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January 29, 2010

Welcome to the JOURNAL.

When the five conservatives on the Supreme Court decided last week that money is speech and corporations have the same rights to spend as much of it buying elections as you do, you could hear the champagne corks popping over at Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Exxon Mobil.

But when the late night talk shows heard the news, they didn't break out the bubbly; they broke out in laughter. At THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART, correspondent John Oliver made fun of the very notion of corporations as an oppressed minority.

JOHN OLIVER: What a day! With this historic ruling, the last bastion of discrimination in this country has come toppling down. For too long, Jon, corporations have suffered under the yoke of laws, stripped of the basic freedom and dignity guaranteed by our founders [...] For the first time in history, corporations can walk with heads held high, having left their mark on American democracy.

BILL MOYERS: But seriously, folks, is this the end of democracy as we know it? Can it get any worse? My first guests say this is no laughing matter.

Monica Youn directs the money in politics project at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice. She's litigated campaign finance and election law issues in federal courts throughout the country.

Zephyr Teachout, is a faculty member at Fordham University's School of Law, who at this moment is also a Visiting Assistant Professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School. During the presidential campaign of Howard Dean in 2004, she was director of his online organizing, which as you know revolutionized political networking and fundraising.

Welcome to you both.


Thank you.

BILL MOYERS: Now, comedians can be funny and journalists can be facetious, but in very plain language, who won the Supreme Court decision?

Well, corporations clearly won this decision. I mean, essentially, what the court does is it awards monopoly power over the First Amendment to corporations. You can think about the last couple of elections as, you know, the slow rise of the grassroots. And as a result, the political parties, for the first time, had an incentive to start reaching out to small donors, to start cultivating grassroots organizing networks. And you saw what happened in the last election. Now, what the Supreme Court has done here is really a power play. It takes power away from the grassroots, and it puts it squarely back in the hands of corporate special interests.

It threatens to make these grassroots networks irrelevant. To say, you know, it's no longer going to be worthwhile for, you know, parties to look for fundraising opportunities, $20, $100, even $2,400 at a time, if they can just have multimillion dollar support directly from corporate treasuries.

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: This decision, at base, is about power. And that's why people are responding. That's why people from left and right are responding. This decision means that when you walk past a sign that says Goldman Sachs or Ford, that, what that represents has the same rights that you do to speak about politics, to spend as much money as you want on a political campaign. They are basically equal, and treated as equal entities, even though you're the citizen. That's why there's a really deep grassroots response, is there's a sense that power, political power, is being taken away from the citizen, which is really a core idea of this country.

BILL MOYERS: By permitting corporations to use their own, the money from their own treasuries to advocate for or against a candidate? So, that diminishes the power of the individual?

Well, what the Supreme Court has said by equating money with speech, what the Supreme Court has said is that elections aren't really about votes anymore. What elections are now going to be about is money and who has the most money. And an individual citizen saying, "I can't possibly compete with Wal-Mart, with Exxon Mobil, with Goldman Sachs," is just going to say, "Why should I even bother? My voices will never, my voice will never be heard. My elected official is not going to listen to me. I should just stay home."

BILL MOYERS: But if I understand the decision, it doesn't enable the chairman of Exxon Mobil, or the chairman of GE to write a check to Zephyr Teachout, who's running for Congress from Vermont. It says she can spend as much money as they want to, in the, right up to the election. Right? Advocating that you be elected or defeated?

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Yeah. Or, what happens more likely is candidates getting threatened and encouraged. It's a much subtler form of corruption. Where your mind shifts to say, "Well, do I really want to take on that financial transaction tax if I know that Goldman Sachs is going to do an ad campaign?"

And I think that the threat is going to be even more of an important weapon than direct, you know, "Vote for so and so who we like."

BILL MOYERS: How do you mean?

I think there's going to be a threat of corporate funded attack ads against elected officials who dare to stand up to corporate interests. Corporations have basically been handed a weapon. And when you walk into a negotiation, and you know that one person is armed and is able to use a weapon against you, they don't have to take out that weapon. They don't have to even brandish it. You know that they have it. And every elected official who goes up against an agenda on regulatory reform, on climate change, on health care, will know that the corporation who, you know, he or she is opposing, can fund a, you know, a $100 million ad campaign to take him or her out.

BILL MOYERS: But I mean, our elections are already saturated with money and the outcomes of money before this Supreme Court decision. And I still am trying to understand what is going to be different-


BILL MOYERS: -from this decision.

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Okay. Let's say you work for Goldman Sachs. You mentioned Goldman and I like talking about Goldman, because they're the smartest political party I know in the country.

BILL MOYERS: Goldman Sachs?


BILL MOYERS: "Mr. Sachs", right.

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: No, they're very effective, politically, as a company, in their lobbying and in their ability to influence people's thoughts about -- directly.


ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: So, up until now there have been a series of laws that have restrained Goldman's direct political involvement. And they have a political team, but for the most part, they don't have a team that is looking at the country, trying to figure out which races to get involved in early. Now, what this decision does is say, "We give you the sanction, we actually encourage you as an important, vibrant part of our society to engage." Now, that may be a difference of degree, but differences of degree are everything in politics.

It used to be that when corporations got involved in elections, they would do so kind of skulking around by subterfuge. And what this decision does is it says the Supreme Court of the United States says that you, a corporation, have a First Amendment right to buy as much influence as you can afford. You go out there and get them.

BILL MOYERS: But, you know, some people would say, "That's all right. This is a free market society. America's all about free markets. What's wrong with that? That is a basic American value."

The marketplace of ideas doesn't give any one, any corporation or any individual the constitutional right to buy an election. I mean, the First Amendment is an important part of our Constitution, but so is the idea that this is a democracy. This is -- no matter this is a society based on the idea of one person, one vote. And our elections should not be marketplaces. They should be about voters. They should be about helping the electorate make an informed decision. And the electorate is not going to be able to make an informed decision if all they can see on the air, if all they can, you know, hear on the radio are, you know, attack ads funded by hidden corporate agendas.

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: I would say that it's -- we're a society of freedom and markets. And political freedom is so important. Political freedom means the freedom to speak and say what you as an individual citizen believe, the freedom to vote. And it means having some power in your society. And then we have this extraordinary system of markets. But it's very dangerous when the two mix. It's not just that it's bad for politics, it's also bad for markets. If you have Ford more focused on spending millions of dollars on trying to influence a congressional race, instead of making the best environmentally efficient car, we all lose. It moves towards a society where markets and freedom are confused, instead of both sort of separate values.

BILL MOYERS: But the court was talking about a very limited matter. The First Amendment, and whether or not it permits speech. What's important is the First Amendment forbids the government from interfering with speech. And that applies to anybody who speaks.

But the problem with that is when you are talking about money being equivalent to speech. And corporations being equivalent to people. It's as if you're saying, "Okay, I'm going to put an ordinary person in a boxing ring against a Sherman tank and that's a fair fight. May the best fighter win." You're talking about artificial constructs that were built to accumulate money. That's the purpose of a corporation. There's nothing wrong with that. As long as that economic inequality does not directly translate into political equality. There's a reason our Constitution was set up the way it was. And there's a reason that you can't buy an election. Because we didn't intend for those who have the most money just to be able to get everything in the system the way they want it, every time.

BILL MOYERS: So, did the Supreme Court declare, in effect, that a corporation is a person, like the three of us, endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights? Is that what it was saying, in effect?

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: I don't recommend-- on the most part you should stay away from legal opinions, if you can avoid them. But I encourage people to read this opinion because there's some really weird sections. Where Justice Kennedy says "Government cannot stop people from speaking. And anyone who it stops," I'm not quoting exactly, but there's pronoun switches that put "who" and "those" and "they" switching people and corporations in and out. And it seems like, you know, if you almost read it as a literary text, he does have this respect for these legal creations as individuals whose political interests we ought respect.

And there's a very strange alternative reality aspect to the decision. It's like you're reading a work of science fiction. At one point Justice Kennedy says, "Government has muffled the voices of corporations." And-

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: No, no. It's worse. He says, "muffled the most," and then he quotes from Scalia, "the sort of best advocates for the most important interests in our economy."

And so, the idea being that we don't know what Exxon Mobil thinks about climate change. We don't know what Goldman Sachs thinks about financial regulation, because those corporations have somehow been unable to make their viewpoint known on the Hill.

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: But this is not just a First Amendment question, as you suggested. This is a question of what kind of society do we want to live in? How do we want it to work when a group of people call their representative? Does she answer the phone? Whose phone call is she taking?

And in a system, you know, the preamble to the Constitution is all about "We the People." And it sets up a vision of representative self government. One in which the citizen is the sovereign and the citizen rules. And was "We the People" meant to include corporations, this artificial legal entity? I mean, should corporations now be able to vote? Should they be able to hold office?

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: And there's this beautiful passage in Stevens' dissent, where you can feel his -- he wrote one of the longest dissents in recent history. And you can feel his -- I think very heartfelt anxiety as he's confused. "What is this thing we are giving these rights?" And these are not small rights. These are rare in human history that you have a right like the right to speak freely, politically. We had, you know, we're dealing with in the sophist way in giving it to a corporate form. It's very strange.

BILL MOYERS: Giving it to a corporate form, as I understand the decision, which enables it on the night before an election, if it wants to, it may not want to, but if a corporation wants to, to run a series of ads saying, "Don't vote for candidate Teachout or candidate Youn, right?" And that's a right, as I understand it, that corporations have not had.

So, yeah, that's correct.

BILL MOYERS: To run an ad a night before the election, saying vote for this candidate or against that candidate.

