Labor and Progressive Groups Join Occupy Wall Street in Solidarity March
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The increasing labor and left support for the Occupy Wall Street movement will be on full display this evening, as members of unions and long-time community groups march from New York City Hall to meet the occupation activists in Zuccotti Park, AKA Liberty Plaza. The march arrives as the two-week-old occupation is capturing national media attention, receiving ugly police pushback, and spawning dozens of actions across the United States.
While union members have been part of Occupy Wall Street from the beginning, the past week has been marked by increasingly broad and public union support. Friday AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka described the action as "a valid tactic," and "being in the streets" as "sometimes the only recourse you have." Sunday the AFL-CIO distributed a statement passed by delegates at its Young Workers Summit declaring solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. Trumka yesterday told Mike Elk of In These Times that the AFL-CIO will vote on an official endorsement today. Occupy Wall Street this week drew the official support of large international unions including the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the United Steel Workers (USW), and the nation's largest public sector union, the American Federation of State County and Municipal Workers (AFSCME).
Meanwhile, several major New York unions and community groups last week announced today's march, which leaves City Hall at 4:30 PM. "In this case," says Dan Cantor, Executive Director of the labor-backed Working Families Party (WFP), "labor is following the youth of America."
Mary Clinton, an Occupy Wall Street activist, led a training on encampment activism at the AFL-CIO's national Young Workers Summit in Minneapolis and proposed the solidarity resolution passed there. Clinton says she was encouraged by the broad support among the summit's 800 participants, and sees supporting Occupy Wall Street as a chance for unions "to participate in a broader struggle which I think will be necessary in order to make the gains we want to see and will benefit their members." Clinton, a former organizing intern with the Writer's Guild of America, is now a graduate student in labor studies at the City University of New York (CUNY). She describes linking arms with Occupy Wall Street and community allies as a better way forward for labor unions. Too many, she argues, approached the New York City budget debate by "trying to cut backdoor deals." "In order to see a budget that doesn't have cuts in social services and lay off teachers," Clinton says, "we need to see a stronger movement," working more closely with other allies.
In interviews, leaders of groups sponsoring the New York march expressed admiration for the Occupy Wall Street movement and hopes that it would provide momentum for their shared goals. They were also quick to emphasize their sense that their own organizations' commitment to the themes of Occupy Wall Street long predates the new movement. "This is not new," says SEIU District 1199 Communications Director Leah Gonzalez, pointing to the coalition that won a three-year New York State " millionaires' tax" in 2009. "We have been calling for some time, along with other unions in the organized labor movement, that the rich should pay their fair share."
"The issues that they have focused on are obviously things many of us have been working on for years," says Cantor, "and they have done us all a favor by elevating them to an even higher level of public awareness. So it was not a heavy lift to persuade our leadership that this is something we need to do to stand in solidarity with them and to use some of the energy they have created to advance something we all agree on."