Photo: Photo by Ben Preston
The big thing to take out of yesterday’s big Wall Street protest is this: labour is awake, and they’re fully committed to the protesters.Here’s what a United Transit Workers leader had to say about it at Zuccotti Park after the rally:
“Occupy Wall Street showed organised labour that we can take on decision makers in this country. organised labour has been asleep for too long. Now we know we can change the landscape for working families by taking our fights to the street. Our 38,000 members are with you to the end.”
Union support means that Occupy Wall Street (OWS) can now have thousands of bodies on the street any time they like. Those bodies combined with the youth movement’s talent for using social media to get their message out there, might turn into a powerful push behind their agenda. (Check out this video of a protester broadcasting live from the inside of a paddy wagon.)
Right now however, their only evident power is putting two forces together physically.
And even that might change. I spoke to some OWS media people, and they say that there’s a debate going on in their camp as to whether or not they want the unions to be attached to their movement. Some think the bodies are great, others think the unions may co-opt the movement.
But at this point, the reality might be that there’s no turning back.
Look at a few numbers. The United Transit Workers, the first union to show support for OWS, has 38,000 members. But that pales in comparison to The United Federation of Teachers, who were also represented at yesterday’s rally, they have 200,000 members in NYC. SEIU 1199, the healthcare workers union, has 200,000 members as well.
Those are just a few examples, but you get the picture. And if you’re wondering when OWS is going to get some concrete demands to start backing, you don’t have to wait any longer. Unions have them.
The biggest one was quite simple— tax the rich.
The New York Professional Nurses Union rep said: “We say tax Wall Street and use the money for jobs, schools, and healthcare!”
Chris Johnson, of the Communication Workers of America: “It’s time the 1% made the sacrifices they’re telling us to make… It’s time to take back Wall Street and Main Street.”
Hector Figueroa of SEIU: “We are the indignados (downtrodden and angry) of New York, of the U.S., of the world… we do the work and they reap the benefits.”
And finally, the United Transit Workers: “Change will come when we reinstate the New York State millionaires tax.”
It doesn’t get any more clear than that.