comment given as part of a Left Forum Panel discussion March 19, 2011
transcribed from Youtube video 3/31/11
"Organizing the unemployed is a multi-dimensional, multi-pronged problem. Manny and I organized the unemployed in New York in the early 90s, and I've organized the unemployed in Baltimore and also in New Jersey.
"I would say that one of the main lessons that I would put forward is that nothing happens unless the unemployed themselves get organized and don't rely on the unions, the other community groups. Things happen when the unemployed themselves go into political action. You know, you organize the unemployed, you need to do everything people here have talked about, from service-type stuff, to support groups, to political action meeting/lobbying...[to] direct action. You know, direct action?
"Uh, John in Philadelphia, I think that a little bit of what gets lost in your presentation is: "How did you get some of those things?" You were at the offices, you were demonstrating, you were creating a social upset.
"People have to be willing to do that. The unions are not going to take the lead. I was in the Steelworkers' union in Baltimore in the early 80s, we were laid off. We had to fight to get our own union to actually set up a food bank, even the service stuff, and then to get steelworker unions to support actual political advocacy was another battle itself. So to me, the main lesson in terms of organizing, is that unless the unemployed themselves - union and non-union - are mobilized to be visible, to be public, to be in the face of these agencies and institutions, that the rest isn't gonna happen.
"But it also means stepping on a lot of toes. And it means that the Democrats are sometimes the toes you're going to have to step on. The Republicans are an easy target, but if you pull your punches on it, you're not going to wind up getting what's needed.
"Obviously, the problem of unemployment is a major colossal problem in a capitalist society, but at the same time you can win real gains. We did. In Philadelphia they did. Elsewhere. So the main thing about the unions is: nobody should assume or expect that the unions will take the lead, take the initiative. It will always be in response to the activity of the unemployed."