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Okay, see, imagine a Senate race in a few years. And, efforts to break up the banks got into a higher pitch. And a candidate recognizing that people in her state are very supportive of this effort to break up the banks. But the polls are close. So, she comes out with a strong statement saying, "I want a per se cap on how big a bank can be. In the billions, okay?" That night, there can be ad hominem attacks funded by Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley on her, directly paid, that cover the airwaves. Now, not only can that happen, but she knows that can happen. How likely is she to take on one of the most important economic questions that we have right now. Is how to structure our financial industry. When she knows the financial industry is already spending $400 billion -- $400 million in a year on lobbying?

BILL MOYERS: Well, proponents of this ruling point out that unions are also freed up by the decision. Have they created a level playing field here between the corporations and the unions?

Well, the short answer to that is that if you compare unions' available funds versus corporation's available funds, we're not talking about a real fight here. But I think the more important fight is why should the only people whose viewpoints count in this, be large organizations with money? Whether that be the unions or the corporations? Why shouldn't ideas be dealt with on their merits? And why shouldn't ideas be dealt with by the number of votes they can command, as opposed to the amount of dollars they can spend?

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: I also want to go back to something you said earlier about sort of we all know, what was it? The threat of money-

BILL MOYERS: Implied threat that if you do something I don't like, I'm going to, and I have a lot of money, I'm going to make you pay for it in the next election.

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: So what I want to say is not only do we all know it, but this is actually fundamental to our Constitution. Our founders knew it. Hamilton knew it. Madison knew it. And they talk about the importance of keeping the temptations and threats of money outside of politics. They weren't naive. And we're not naive. We don't have a vision of money entirely outside of politics. But it's not just that it's common sense. It's a common sense that's embedded in our best traditions. This idea that we should try to create structures that avoid those, that experience of threat and temptation on the part of our politicians.

BILL MOYERS: The decision seems at odds with some of the very positions taken by some of the people who wrote it. I mean, for example, we've heard a lot from conservatives about "judicial activism." That is, judges, liberal judges, Earl Warren and others, actually making decisions that usurp the power of the legislature. So, let me play you an excerpt from Roberts' nomination hearings, when he is talking about judicial activism.

JOHN ROBERTS: Judges and justices are servants of the law, not the other way around...Judges have to have the humility to recognize that they operate within a system of precedent, shaped by other judges equally striving to live up to the judicial oath...I do think that it is a jolt to the legal system when you overrule a is not enough that you may think the prior decision was wrongly decided...the role of the judge is limited; that judge is to decide the cases before them; they're not to legislate; they're not to execute the laws."

BILL MOYERS: Is that what he was doing last week?

Absolutely not. This started out as a case about a very narrow issue. It's, is this 90 minute infomercial attacking Hillary Clinton, is this a corporate campaign ad or is it not a corporate campaign ad? And what the court did is they said, "Well, you know, we could rule on that question, but instead let's talk about this entire topic of whether corporate spending in elections should be limited."

BILL MOYERS: In other words, that question was not in the case, that the judges reached out and brought to the court.

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: It was not only not in the case, but the parties stipulated that they wouldn't have to deal with these questions. And the judges reached out. The justices reached out and decided to make this statement of their view of corporate independent expenditures.

And this is so disturbing, because one reason that, in that clip, the chief justice is paying, you know, homage to the idea of judicial modesty is people recognize that in this system judges are given a great deal of power. Judges can not only say, "Oh, what you did, Congress, was wrong. But forever more, you are barred from doing anything like that again. That option is completely off the table now." But the way that's limited in our constitutional system is that judges are only supposed to decide the particular case in front of them. They're not going to -- they're not supposed to say, "Oh, we don't like that particular area of the law. Let's just go out and change that, just because we have the five votes to do so." And I can think of very little more scary for our democracy than a five, you know, justice majority that finds itself unconstrained by precedent. That finds itself unconstrained by the case before it. And feels like it can just go out there and pursue its own agenda.

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: This case did overrule established precedent. It dealt with an issue which could have been dealt with on several different minor grounds. Much, much narrower grounds. And this -- these laws against corporate expenditures came after massive public response to what they perceived to be corruption in the system. Passed by Congress with enormous amounts of support. And there are times when justices should get involved. And say, "No, no, no. There is a minority here that is not being protected. There are interests that the public isn't hearing." But here the justices were not reaching out to protect an unheard minority, but rather to protect one of the loudest voices we already have in our politics.

BILL MOYERS: Well, John Oliver said it's an oppressed minority. Corporations are an oppressed minority, right? But what now? What do you think can be done to counter, if one wants to counter, the -- this decision?

You know, I have faith that this decision is a constitutional aberration. And I feel like the shock that this decision has resulted in across the left and the right will hopefully show the court that they have taken things too far. That the results of their logic is no longer democracy, which is rule of the people, but which is plutocracy, rule of the wealthy.

