Hit “pause” for a moment on the latest Trump outrage and recall the political landscape following the Wall Street-induced train wreck of nine years ago. The Obama administration bailed out the financiers, businesses fired 8.7 million workers, banks foreclosed on more than 14 million homeowners, and unions lost 1 million members.
Labor law reform died in spite of Democratic congressional supermajorities. The Affordable Care Act, stripped of universal coverage and the public option, barely limped across the finish line. Democrats lost control of the political narrative and got crushed in the November 2010 elections.
One in every six American workers was seeking work, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker launched his union-busting plan, and an ascendant Tea Party–driven national discourse – setting the stage for today’s mess – blamed the economic crisis not on corporate greed but on the federal government, immigrants, and unions.
Amid this deepening crisis, in early 2011 the leadership of SEIU, the union I worked for at the time, experienced an organizational epiphany. To stop the slide into irrelevancy, SEIU swung the union’s resources into a massive, $60 million grassroots campaign in 17 cities, deploying 1,500 organizers to reclaim the high ground in the economic debate and to organize workers into unions on a massive scale.