As we brought you earlier Tuesday, newly surfaced audio has captured disturbing evidence of radical leftists plotting to deliberately wage war on American capitalism in order to redistribute the nation’s wealth. Leading the group of leftist organizers is (reportedly former) SEIU director of financial reform efforts and international executive board member.
“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,” Lerner said during the progressive conference last weekend in New York.
So what kind of influence does Lerner have in progressive circles? As it turns out, quite a lot.
Not only does Lerner maintain the clout of being a former SEIU executive, but his influential position seems to have gained him access to the Obama White House on more than one occasion. According to White House visitor logs, “Stephen Lerner” has visited the White House four times over the past two years.
Two of these visits were for public gatherings: a large group’s private White House tour and a White House Hanukkah celebration. But at least two other visits were scheduled for private meetings with high-level executive offices.
On May 22, 2010, Lerner met with a presidential personnel officer who manages economic agencies. While the minimal information in the WH visitor log offers no real information on what this meeting was about, it’s distressing to know a) anyone in the White House would meet with the kind of man who could openly call for the deliberate dismantling of the American economy, and that b) that White House official works to recruit personnel for the federal government’s economic agencies.
Perhaps more telling, the Stephen Lerner listed in the White House logs had an October 16, 2010 appointment scheduled by Tara Corrigan, executive assistant to then-WH political director Patrick Gaspard. Like Lerner, Gaspard spent much of his career working as a lobbyist and executive vice president for SEIU’s Local 1199 in New York one of the union’s most powerful and notoriously militant chapters. You may recall that Gaspard announced his departure from the White House earlier this year in order to focus on the upcoming 2012 campaign. He now serves as executive director of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) under chairman Tim Kaine.
We have asked the White House to confirm that the reported “Stephen Lerner” is indeed the veteran SEIU organizer, however we still have received no response.
In addition to securing White House access, Lerner’s reputation precedes him in the progressive movement as well. The union organizer has a long history of leading labor strikes and demonstrations.
During the 1970s, Lerner worked with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union to orchestrate a year-long strike in South Carolina. In the 1980s, Lerner worked with Justice for Janitors through the SEIU’s building service division. His work in organizing the bottom-up protest model based on geographical area propelled Lerner to progressive stardom, receiving praise for his innovative style and success as the labor movement struggled to increase membership.
Lerner’s Justice for Janitors campaign has been particularly praised for its use of disruptive demonstration tactics to deliver its message. The campaign also demanded so-called “master contracts” which would apply contract benefits to all unionized janitors across the market rather than localized, disjointed union organizations.
As a former organizer of the United Farm Workers (UFW), Lerner applied UFW tactics to the SEIU’s JfJ campaign, including street theater, hunger strikes, vigils, public blockades, sit-ins, clergy-labor alliances and community organizing. (Sound familiar?)
Lerner — who was recruited to the SEIU at the same time as former president Andy Stern — has also expanded the unions’ views to a global scale. In spearheading the JfJ campaign, Lerner focused on a bigger strategy than grassroots rank-and-file protests. “There was literally a worldwide plan to win,” he wrote in 2005.
“From Denmark, where the key cleaning contractor was based; to pension funds in New York that owned buildings; to immigrant, community and religious groups that united in support for the campaign—there was a comprehensive plan and large-scale resources to support the struggle. The Los Angeles campaign demonstrated that undocumented workers would take incredible risks to lift their families and communities out of poverty if there was a plan that gave them the confidence that they could beat a multinational corporation with hundreds of thousands of workers around the globe.”
Don’t like the new globalized focus of your union? Too bad. When local SEIU officials refused to participate in Justice for Janitor campaigns, their union supervisors would simply remove them from office, and replace them with trustees to run the locals and later run the trustees for the presidency.
It’s this global strategy that Lerner most recently worked to expand in other areas of the SEIU and the labor movement as a whole — to much success. “It is clear that what unions are doing isn’t working for union members or the tens of millions of workers who aren’t in unions. The labor movement’s structure, culture, and priorities stand in the way of workers winning,” he said.
As noted above, reorienting the country’s religious groups to union support is among Lerner’s top priorities. “The months and years ahead are our chance, our moment to be part of making history,” Lerner said on the eve of President Obama’s 2008 election victory to a progressive Jewish group.
Lerner is “exerting an outsized influence, working at the front end of some of the most innovative, and occasionally divisive, union campaigns of today,” Foward the Jewish Daily noted at the time.
“When you are there, you physically experience the number of Jews in Washington who are in the labor movement — but also the larger passion for social justice that is driving that,” Lerner said.
Lerner’s wife, Marilyn Sneiderman, has also been a longtime union organizer, including nearly a decade of work as the AFL-CIO’s director of field mobilization. Similar to her husband, she worked to launch a national initiative designed to unite unions and religious, civil/immigrant rights group to campaign for social and economic justice. Last summer, she took a position as executive director of AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps, a group dedicated to social justice.
Sneiderman and Lerner now host an annual Yom Kippur Break Fast event “to make the link for people who work in the labor movement and are Jewish, so that they see that it’s not by accident that they are doing this work — and that is tied to their roots and values,” she has said.
Their annual guest lists include movers and shakers like Andy Stern and Paul Booth, a top official at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Anna Burger, chair of the Change To Win coalition of unions, is a regular, and John Sweeney, president of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, has also attended.
“It seemed like every other person there was a senior leader in the labor movement,” said Jacob Feinspan, the young Jews United for Justice leader, who attended the 2008 event.
Lerner’s fingerprints are all over today’s labor movement, including protesters’ confrontational tactics. You may recall when busloads of SEIU demonstrators descended on a Bank of America executive’s own front yard last year.
When the executive’s neighbor, Fortune‘s Nina Easton, asked Lerner about the controversial intimidation tactic, he accused of her of being too “emotional” and insisted it’s the union’s role to confront “people in powerful corporations” about the “damage they are doing.”
A year later, protesters in Madison, Wisc., practiced their own street theater and sit-ins at the state capitol building. On Monday, we brought you the story of SEIU protesters who stormed a Pennsylvania bank to protest the CEO. In each instance, SEIU organizers are taking marching orders directly from Lerner’s protester playbook.
We have officially crossed into a new era of politics — the politics of intimidation — and it looks like we have Stephen Lerner to thank for it.