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: I think that ten years ago ordinary citizens felt really left out of politics. And we saw that start to change. We saw in the last election, on both sides, we saw people -- you know, feeling like they gave $100, they went out there, they knocked on doors, they got people to the polls, and that mattered. And that was the focus of the election. That was what mattered in an election. And I think what we're going to start to see, maybe not immediately, but certainly down the road if this trend is not changed, is that's going to stop mattering anymore. That's not going to be important. What's going to be important is corporate spending.

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: I'm more hopeful than you are, despite my despondent initial response. I think there are so many signs of people being hungry for involvement in politics. And I think, the odds are against it. But that there's a really substantial chance that a combination of this and what's happening in the financial sector are really going to lead to a populist revival like we haven't seen for 100 years. But it's going to require left working with right. It's not going to happen if it's just a left wing response, and it's not going to happen if it's just the tea parties.

BILL MOYERS: Monica Youn and Zephyr Teachout, thank you very much for joining me on The JOURNAL.

Thank you.

BARACK OBAMA: With all due deference to separations of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the flood gates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.

BILL MOYERS: You no doubt noticed that president Obama had something on his mind in that state of the union speech Wednesday night.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And we're on track to add another one and a half million jobs...Jobs...Jobs...Jobs...Job creation...New jobs...Job market...New jobs...Create jobs right here in the United States of America.

BILL MOYERS: That's right, jobs. Twenty-nine times he mentioned jobs. And well he might. In 43 states last month the number of people out of work was higher than a month earlier. This month, one million people will run out of unemployment compensation. Voters in Massachusetts had jobs on their mind, too - and sent Washington a message saying, "Pay attention!"

My next guest has been saying the same thing for months now and often directly to the president. He thinks the message finally broke through.

Richard Trumka is the head of the AF of L-CIO, representing eleven million members and 57 national and international unions. He became its president less than six months ago, after serving 15 years as the AF of L's secretary-treasurer.

The son and grandson of coal miners, he made his way through college and law school working as they did -- blasting, drilling and hauling coal from the dangerous depths of the Pennsylvania coal fields.

He climbed his way up the ranks of the United Mine Workers of America at a time when that union was still rocked by violence and corruption. Leading a reform ticket, at age 33, he became the Mine Workers' youngest president. The AF of L-CIO leadership marked him as a comer.

He's still out there with the workers, even getting himself arrested with more than a hundred union members just a couple of weeks ago, demanding a fair contract for San Francisco hotel workers.

As we saw in Obama's election, the political clout of labor remains potent. While their numbers have dwindled, unions are still a source of money and people power. But are they getting what they had hoped for from the Obama presidency? That's just one of the reasons I wanted to talk with Rich Trumka. Welcome to the JOURNAL.

Bill, thanks for having me on.

BILL MOYERS: Did the President's speech this last Wednesday night convince you that he gets it?

Well, I think he does get it. I think the speech was interesting in a lot of ways. He knows that there's a lot of anger and frustration out there. And he was willing to look at people and say, "You're an obstructionist." He looked right at the Republicans and said, "You can't say no to everything and call that leadership." He looked at the Supreme Court and said, "You made a bad decision that's going to hurt this country. Corporations already have too much power. You just handed them more."

So, I think he's starting to understand and feel the anger. And I think he's willing to work his way through. Now, the question becomes, will he do it on a scale that's necessary or essential to solve the problem.

BILL MOYERS: What kind of scale?

That's the issue. It has to be a large scale. We lost eight million jobs, plus we have two million that we needed for growth. So, we're 10 million jobs in the hole. In order to do that, it's going to take more than a little stimulus package or a little job bill. Because if all we do is the same thing that Japan did in the early '90s. They would spend a little, look like they're coming out of recession. And then stop and it would drop back down.

They did that for a whole decade. They lost a decade. And our country just can't stand that. So, our job is to make sure that his understanding of the anger, translates out into a jobs program of sufficient size to solve the problem.

BILL MOYERS: So, what are your economists, your experts, your scholars, your academicians telling you we should be spending for the jobs program that you'd like to see, that you think will really make a big contribution to closing the gap.

First of all, we have to extend unemployment benefits. You got almost six million people who have been unemployed for longer than six months. If they lose those benefits, they stop consuming. If they stop consuming, the economy contracts pretty significantly.

So, we have to extend benefits. And we suggested a year's extension, so that everybody knows where they're going to be. Second of all, we needed money for the state and local governments. They are going to have about $178 billion deficit. And if they stop spending, anything we spend on the federal side just negates one another. So, we have to make sure that we don't lose education, like teachers, firemen, police officers, and all those jobs that are necessary. So, we think there should be aid to state and local governments.

We think there ought to be a major investment in infrastructure. We have a $2.2 trillion deficit in this country when it comes to our infrastructure. Bridges are crumbling. Schools are crumbling. Other places, roads are done. So, we need to make a major investment in that. And quite frankly, we think that the government ought to signal or say that they're going to do that over a number of years.

