NEW YORK—Billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to shut down Zuccotti Park early on Oct. 14 but found that the movement’s anti-corporate message had struck too deep a nerve with New Yorkers. Under pretext of cleaning the park, located a few short blocks from Wall Street, the mayor planned to have cops remove protesters and destroy the encampment. The mayor’s decision to back down left activists feeling ecstatic over their victory.
The AFL-CIO had sent out the alarm the night before to mobilize in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protesters. Standing with the protesters in Zuccotti Park at 6:30 a.m. were scores of trade-union officials, rank and filers, and union lawyers. “I think that what we saw that morning is a response to the massive outcry of support for the movement,“ said Donna Lieberman of the N.Y. Civil Liberties Union.
The potential power of the labor movement was visible on Oct. 5, when a union-sponsored OWS support rally was held near City Hall in lower Manhattan. Initiated by the Transport Workers Union Local 100, it attracted some 20,000 demonstrators. Another union-initiated protest filled Times Square on Oct. 15 and attracted thousands as well, despite police provocations and the arrests of dozens of non-violent protesters.
As winter weather begins to set in, Occupy Wall Street has seen a fury of renewed activity (see occupywallst.org). New, but as yet not official, is the OWS Antiwar Subcommittee, which seeks to integrate antiwar awareness with anti-corporate mobilizing. The committee contains diverse views but will sponsor an antiwar “teach-in” in Zuccotti Park.
“Wall Street = War Street,” one sign declared at the Oct. 15 antiwar rally here sponsored by the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), held in conjunction with OWS protests that day.
The Labor Outreach committee in particular has attracted dozens of activists to its meetings. Recently, members of Teamsters Local 808, nicknamed a “Band of Brothers,” who are on strike at the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, came to a labor outreach meeting. Strikers testified to gross racist treatment by Woodlawn bosses and ongoing retribution against outspoken workers. A solidarity rally is set for Nov. 12 at Woodlawn Cemetery at 1 pm.
Another Labor Outreach project is the campaign against Sotheby’s, an elite art auction house on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Sotheby’s has locked out art handler members of Teamster Local 814 since Aug. 1. The lockout began after members rejected an insulting contract offer that included a 10% pay cut and no health-care benefits.
OWS has disrupted several high-end Sotheby’s auctions and has protested at restaurants owned by Sotheby’s boss Danny Meyers. Sotheby’s certainly can’t cry poverty. Sotheby’s CEO, William Ruprecht, has had his salary more than doubled in 2010, and it now stands at an incredible $60,000 a day!
OWS actions also included going to the homes of the rich in a “millionaires march,” which has received wide coverage in the business and mainstream press. The protesters demanded passage of the “millionaires’ tax,” a minimal tax advocated by unions but rejected by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat. One business weekly, Crain’s, said in its Oct. 18 issue, “It’s been a rough few weeks for the city’s billionaires, bankers and corporate board members.”
OWS also joined a march of some 1000 Verizon workers on Oct. 21 in lower Manhattan, ending in Zuccotti Park. Some 45,000 Verizon workers, members of the Communication Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, have been without a contract since the unions abandoned their strike and returned to work on Aug. 21. The unions have called Verizon, “The poster child of corporate greed.”
The Transport Workers Union Local 100, an OWS supporter, is beginning a contract battle. Its contract expires on Jan. 15, 2012. The 35,000-member city subway and bus workers face straight zero raises, health-care cuts, and possible layoffs. The union has called a demonstration at the opening of contract talks on Nov. 15 at the Sheraton Hotel in midtown Manhattan.
About 200 OWS supporters disrupted an Education Department meeting in Manhattan on Oct. 25, resulting in Bloomberg-appointee Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s leaving the room. OWS activists, who include rank-and-file teachers, complained of massive cuts to education. Activists say that it was the first time a Board meeting was shut down.
In an important development, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), the NAACP, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement called for an Oct. 29 march in solidarity with OWS beginning at City Hall. The call, if properly advertised, could have begun to mobilize oppressed communities in support of OWS, changing the race and class dynamics as well as perceptions of OWS.
Unfortunately, lackluster promotion by these Democratic Party supporters and constant rain severely limited what could have been a mass protest. Nevertheless, determined protesters marched from City Hall to Zuccotti Park, picking up support, and then proceedded to Borough of Manhattan Community College to demand tuition cuts. About 150 attended.
On Oct. 19 the N.Y. Central Labor Council, a city labor umbrella organization, passed a resolution for a Nov. 5 mass rally on Wall Street backed by a number of labor radicals and others. The motion called for the rich to pay for the crisis; no layoffs, budget, and service cuts; a federal jobs program; and an end to police harassment of OWS protesters. Surprisingly for many, the motion passed unanimously. However, the Nov. 5 rally was derailed by CLC bureaucrats.
The OWS Labor Solidarity Committee put out a national call for actions on Nov. 2 in solidarity with Occupy Oakland; locally there will be a rally at 4 p.m. in Washington Square Park, with a march to Zuccotti Park. In addition, OWS has chosen Nov. 17 to be a day of national solidarity with the goals of the Occupation. Momentum is building, with broad union support, for what promises to be a very large demonstration.
> The article above was written by Marty Goodman, and first appeared in the November 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.