No doubt the Oct. 15 Occupy Wall Street (OWS) rally will add a new coat of paint to many lackluster labor leaders, including national AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who has also pledged to “support” OWS. That’s certainly part of the union bureaucracy’s calculations for staying in office and maintaining their salaries and perks, while continuing to sell out to the bosses and the Democratic Party.
However, nothing can disguise the fact that many of these so-called labor leaders or their like-thinking predecessors presided over decades of defeats. Many members remain apathetic and unwilling to respond to the occasional call for any action outside of narrow contract issues.
The recent decision by leaders of the Communication Workers of America (CWA) to send 45,000 striking Verizon workers back to work on Aug. 20 without a new contract no doubt aroused some bitterness in the outlook of many workers towards unions. (The CWA leadership endorsed the Oct. 5 demonstration!)
Union leaders traditionally urge the ranks to beg Democratic Party politicians for justice—even though Democrats dominate the New York City Council and an anti-union Democrat is governor. Relying on politicians rather than their own power, including striking, has left the ranks confused about mobilizing to win.
As a result, though most of those who marched Oct. 5 were from the working class, the several big endorsing unions could only muster a few dozen demonstrators to carry placards and banners. The bulk of the march was likely a scattering of union members, unorganized workers, students, and the unemployed.
Fortunately, the Occupy Wall Street movement can play a positive role by posing issues that union tops usually fear to address, like police brutality, the relationship between Wall Street and the major parties, bipartisan support to bank bailouts, ongoing wars, etc.
Mass pressure from the ranks is key to increasing union support for Occupation protests across the U.S. While working together on OWS, it may become obvious to workers and some officials that citywide unity in action is more of a necessity now than ever; and that includes possibly striking together.
In addition, there should be no union pressure on OWS to support Democrats, especially Barack Obama and the Democratic Party leadership, who are now peddling a phony “jobs bill” and possibly seeking to distort the Occupation’s idealistic, if vague, goals and then peddle it to the working class.
OWS must also resist the temptation to be bought off subtly or unsubtly by labor bureaucrats who may use donated resources to bring OWS into the Democratic Party fold, which would signal the death knell of the Occupation, as it historically has done for all social movements in the United States. In that way, the energy of OWS can be preserved as a catalyst for action.
Speaking to Socialist Action, Wayne King, a veteran track worker and Local 100 member, had these observations of the Oct. 15 labor protest: “I am here because we need to support these kids who started something that the unions and the workers should have started.
“I didn’t see too much labor support in this rally but I’m glad that some of labor came out. What I see is a lot of students. To me they’re carrying the whole rally. I was happy to see some members of Local 100 come out but I was very disappointed by the poor turnout, not only from Local 100 but also from the other unions. At least I’m here to show my solidarity.
“These Wall St. bankers and rich people do not intend to share the pain. They will give up nothing, but they want workers to give up everything. It’s a shame what happened to the other [state] unions and they’re going to try the same thing on us. That’s why I’m happy these kids are sending a clear measure. I’m so excited to see how this has grown. Wall Street, we’re coming for you!”
Similar views were expressed that day by Ray Laforest, a Haitian union activist and member of the International Support Haiti Network. “This is a very important day,” said Laforest. “It is incredible, the attack on working people, people of color, on minorities, on immigrants, from the right wing and the banks. From a system that is sucking this country and the world dry. They didn’t pay any price for it; in fact they got trillions of our blood and sweat dollars. We think these kids are great and brave to challenge the system. The [union] membership must keep putting pressure on unions, this is the way out. Not to just put pressure on the Democrats. We need a labor party, if anything.”
THE OWS MOVEMENT EXPANDS
The occupation movement has expanded across the U.S., from Sacramento to Providence, R.I., and from Minneapolis to Dallas. For updates go to occupywallstreet.org. Occupy Portland (Ore.), which has built an encampment in Chapman Square, mobilized close to 10,000 in a march on Oct. 6.
Boston protesters have built a tent city in Dewey Square. An Oct. 7 protest attracted up to 1000 demonstrators.
In Philadelphia, over 1000 occupied the plaza in front of City Hall on the first day, Oct. 6. Two days later, close to 1000 marched from the encampment to Independence Hall. Occupy Philadelphia was endorsed by the city labor council (AFL-CIO), which has called a union rally on Oct 12 at the Occupation site. Links have been made between the Occupation movement and Philly Against War, an affiliate of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), in order to coordinate the Occupation with the Oct. 15 antiwar protest in Philadelphia.
Los Angeles saw an Oct. 6 march on Bank of America offices downtown, apparently organized by Make Banks Pay, not OWS. Protesters have camped at Los Angeles City Hall since Oct. 1, and disrupted a bankers’ conference at a Newport Beach yacht club.
Several hundred protesters have established a camp and rallied in front of the Federal Reserve in Chicago’s financial district. Police refused to let protesters sleep on the sidewalk, so they have resorted to sleeping in nearby parked cars. On Oct. 8, Occupation protesters joined an antiwar demonstration, swelling the crowd to close to 1000.
> The articles above were written by Marty Goodman, and first appeared in the October 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.