News Analysis

The famous Joe Hill quote, “Don’t mourn, organize!” is being taken to heart, it seems, on a regular basis these days.

Three things happened in the last few months that were not so good. “So what’s the big deal?” you ask, “Bad things always happen.” The big deal came after they happened. Explanation:

Earlier this year labor and its allies suffered a defeat in the Senate when a bill that would let judges rewrite mortgages so hurting folks could stay in their homes was defeated.

Earlier this year a member of the congressional oversight committee for bank bailouts, AFL-CIO economist Damon Silvers, said he almost cried when he realized how badly the financiers had to have run amok and spun out of control for the economy to have come crashing down around our ears, the way it has.

Also earlier this year (just last month) the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced that it was time for the group to launch a $100 million ad campaign to defend what it called the free enterprise system.

“Supporters and critics alike agree that capitalism is at a crossroads,” said U.S. Chamber president and CEO Thomas Donahue. “It’s time to remind all Americans that it was a free enterprise system based on the values of individual initiative, hard work, risk, innovation, and profit that built our great country. We must take immediate action to reaffirm the spirit of enterprise in America.”

Its these three events, organizers say, that led the nation’s two labor federations to link up with more than 200 community groups to form, three weeks ago, a grassroots coalition to battle both Wall Street and the Chamber of Commerce.

It wasn’t long ago that people went home after a legislative defeat, licked their wounds, and waited until next year to try again.

Now, it seems, they go out and form a labor-led coalition to reverse their losses and make some gains. That’s what the three week old Americans for Financial Reform is and that’s what it intends to do.

The coalition is pushing four main causes: Pro-consumer financial regulation and transparency, mortgage relief, curbs on the trading of pieces of paper that have no assets behind them and regulation of the so called “shadow markets” and “investment advisers.”

The coalition’s executive director, long-time activist Heather Booth and Change to Win Chair Anna Burger say it was necessary to form the group to counter an expected ad campaign against financial reform. They believe the Chamber will mount “sleazy Harry-and-Louise type ads” to try to defeat financial reform.

Silver, from the AFL-CIO, said the events mentioned “prompted the unions and other groups to realize that the only way to get the financial reforms through a balky Congress was to mount a huge public push for them.”

“As we work to clean up the mess Wall Street has made, the job of rewriting the regulatory rulebook must not be left to the ‘experts’ and market players who brought about the current state of affairs,” the group says on

“It’s no surprise that the U.S. Chamber and the big banks that drove our economy into the ground are joining forces to defend a failed financial model that enriches CEOs at the expense of shareholders, workers and our economy,” Burger said when she announced that Change to Win was joining the coalition

“Their only prescription for financial reform includes a massive PR campaign to scare Americans with ‘Harry and Louise’ style ads and re-brand the same reckless policies that will drive families deeper into debt, maximize predatory fees, and force taxpayers to continue to subsidize banks’ bad behavior. It’s clear that big bank executives and the U.S. Chamber will stop at nothing to stand in the way of real solutions for our economy,” she said.

Hoping they can do for financial reform what a mass movement has done for pushing health care reform, others that have joined the coalition include the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees International Union, the Communications Workers, the Economic Policy Institute, the Laborers, the National Consumers League, the Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers.