With more than 1.6 million active and retired members, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — or, AFSCME — is the largest and fastest-growing public-service employees union in the country. This year, they elected their first African-American president, Lee Saunders, who happens to also have a new book out. It is called The Main Street Moment.
The opening of the book reads — quote: “… the new breed of radical politicians across the country have succeeded in pushing through policies that will have a lasting impact on the American dream, including denying union rights, voter suppression and selling off public services to the highest corporate bidders” — unquote.
Lee Saunders joined Roland Martin on the set of Washington Watch to discuss this and more.
MR. MARTIN: Welcome back to “Washington Watch.”
With more than 1.6 million active and retired members, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – or, AFSCME – is the largest and fastest-growing public-service employees union in the country. This year, they elected their first African-American president, Lee Saunders, who happens to also have a new book out. It is called The Main Street Moment.
The opening of the book reads – quote: “… the new breed of radical politicians across the country have succeeded in pushing through policies that will have a lasting impact on the American dream, including denying union rights, voter suppression and selling off public services to the highest corporate bidders” – unquote.
Here to talk about all of that is the president himself, Lee Saunders.
Lee, welcome back.
MR. LEE SAUNDERS: I’m glad to be here.
MR. MARTIN: We saw this week – I was in Tampa for the Republican convention, and we heard the focus about jobs. And, of course, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin talked; and the, of course, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey also talked. And both of them touched on the issue of unions. And you heard the public sector as well. What did you make of the rhetoric that came from the stage at the Republican convention?
MR. SAUNDERS: Well, I think that convention should be retitled. It should be called “All Lies And No Solutions.”
MR. MARTIN: [Chuckles.]
MR. SAUNDERS: They’re attacking working families. They’re attacking the middle class. They’re actually lying about what’s going on. They’re lying about Medicare and how they want to resolve it. They want to destroy Medicare. They don’t have a plan to create new jobs – new, good jobs in this country. They’re lying about the President’s stimulus program, where it actually created more than 3.3 million jobs. They’re lying again about Medicare and the fact that the 17 – 716 mil- — billion dollars they claim Pres. Obama is stealing away from seniors – that’s not the fact at all – not a fact at all. It’s dealing with administrative charges.
So, it’s not – it’s – it’s something that they are doing to try to convince the American public that – that Pres. Obama has not been doing his job, and he has been doing his job.
MR. MARTIN: But[?] –
MR. SAUNDERS: We’ve got to – we’ve got to expose – we’ve got to expose the kinds of lies that are coming out of that Republican –
MR. MARTIN: — but I[’ve] –
MR. SAUNDERS: — convention.
MR. MARTIN: — got to ask you this here, and that is, I talked to folks – whether they are Black, White, Hispanic; and whether they’re older, even younger. And so many people have this belief that the unions are the problem. You do you counter what has been, frankly, a successful communications strategy over the last 30 years that has made unions out to be the problem and not the solution?
MR. SAUNDERS: I think we’ve got to promote the kind of work that we do, and we’re doing that across the country. If you look at Ohio, where John Kasich tried to steal our voices away from us – take collective bargaining away from us – we worked with the community. We worked with civil rights organizations. We worked with students all across that state. We put that on the ballot so the citizens of Ohio could decide whether public-service workers should have collective bargaining rights or not. Overwhelmingly, by more than a 2 to 1 margin, they voted to support collective bargaining in that state.
We’ve got to replicate that. We’ve got to replicate that effort all over the country. Labor can’t do it alone, but this is not only a fight about labor. This is about – a fight about how this country’s going to move forward, or is it going to go backwards. We’ve got to enlist the support of all of our allies and all of our coalition partners, working families across this country. We’ve got to rebuild a middle class. We’ve got to promote the fact that we need jobs in this country.
We cannot continue to give tax breaks to the very wealthy, the top 1 percent, while 99 percent in this country are suffering every, single day, trying to play by the rules, putting food on the table, trying to make ends meet. And they’re getting hit pretty hard, and they’re continuing to get [hit] hard. And with the policies that you hear coming from that Republican convention in Tampa, that’s not going to improve the problem at all. It’s going to make it worse, and we’ve just go to make our voices heard. And it’s up to us. It’s up to the labor unions. It’s up to our community allies. It’s up to the African-American community, the churches. We’ve got to make our voices heard loud and clear and say that this is the wrong approach, and these are the wrong policies.
MR. MARTIN: So, the issue we – we’ve been asking for the past year is, “What’s the ask?” because every election, there’s always an “ask” for the next administration. So, what are you asking of this president to say, “We know what you’ve done for the past” – “for the” – “with the first term”? What are you looking for, what do you want, what are you demanding for the second term?
MR. SAUNDERS: We’re – we’re demanding that – that he create and support policies that create good-paying jobs across –
MR. MARTIN: Such as?
MR. SAUNDERS: — the country. All over the country, we’re suffering in the private and public sector[s]. We’re demanding that he create jobs so, in fact, the policies that the Republicans are proposing are not put into effect. His jobs program – the jobs act that he tried to promote through Congress didn’t make it. He’s got to get back on that bandwagon, and he’s got to push that very, very aggressively.
We’ve got to rebuild this economy. We’ve got to rebuild the middle class. We’ve got to promote union rights and labor rights. If you – if you hear from the Republicans in that convention in Tampa, they were attacking us. They were attacking labor. They were attacking working families. That should be a wakeup call – a wakeup call to the 99 percent of folks who’re playing by the rules, who want to try to make ends meet.
We’ve got to be vigilant. We’ve got to be aggressive in voting in November.
MR. MARTIN: Well, I’ll tell you what. I had Gene Sperling here. They were talking about that very jobs bill, and the one thing that I demanded was for the White House to also tell those trade unions that, “Look. You’re going to get a lot of folks employed if that bills” – “bill gets passed. Don’t” – “Stop shutting those doors to African-Americans, and open those doors.”
MR. SAUNDERS: I agree –
MR. MARTIN: And so that was –
MR. SAUNDERS: — with that a hundred percent.
MR. MARTIN: — one of the things there.
Folks, the book is called The Main Street Moment: Fighting Back to Save the American Dream. It is by Gerald W. McEntee and Lee Saunders.
Lee, thanks a bunch.
MR. SAUNDERS: Thanks for being – having –
MR. MARTIN: All right.
MR. SAUNDERS: — me on the show.
MR. MARTIN: I appreciate it.
MR. SAUNDERS: All right.
MR. MARTIN: Folks, you can share your thoughts on “What’s the ask?” by logging on to tvone.tv/ask. That’s tvone.tv/ask.