Because if they do that, and say, "We're going to make a ten-year commitment to rebuilding our infrastructure," then they can bring in private funds. We can leverage that money and private funds will come in as well. The fourth thing we think we need in the short term is direct funding of jobs. I'll give you a couple of examples. You go into an area where schools are, where the students are hurting, because of a low tax base. And you say, "I'm going to provide tutors." Now, that creates a job and it helps a student with better schooling, better education, and being able to do better. And then the last thing the President announced he was going to do was that we think that we ought to use the TARP money to give to regional and community banks so that they can lend to small and mid-sized businesses that create that. And we think this year, we need to be on the range of at least $400 billion. That will get us about 4 million jobs back.

BILL MOYERS: Where does this money come from? I mean, we have increased our deficits to record highs. People are really concerned. The President indicated Wednesday night that he's concerned. Where is this money coming from? We don't want to be taxed anymore.

It's a real simple thing. You know, let's look at who created the mess. The banks created this mess. Wall Street created this mess. And the super rich have had a tax break from Bush of $1.2 trillion. We can take a little bit back from the rich that have really enjoyed the last ten years in an unprecedented way, and pay for the creation of jobs that they actually destroyed.

BILL MOYERS: But realistically, Rich, less than five percent of American households make more than $250,000 a year. Do you think you can tax them to fund the kind of jobs program you really want to see?

Well, I'll give you an example. Nancy Pelosi in the House said, "We will put a 5.6 percent tax surcharge on any income over $1 million. Just money over $1 million." And that would have produced $400 billion. Enough to pay for four million jobs.

BILL MOYERS: Your message is very clear. Tax the rich.

Of course. They've had a ten year free ride.

BILL MOYERS: WALL STREET JOURNAL is going to come out next week and say Trumka says that class war is on again. And I'm serious about that.

Well, the class war's been on, except my class has been losing.

BILL MOYERS: You spoke at the National Press Club with this tough warning to the President, the Democrats on the 11th of January.

We worked to preserve a Democratic majority in 1994 because we knew what the alternative was. But there was no way to persuade enough working Americans to go to the polls when they couldn't tell the difference between the policies of the two parties. So politicians who think that working people have it too good, too much health care, too much Social Security, too much Medicare, too much power on the job - are actually inviting a repeat of 1994.

BILL MOYERS: Is that exactly what happened when the Republican Scott Brown defeated the Democrat Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts Senate race.

It was a wakeup call. And we were predicting that. We said, "Look, they're angry. They're frustrated. And if you're not on the side of creating jobs, jobs, jobs. If they don't believe that, and you're not acting that on the scale that they think is necessary, you're going to face a bad time." And that's exactly what happened.

BILL MOYERS: The Senate vote showed that 49 percent of union households in Massachusetts voted for the Republican.

Here's what they were saying. Here's what our members were saying. Here's what the general public said. Here's what working America's saying. That wasn't about Obama's agenda. They were saying, "You haven't overreached. You've under-reached. You haven't produced enough change. So, we're going to help you. You think the status quo's great. We'll show you." They want change. They want their problems solved.

BILL MOYERS: They voted for the Republican.

They did. But they did it because they were angry and they were frustrated and they wanted to demonstrate that change wasn't happening fast enough. And they were going to help it along.

BILL MOYERS: What do you think they want?

They want jobs. That's one thing they want. They do want health care reform. They still want it. But they don't want their benefits taxed in the process. And remember, Massachusetts has universal health care in the state. They were worried about losing what they did have. So, that played into it. Here's a startling figure. For people who thought that their benefits were going to be taxed in Massachusetts, they voted 64 to 32 for Brown.

BILL MOYERS: So, what happens now to health care?

Well, we still have a chance to get it done. I think the ball is in the Senate's court. We said to them, there aren't the votes in the House to pass the Senate bill. So, what they'll do, what we should do is, the Senate has to demonstrate that they have 51 votes for a plan that America will accept and the House can pass. And when they do that, the House can do it quickly.

BILL MOYERS: You've been negotiating with Obama on all this. Is your message getting through? Does he hear you?

He listens to us all the time. We'll see what the results are. And some of it, you know, it may not be what he wants to do, but what he thinks he can do. Or what he can't do. So, it's not, I mean, it's not, I don't think it's fair to just say he could do this if he wanted to. Because there's the Senate, which has been timid about everything. They've been willing to coddle millionaires. You know? It's going to cost them in the long run, I think.

BILL MOYERS: I'm curious, Rich, about why we haven't been seeing more public demonstrations from people who have lost their job? I mean, we covered a story early last year in Chicago of workers who sat in, when it looked as if their factory was going to be closed down. Why has there been so little of that?

Well, you know what? I think some of it is people have been so beat down, that they -- we sort of plucked the hope out of them. And what we have to do is restore that hope. They don't think that there's anything that they can do. They feel hopeless. Corporations are so powerful, and they control the political process so much that there's nothing we can do. They're wrong, of course. And we're getting more and more people that are willing to start coming out now.

BILL MOYERS: So, what's happened that unions don't seem to be fighting back the way they did in the 1930s?

Well, I don't think that's so. I think we are fighting back. You know, first of all, you have a larger array of forces against us. You have a recession right now that's caused a lot of our members to get laid off, just like other Americans out there. You have a set of labor laws that are totally inadequate, and they're not even enforced. Now, President Obama's trying to. But he can't even get people from the N.L.R.B. confirmed.

BILL MOYERS: The National Labors Relations Board.

Yeah, the National Labor Relations Board.

BILL MOYERS: There are several vacancies on there, that you want to see filled.

Of course. And the Republicans, all they do is filibuster. They don't want him to succeed. And so they keep people, quality people that are needed to make government effectively. They keep them out of the spotlight and off the job.

BILL MOYERS: But the Democrats have 59 Members of the Senate. They have a 78 vote majority in the House. They got the President of the United States. And they can't deliver anything labor wants from them?

No, I want to say it a different way. I want to say they haven't delivered anything. They can. And it's up to us, and we're getting there.

BILL MOYERS: But how do you explain that?

Slowly but surely.

BILL MOYERS: Because you really worked for Obama in '08.

Yes, I did.

BILL MOYERS: And yet, so far, one year into his administration, you haven't gotten anything that I can see that you wanted in '08.

That's not so. There have been a number of executive orders that have provided collective bargaining people. I mean, the people he's appointed, Hilda Solis is terrific. Even the people in the Commerce and Treasury are far more cognizant of our position. So, he hasn't been able to pass the big bills yet, but we're getting there. And we'll get them done.

BILL MOYERS: What's happened to the one thing that was most important to labor back in '08? Obama seemed to promise the Employee Free Choice Act, EFCA as - it's come to be known, very important to labor. What happened to it?

Well, it's still there. We're still pushing it forward. He still supports it. The Vice President still supports it. A vast majority- at least 59 Senators in the Senate support it. And over a vast majority in the House support it.

BILL MOYERS: So, will you get it?

I think we will.

BILL MOYERS: You will- you still think you'll get it.

Yeah, I do. I still think we will. It'll take some creative doing. But we'll do it.

BILL MOYERS: And why is it so important to you?

What an Employee Free Choice Act does is the following: It takes the choice of having a union away from the employer, which is where it is right now, and gives it to the employee. Under today's circumstances, let's say you have a unit of 100 people. And all 100 people say, "I want a union and I want it right now. I want it. I deserve it. I need it." It's the employer who says, "No, I'm not giving it to you. I demand a secret ballot." What this does, it takes the choice out of the employer's hand and puts it into the worker's hands, who have the right. If they want a secret ballot, they get it. If they say, "I want a union without a secret a ballot, then they wouldn't get it." And let me just go back and frame this for one second. From 1946 to 1973 in this country, productivity doubled. And so did wages. It was the greatest expansion of wealth and distribution of wealth in any country, anywhere in the world.

BILL MOYERS: Some people say it created our strong middle class.

It did. And the interesting thing, Bill, is the bottom two quartiles back then, their income was increasing faster than the people at the top. And so, the wage gap was collapsing. Back during that time, workers had collective bargaining in 35 to 40 percent of the shops out there. So, we were making sure that profits got spread evenly. From '73, wages stayed flat. Productivity continued to go up, but wages stayed flat. And the amount of money between wages and productivity going up, went to the top one percent. And that's why the Employee Free Choice Act is so important. It's important as part of the economic recovery program so that workers can get a fair share of what they produce. Their productivity gains ought to be split in some manner with their employer. And the only way that that happens is through collective bargaining. So, you get collective bargaining. Wages start to rise again. The consumers start to spend again. The economy's rebuilt again.

BILL MOYERS: In your recount of the past, there seems to be one very important thing that you don't include. And it makes me sometimes wonder why you hang around with Democrats so much, because it was a Democratic President, Bill Clinton, and a Democratic Vice President, Al Gore, who fought hard for NAFTA. And at the time, I-- it seemed to me that the Democrats were destroying their working class base by agreeing to ship industrial and manufacturing jobs abroad.

You know, really, I agree with everything you just said. We opposed NAFTA. We said it was going to be bad. Everything we predicted has come true. And even Bill Clinton understands now that it was a bad thing. We have to change the way we do it. He won't say that trade is bad, and neither will we. 'Cause we think trade is a good thing. Exporting our products is a good thing. Not exporting our jobs. I wish, though-- I wish there were Republicans that I could support. But they're so rabidly anti-worker. They're so rabidly anti-union. I wish that there were dozens of them out there that we could run out and embrace and say, "This is our person." Now, there are a few. But the number is less and less and less each year.

