New York City labor unions are preparing to back the unwieldy grassroots band occupying a park inLower Manhattan. This move could mark a significant shift in the tenor of the anti-corporate Occupy Wall Street protests and send thousands more people into the streets.
The union claims to have 38,000 members. “The TWU has four main divisions: Railroad; Gaming; Airline; Transit; and Utility, University and Service. The Union has 114 autonomous locals representing over 200,000 members and retirees in 22 states around the country,” says TWU web-site.
“The call went out over a month ago, before actually the occupancy of Wall Street took place,” said 32BJ spokesman Kwame Patterson. Now, he added, “we’re all coming under one cause, even though we have our different initiatives.”
A union-backed organizing coalition, which organized a large May 12 march on Wall Street before the protests, is planning a rally on Oct.5 inexplicit support. And SEIU 32BJ, which represents doormen, security guards and maintenance workers, is using its Oct. 12 rally to express solidarity with the Zuccotti Park protesters.
Jackie DiSalvo, a retired professor at Baruch College in her late 60s and an Occupy Wall Street organizer, says a series of public actions aimed at expressing support for labor — from disrupting a Sotheby’s auction on Sept. 22 to attending a postal workers’ rally on Tuesday — have convinced unions that the two groups’ struggles are one.
“Labor is up against the wall and they’re begging us to help them,” said DiSalvo, who has emerged as a driving force in the effort to link up labor and the protests. DiSalvo is herself a member of the Professional Staff Congress, which represents teachers at the City University of New York.
DiSalvo said that recent anti-labor actions like Scott Walker’s inWisconsin”really shocked the unions and moved them into militant action,” and the inflammatory video of a NYPD deputy inspector pepper-spraying several protesters on Saturday also generated union sympathy.
When asked if the union support could dilute the message of the Occupy Wall Street protesters – which has itself been dismissed as incoherent – DiSalvo said the rag tag group’s stance would remain unchanged. “Occupy Wall Street will not negotiate watering down its own message,” she said, union support or not.
Occupy Wall Street has been supported by other unions in the past few days. The Teamsters Union declared their support for protestors yesterday. The United Pilots Union members were also found at the protest demonstrating in uniform.
If unions decide to support the protests in a major way, that could mean thousands more people marching in Lower Manhattan. By this moment the protesters have not managed to come near the 10,000 or so who attended the unrelated May 12 march on Wall Street.
The Strong Economy for All Coalition, which receives support from the United Federation of Teachers, the Working Families Party, plus SEIU 32BJ and 1199, previously helped put together that demonstration. Now they will be rallying for the grassroots group.
“There’s a lot of good feeling. They’ve made a lot of friends,” said Chuck Zlatkin of the postal union. “They went a long way towards touching people and making connections,” Zlatkin added.
“Their fight is our fight,” director Michael Kink said. “They’ve chosen the right targets. We also want to see a society where folks other than the top 1 percent have a chance to say how things go.” [via Huff Post and Business Insider]