Labor unions begin to support Wall Street protests

The Executive Board of the Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents 38,000 New York City transit system workers, last week voted to support the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations that have been going on now for almost three weeks. A labor-community coalition called Strong Economy for All announced that it would rally and march on October 5 to support those who are occupying Wall Street. Last Thursday 700 union airline pilots marched with Wall Street occupiers. The United Steelworkers recently issued a press release announcing its support for the Wall Street demonstrators.

The occupation of Wall Street began when a group of mostly young people set up camp in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan near the iconic heart of the financial and banking industry and began holding daily rallies and marches to protest corporate greed and our society’s growing inequality caused largely by Wall Street.

The labor movement while sympathetic to the major themes of the protest has not officially backed the Wall Street demonstrators. But that’s beginning to change.

Speaking on Countdown with Keith Olberman, John Samuelson, Local 100 president, said that the Wall Street demonstrators are fighting for a more equitable and just society, something for which Local 100 is also fighting.
“The protestors on Wall Street are singing the same song and fighting the same battle that our union has fought for the last 18 months,” Samuelson said. “Basically that working families in New York state are getting shafted while the wealthiest folks in New York state are getting tax breaks.”

Samuelson was referring to a recent tax cut, which he calls the millionaire tax cut, that reduces taxes on wealthy New Yorkers by an average of $408 per week, money that could be used to fund education, health care, and public investments that create jobs.

Samuelson said that a few hundred Local 100 members were participating in the protests on Friday but that he anticipated that the union would have a more organized and larger presence as time goes by.

TWU also said that it would join and support the march and rally on October 5 planned by Strong Economy for All (SEFA), whose members include the United Federation of Teachers, 1199 SEIU Health Care Workers East, SEIU Local 32 BJ, Communication Workers of America, New York Central Labor Council, Municipal Labor Committee, New York Communities for Change, Working Families Party, Alliance for Quality Education, Citizen Action, Coalition for the Homeless, and Make the Road New York.

The October 5 march against greed and the Big Banks will begin at City Hall then proceed down Wall Street. Those in the march will show their solidarity with the Wall Street protestors. “We’re looking to find common cause and support the effort (of the Wall Street protestors),” said Michael Kink, executive director of the SEFA. “It’s the right fight at the right time and we want to be part of it.”

Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, said that the Steelworkers were supporting the Wall Street occupiers because the banks and financial institutions have played a key role in driving down living standards for working people by encouraging and promoting job cuts, outsourcing, union busting, and the exploitation of labor at home and abroad.

“Our union has been standing up and fighting these captains of finance who  promote Wall Street over Main Street,” Gerard said. “We know firsthand the devastation caused by a global economy where workers, their families, the environment and our futures are sacrificed so that a privileged few can make more money on everyone’s labor but their own.”

Gerard also said that Wall Street’s financial speculation caused the financial crisis of 2008 that caused many to lose their homes and jobs and also caused cuts to public services like education and public safety. “They should have gone to jail,” Gerard said. “Instead, they got bailed out, while we got left out.”

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