BILL MOYERS: Why did the A.F. of L.C.I.O. then file a friend of the court brief to support the conservative effort recently that, led to the Supreme Court deciding that they would take the limits off of what corporations and--

We didn't. Our amicus brief didn't say that. There was a provision in the law that said you couldn't do ads 30 days before primaries and 60 days before elections. It was very, very loosely written. And it was a criminal prosecution. So, if we tried to communicate with our members. And we were wrong. Because the word that was in the statute was, if it refers to a candidate or refers to the election in the wrong way, it was a criminal statue. We thought that was absolutely wrong for anybody. And we tried to defend the union's point of view and say, "We ought to have a chance to get rid of this." And they could- this Supreme Court could have ended the case by saying, "That's right." It's constitutionally vague. They win." But they didn't do that. They went far beyond that. They become the most activist judges the country's ever seen. And took away the last limit on corporate spending.

BILL MOYERS: But they made you equal with corporations.


BILL MOYERS: They said, in effect, that corporations are persons for the purpose of political advertising. And that money is speech. They also said unions can do exactly what corporations are going to do.

We're willing to forego that because we think it's wrong. First of all, I don't think the framing fathers ever agreed or imagined that corporations ought to have more rights than we the people. And this court has given corporations more rights than we the people. And gave corporations that are already too powerful. And already control the political process too much. They gave them more power on that day.

BILL MOYERS: But the Supreme Court gave corporations and unions the right to spend as much money as they want to leading up to an election.

Well, anybody, quite frankly, not just--

BILL MOYERS: Private groups, associations--

And it's- yeah, anybody. So, I mean, I don't know your point other than to say--

BILL MOYERS: Well, the point-- John Nichols, a progressive writer, whom I think you know, said: "What are the leaders of the Labor Federation thinking? They imagine that with spending limits removed, organized labor will be able to buy enough--

We never argued--

BILL MOYERS: "--television time to reward their political friends and punish their political enemies."

Look, we've never been able to compete with them money wise. They outspend us ten, 12, 15 to one, all the time. But we never argued that. We never said take away the limits. We said completely the opposite. We said there ought to be limits on them. What we said was this language is constitutionally vague.

BILL MOYERS: So, would you support a constitutional amendment to reverse that decision and at least to take away the identity of corporations as persons?

Oh, short answer is yes. I want to be a little cautious about tinkering with the First Amendment. Because the First Amendment is really what makes us separate from much of the rest of the world. It's a wonderful right. And we have to protect it. So, I would want to be careful that we didn't have some unintended consequences with it. But, yeah, I would.

BILL MOYERS: So, how do you make unions relevant in a world where capital is mobile. Moving around. And the gap between capital and working people continues to increase no matter what happens.

Yeah. Well, first of all, I want to just touch on the relevancy thing. In the last election, we were about 25 to 26 percent of the vote. That's pretty relevant to anybody-- according to anybody's scale. But one of the things that we have to do, and I think in the past we haven't done a good enough job at this. We've expected young workers who are working in a different type of economy to change the way that they make a living to fit our model. Right now, we're in the process of changing our model so that we fit the way they make a living.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

Well, workers used to get one job-- take my dad. My dad went to work in-- well, my grandfathers went to work in a coal mine. My dad and his two brothers went to work in the same coal mine. I went to work in the same coal mine. My dad was there 44 years in the same coal mine. People don't do that now. They're going to be in two, three, four, five, six, seven places. So, we have to be able to accommodate them. Our model has to say, "We can help you. And- in the way you're making a living." Not say to them, "Well, figure out a way to stay 44 years at one place and we'll help you." So, it's up to us, and we're changing. And we're working real hard at it. And we're reaching out to young people. And we're reaching out into the community. And we're building allies and it's starting to have some effect, real fast.

BILL MOYERS: You are taking to the streets. I mean, you were arrested a few weeks ago in that demonstration for hotel workers out in San Francisco. Are you calling for more militancy? For more mobilization? More action in the street?

Absolutely. More mobilization. More education. I don't know whether you call it militancy or not. But it is more education, so our members know who is really doing it to them. Here's the model that we see. Instead of going after a politician and elected 60 people to the Senate, we create a groundswell of support for an issue that will get more than 60 votes. And those that don't vote for it do so at their own peril.

BILL MOYERS: So California Nurses, S.E.I.U., A.F. of L.C.I.O., all of you were out there mobilizing this last year, but we still didn't get a health care bill that you like.

Yeah, I think we mobilized around politicians rather than around the issue of health care. Now, that's a subtle difference, but a major one. Because if we continue to educate and mobilize around issues, then 60 votes doesn't matter anymore. It matters that people support that, and they'll lose just like they did in Massachusetts, if you don't grab onto that-- to the thing that they're supporting.

BILL MOYERS: From what interests you, from what you want from this Administration, what grade would you give the President, not just on his speech, but on what he's actually calling for and says he will do about the fix we're in?

