“We are the 99 percent,” chanted members of the Communications Workers of America as they began the first leg of their 150-mile march from Albany, New York to Liberty Park in Lower Manhattan where they will join Occupy Wall Street on November 17 for a national day of action against corporate greed.
Many of the marchers work for Verizon Communications. Verizon, the 16th largest corporation in the US, and the CWA and IBEW, the two unions representing Verizon workers, have been locked in a contract dispute. The company insists on hundreds of millions of dollars in health care, pension, and job security concessions that would erode workers’ standard of living.
Verizon is making these demands even though over the last four years it has reported $22.5 billion in profits and paid its top five executives $258 million. The excessive executive pay puts the five in the top 0.1 percent of the richest 1 percent in the US.
“Verizon and Verizon Wireless workers are the 99 percent, and we are joining the Occupy Wall Street movement’s campaign to focus the world’s attention on the destructive power of corporate greed,” said Chris Shelton, CWA District One Vice President as CWA members rallied before their march began. “Everywhere you look in America, corporations are squeezing the middle-class in an endless race to the bottom of low wages and benefits. If Verizon can roll back fifty years of gains by their workers while they make billions in profits, then no one’s standard of living is safe. These marchers will demand that the American economy start to work for the 99 percent again, not just the Verizon top 1 percent.”
The Occupy Wall Street General Assembly called the November 17 day of action. People will rally, march, and engage in “peaceful direct action to reject the economy that divides us,” said a statement issued by the General Assembly. It will be a chance for people to demonstrate solidarity with all victims of corporate greed.
Similar days of action are planned in at least 13 US cities including Portland, Boston, Seattle, Milwaukee, Detroit, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Miami, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Los Angeles, and Sacramento.
More than 30 unions and other labor groups have announced support for the day of action. “I’ll be at the November 17 (day of action),” said Nina Howe, a nurse and member of 1199SEIU. “There’s plenty of money in this country, but the 99 percent don’t have it. It’s time for that to change–and to fund jobs, health care, housing, and education.”
In addition to CWA and SEIU, the Transport Workers Union, UAW Region 9A, United Federation of Teachers, Laborers Union, Teamsters, and AFL-CIO are just some of the unions that will participate in the day of action.
Among other things, those participating in the day of action will be demanding that Congress pass a jobs bill that puts people back to work and that it reject austerity measures, such as cutting Social Security and Medicare, that will likely be recommended by Congress’ joint deficit reduction committee.
The Occupy movement itself supports these demands but also recognizes that a decent jobs bill and stopping the austerity measures won’t be enough to end the mess that most working people find ourselves in today.
“The future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members. . .,” reads the Occupy statement announcing the day of action. “But corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth. . . . No true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.”
A recent report on negotiations between Verizon and the CWA and IBEW says that the company presented a new proposal on job security that does little to keep good-paying, middle-class jobs secure at Verizon. When it comes to job security, the CWA bargainers said, the company says, “trust us.” But they have done little to earn our trust.
CWA marchers, who left Albany on November 10, will march 20 to 25 miles a day and stop for rallies and leafletting at Verizon stores and work sites along the way. They will arrive in New York City on November 17 in time for the day of action.
“We’re at a critical point in this country’s history,” said Jake Lake, a CWA Local 1111 member in Binghamton, New York, who joined the march. “People need to get involved because if it tips one way, we’re in bad shape.”