Marianne Williamson: If We Want Liberty, We Need Stronger Unions
The 2024 Democratic Presidential candidate talks with journalist Walker Bragman about the importance of strengthening labor unions for a more equitable future.
An increasing number of young people feel as though the social contract has been broken. The numbers bear out their cynicism: millennials are on track to become the first American generation worse off than their parents on economic metrics like wages, job status, and homeownership. But what's driving the erosion of the American dream? In a recent interview with journalist Walker Bragman, author and presidential candidate Marianne Williamson pinpoints a root cause: the systematic attack on labor unions over the past several decades.
Williamson recalls an era when the importance of unions, as bulwarks against inequality and pillars of the middle class, was widely recognized across all political lines. This perception, she believes, has been undermined through a decades-long campaign by anti-union businesses and politicians to “exploit and squash the rights of the American worker.” She views the recent revitalization of union movements at companies like Amazon and Starbucks, spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic, as a crucial step towards reestablishing balance between workers' interests and executive profits.
I would, on day one, cancel the contracts, the government contracts with union busting companies.
Williamson proposes several policy solutions, including terminating government contracts with union busting companies, strengthening the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and passing the PRO Act. She champions a return to ethical capitalism, where wealth is not disproportionately hoarded by a few, and all stakeholders, including workers and the environment, are fairly prioritized.
Read below for a full transcript of the interview:
You've suggested in interviews that young Americans are cynical because they can't remember a time when capitalism worked for most people. How is this related to the 40 year decline in labor union power?
Hugely, hugely. You know, when I was a kid, uh, I grew up, my parents said: “if you ever cross a picket line, don't bother to come home.” I remember when none of us were eating grapes and my, because of the, you know, the grape boycott and Cesar Chavez and my brother worked with Cesar Chavez, and my father used to tell stories about how when he was a little boy, his father, who worked on the rock Island Railroad, took him on his shoulders to hear Eugene V. Debs, et cetera. But it wasn't just my house, it was just kind of accepted that unions were important. It was accepted when I was growing up, whether you were conservative or liberal, it was, it was accepted that unions were very important. Once this big push, you know, if you talk to Harvey Kaye it started in the seventies. Talk to somebody else, it started with Ronald Reagan. I don't, I don't get deep into the weeds on that, but when it started, the demonization and the suppression of unions was a large part of it. Now, some of this had to do with the malfeasance of some of the, um, unions themselves. But more than that, it was trying, it was a part of a larger effort to exploit and to squash the rights of the American worker. So the fact that it is now, um, reemerging, you know, with the Christian Smalls and Sarah Nelson and Max Alvarez, this is extremely important. At Amazon and at Starbucks. And I'll tell you one thing I would do as president. I would, on day one, cancel the contracts, the government contracts with union busting companies. And I, you know, I love what Bernie is doing in Congress, but, uh, I would call those guys, you know, it's subpoenaing them to, to talk at Congress, uh, is really great. I would add my voice to that. Uh, yeah.
Are you hopeful that the surge and support for labor unions that was sparked by Covid will sort of return us to a time when, when capitalism maybe works better?
Well, you know, people talk, some people talk like it's like a light switch, and if you turn it on and you turn it on, and that's just very simplistic and very, um, kind of immature to be honest. I think, uh, you look at hybrid economies, uh, throughout Europe, uh, you look at these sort of transformational processes that people like Richard Wolf talk about. Um, I do believe that there is, uh, you know, even Adam Smith, who is the primary architect of free market capitalism, said it cannot work outside an ethical context. And it clearly is not working within an ethical context now. So let's start with just putting the guardrails back up. Let's start with just pushing them back into their lane, that's the first thing we have to do. And we have to recognize the places where the government enables unfettered capitalism to do damage to people and damage to animals and damage to the earth in ways that are deeply unacceptable.
And are there specific policies that you would support as president to strengthen unions and the power workers beyond canceling the contracts of union busting companies?
Yeah. We need to give a lot more power to the NLRB. You know, when you talk to a lot of these union workers, they say, yeah, the NLRB is good, but they're still under-resourced that they just can't do it all. They can't do it fast enough. I don't think Marty Walsh was a great pick. I think Julie Su seems to be better actually. And also the bully pulpit, you know, the president on one hand calls himself Labor Joe, and then when it came to the railroad issue and the workers, he sided with the railroad. So I think this is another area where you would have a president who is very vocal about her supportive unions in words and in uh, in deeds and words. And that's why much, much stronger support for the NLRB as well as support for the PRO Act, of course, is, I think, an important part of bolstering what we're all trying to do.
All of us in our way. You Walker, with your podcast, all that's what's going on now, people, and by the way, on the right as well as the left, recognize that there's this power, this overarching power, corporate power that has become nothing short of tyranus in this country. It is an erosive element. You know, we have ideological, um, factors from people like Ron DeSantis that are attacking our democracy from without, but this kind of neoliberalism, which inherently suppresses unions, is eroding it from within. This is why the, uh, late Supreme Court Justice, uh, Louis Brandeis said, you can have large amounts of money concentrated in the hands of a few, or you can have democracy. You cannot have both. As soon as we bought into this trickle down theory where instead of recognizing that there are a lot of stakeholders here, the workers are a stakeholder. The shareholders are a stakeholder. Clearly the CEO's a stakeholder, but so are the workers. So is the environment, so is the community. This needs to be brought back into balance. And um, and, uh, you know, when I was a kid before Reagan, a CEO couldn't be paid in stock options. Stock buybacks weren't even legal. So everybody gets it, and we're all just doing what we can in our own way to push back. Uh, it's inside and outside. It's people running for office, and it's people at NGOs. It's the labor movement and its podcasters. It's all about awakening the consciousness and then changing the policies to take this country back to, um, really liberty and justice for all.
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