Well, let's tick down the items. One, we're about jobs, jobs, jobs, and creating jobs. And I think he said and advocated that a number of times in the speech. And he convinced me that he understands and he's serious about that. He also understands that look, we can't just replicate the old economy. Because if we do, the same thing will happen. So, what we do-- we have to re-regulate Wall Street. And let me say this to you, Bill. 'Cause I think this is an extremely important point. There are two economies in this country. There's the real economy that makes things. And there's the financial economy that was supposed to provide them with the capital to make things. And they-- this was subservient, and the real economy was supposed to be the master. Somewhere along the line, that got turned on its head. And the financial community became the master. And they actually started sucking money out of the real economy, 'cause you could get a better return passing complex instruments around, rather than making steel or autos or anything else. So, it's up to us to correct that imbalance. To make it so that the real economy is actually the dominant economy. And the financial economy is a servant to make them- enable them to do their job. And that's going to take re-regulation so if we enacted everything he said with the jobs bill, that's an A minus. He's trying to fight for jobs. We're going to fight with him. Our job, all of us, as Americans, is to make sure that we push the Congress and the White House to do a jobs program that's of sufficient size to fix the problem. Not just dribble at it. But to fix the problem. And that's what we're hoping to do

BILL MOYERS: Richard Trumka, thank you very much for being with me on the Journal. I've enjoyed the conversation.

My pleasure. Thanks for having me on.

The economy's been all but destroyed, and we have to build a new one. A whole new one, based on good jobs not bad debt with America investing in an exporting technology and world class products, not financial crisis....

BILL MOYERS: Like Richard Trumka, the historian Howard Zinn, who died this week, was a man who believed that working people couldn't wait for a better life - they had to fight for it.

He once wrote, "historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities until forced to by direct action: sit-ins and freedom rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war. Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action."

Howard Zinn didn't just write history, he lived it, practicing what he preached, gaining enemies and critics by leaping into the fray himself. A working class kid from Brooklyn, he came home from fighting for America in World War II, to fight alongside other Americans for justice, peace, and jobs.

His fame and popularity came from helping us see America from the ground up - as ordinary people struggling to gain and hold their place in it. When no history book told that story as it should be told, he wrote the book himself -- A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES. It became a perennial best seller.

He appeared on the JOURNAL just last month to tell us about a television special, THE PEOPLE SPEAK, based on his people's history. Here is a little of what we talked about:

What do you think these characters from the past that we will see on the screen, what do they have to say to us today?

HOWARD ZINN: Well, I think what they have to say to us today is think for yourself. Don't believe what the people up there tell you. Live your own life. Think your own ideas. And don't depend on saviors.

Traditional history creates passivity because it gives you the people at the top and it makes you think that all you have to do is go to the polls every four years and elect somebody who's going to do the trick for you and no. We want people to understand that that's not going to happen. People have to do it themselves. And so that's what we hope these readings will inspire.

BILL MOYERS: One of my favorite sequences is in here, is when we meet Genora Dollinger. Tell me about her.

HOWARD ZINN: She was a woman who got involved in sit-down strikes of the 1930s. Those very dramatic moments when workers occupied the factories of General Motors and wouldn't leave, and therefore left the corporations helpless. But this was a time when strikes all over the country galvanized people and pushed the New Deal into the reforms that we finally got from the New Deal. And Genora Dollinger represents the women who are very often overlooked in these struggles, women so instrumental in supporting the workers, their men, their sweethearts. And Genora Dollinger just inspires people with her words.

BILL MOYERS: She was only 23 when she organized.

HOWARD ZINN: Amazing. Yes.

MARISSA TOMEI as GENORA DOLLINGER: Workers overturned police cars to make barricades. They ran to pick up the fire bombs thrown at them and hurl them back at the police. The men wanted to me to get out of the way. You know the old "protect the women and children" business. I told them, "Get away from me." The lights went on in my head. I thought I have never used a loud speaker to address a large crowd of people but I've got to tell them there are women down here. I called to them, "Cowards! Cowards! Shooting into the bellies of unarmed men and firing at the mothers of children." And then everything became quiet. I thought, "The women can break this up." So I appealed to the women in the crowd, "Break through those police lines and come down here and stand beside your husbands and your brothers and your uncles and your sweethearts." I could barely see one woman struggling to come forward. A cop had grabbed her by the back of her coat. She just pulled out of that coat and she started walking down to the battle zone. As soon as that happened there were other women and men who followed. That was the end of the battle. When those spectators came into the center and the police retreated, it was a big roar of victory.

BILL MOYERS: That's Marisa Tomei as Genora Dollinger. What do you think when you hear those words?

HOWARD ZINN: First, I must say this, Bill. When my daughter saw this, she heard Marisa Tomei shout to the police, "Cowards, cowards." My daughter said a chill, a chill went through her. She was so moved. And so, when I see this, and I've seen this so many times, and each time I am moved because what it tells me is that just ordinary people, you know, people who are not famous, if they get together, if they persist, if they defy the authorities, they can defeat the largest corporation in the world.

BILL MOYERS Howard Zinn was 87. That's it for the JOURNAL. I'm Bill Moyers. See you next week.
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