It’s one thing if we say JPMorgan Chase crashed the economy. It’s another thing if we say Jamie Dimon makes $20 million a year, who is involved in the opera and all these philanthropies, and thinks he’s a nice guy, and he’s destroying our lives.”
Lerner also calls upon state and local governments to stop doing business with banks that refuse to pay their “fair share” in taxes, slash interest rates, and forgive overextended homeowners’ mortgage principal. He urges students and local governments –which employ many public sector union members— not to pay back “[u]nfair [d]ebt” unless interest rates are lowered. Such a loan strike “would threaten CEO bonuses and bottom lines of the banks.”
Tremendously respected and influential in leftist organizing circles, Lerner has reportedly visited the Obama White House at least four times. SEIU itself burned through a staggering $85 million to promote President Obama’s candidacy. The purple-shirted people beaters’ union even produced a movie called Labor Day to take credit for Obama’s election.
One of the more accomplished union goons in America, Lerner is also one of the leading lights behind the neo-communist Occupy Wall Street campaign. The action has been embraced by a growing chorus of radicals including President Obama, George Soros, Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi, self-described “communist” Van Jones, AFL-CIO thug-in-chief Richard Trumka, and longtime ACORN shill and Occidental College professor Peter Dreier.
Lerner urges activists to do whatever is necessary to collapse what’s left of the American economy in order to manufacture unrest and dissent.
If leftists really believe capitalism is in a “transformative stage,” they “need to confront this in a serious way and develop a real ability to put a boot in the wheel,” he said at a leftist confab earlier this year.
“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, is it’s actually incredibly fragile, because 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 destabilize the folks that are in power and start to rebuild a movement.”
The “other side” most fears “disruption” and “uncertainty,” he said.
One of Lerner’s favorite pastimes is conflating often-violent labor activism with the civil rights movement of the 1960s. At the Sept. 22 SEIU pow-wow, he said
“When you look at every great movement in history from the abolitionists to the suffragettes to the auto workers who seized the auto factories to the civil rights movement to the immigrant rights movement, everywhere in the world, what do they all have in common? People willing to march en masse and people willing to go to jail in greater and greater numbers and if we really believe that the richest, most powerful people in the world, that their goal is to destroy us, then there’s an urgency that our actions and our words and the crisis all put together [creates].”
Lerner led SEIU’s much-ballyhooed “Justice for Janitors” campaign. In 1988 the campaign went after employers in a dozen cities. In Washington, D.C., the campaign used political theater in order to make labor activism seem noble and public-spirited.
Like any good disciple of Saul Alinsky, Lerner dressed up union thuggery in priestly robes. He utilized tactics of civil disobedience and conducted an ecumenical church service, a 24-hour candlelight vigil, “human billboarding,” and provided Easter dinner for the homeless.
Lerner is an expert at cloaking union intimidation tactics in what Alinsky called “moral garments,” first offering the carrot, and then the stick if the victim doesn’t comply.
In an interview with Mergers & Acquisitions in 2007, Lerner said private equity firms should, in a sense, honor SEIU’s picket lines if –wink, wink— they know what’s good for them.
He held up the “Responsible Contractor Program” of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) as a politically correct model to be emulated in the financial world. Equity firms “can adopt a policy to hire only companies that respect the rights of their employees” as judged by Lerner and SEIU.
“It might seem like a small number of people who are being helped, but if all firms do this it can affect hundreds of thousands of workers,” he said. “I believe the poorest workers can do better and we can afford it.”
This is the same warmed-over “corporate social responsibility” mush that Ralph Nader has been peddling for decades, but this time it’s backed by Big Labor’s brass knuckles. It’s also a cousin of the “fair trade” movement that presupposes Third World coffee growers are too stupid to get the most they can get for their product on world markets – so they need liberals to strong-arm traders into paying artificially high prices.
Like all neo-communists Lerner, who used to work for Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers of America (UFW), is a control freak who aspires to bully others.
“We literally have a handful of billionaires that are marauding around the globe, buying and selling things, and they need to be held accountable,” Lerner told Australian TV in 2007. (How dare rich people spend their own money!)
Lerner is infected with a visceral contempt for economic freedom that rests upon a pathological hatred of human diversity. This viewpoint treats differing levels of intelligence, aptitude, and job skills among people as social aberrations that need to be remedied. Leftists like Lerner have long believed the mere fact that there is material inequality among people is proof of the supposed unfairness of capitalism.
It all boils down to a simple idea.
People like Lerner have no interest in teaching people how to fish so they might feed themselves for a lifetime, as the old adage goes. They prefer to teach people how to steal fish from their neighbors.
This is the principle that animates America’s parasitic public sector unions.
It is also the essence of so-called social justice.