Occupy Wall Street

OWS and Unions: How to Defend People About to Lose Their Homes

"They got bailed out, we got thrown out!" rang through the streets as we marched to two of the fourteen houses on the same street being foreclosed.

The following article is by Peter Olney, Director of Organizing for the International Longshore & Warehouse Union.

Inspired by the Occupy movement over 100 people showed up Friday outside the homes of two African American families in the Bay View, one of the traditional black neighborhoods of San Francisco. A year ago or even two months ago this home defense led by ACCE would have scraped to enlist 1-20 people to be present. Now buoyed by the effervescence of the Occupy moment, unionists, community leaders and politicians all swarmed Quesada Avenue in San Francisco. A high point was when a jubilant and visibly moved black homeowner came out  her door and called the assembled group “her angels of mercy”. Then the banners of Occupy San Francisco arrived to cheers of all present: “They got bailed out, we got thrown out!” rang through the streets as we marched to two of the fourteen houses on the same street being foreclosed.

The New Bottom Line reports that in California alone there are 2,107,984 mortgages underwater. Many of those drowning in debt and in danger of losing their homes are our union members. When our building trades leaders say that 40% of their members are on the bench they are talking about the 40% of their members most likely to face foreclosure. The link can be graphically made between unemployment and foreclosure by using our hiring halls for mortgage workshops and mobilizing centers for home defense. The dispatcher announces to the hall: “If you do not go out on a job you go out to a home defense”

Recently in San Pedro I sat in on a meeting between ACCE and the leadership of our powerful longshore Local 13 whose members work the Ports of LA and Long Beach. Many of our members are not getting their hours and are underwater. ACCE offered to do a mortgage workshop and home defense seminar at the union hall. That will lead to education and inevitably action on the streets. One of our Local 13 members already joined ACCE because they worked with him to save his house. The “job tape” which tells our members in a recording about the prospect for work on the coming shifts can also announce the latest home defense in the area.

Home defense should become part of the daily routine of the hiring hall. Many of our members have been ashamed to admit they are struggling to keep their homes  The 99% frame is giving them space to come forward. The hiring hall to home defense nexus is a way to spread concrete working class participation in the Occupy movement and to the benefit of all. Unions with hiring halls can hook up with ACCE and other groups fighting foreclosures to make a graphic emotional statement about the crisis and actually do something about it

With the technology of today there is no reason why the hiring hall couldn’t be conducted outside a home in foreclosure while members fend off the sheriffs before some of them go to work! Justice for Janitors used to dispatch from protests outside non-union buildings 20 years ago! Let’s roll! Time to spread home defense to the hiring halls of America.

Peter Olney is Director of Organizing for the International Longshore & Warehouse Union.
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