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EDITOR’S COMMENT: Finally the outrage has emerged against bank excess and bank control over the levers of power in Washington and State capitals. Long festering, it has erupted into an uncontrollable burst of energy and it will change the landscape of American politics, American finance and the American lifestyles.

October 5, 2011

Seeking Energy, Unions Join Protest Against Wall Street

By and

Stuart Appelbaum, an influential union leader in New York City, was in Tunisia last month, advising the fledgling labor movement there, when he received a flurry of phone calls and e-mails alerting him to the rumblings of something back home. Protesters united under a provocative name, Occupy Wall Street, were gathering in a Lower Manhattan park and raising issues long dear to organized labor.

And gaining attention for it.

Mr. Appelbaum recalled asking a colleague over the phone to find out who was behind Occupy Wall Street — a bunch of hippies or perhaps troublemakers? — and whether the movement might quickly fade.

So far, at least, it has not, and on Wednesday, several prominent unions, struggling to gain traction on their own, made their first effort to join forces with Occupy Wall Street. Thousands of union members marched with the protesters from Foley Square to their encampment in nearby Zuccotti Park.

“The labor movement needs to tap into the energy and learn from them,” Mr. Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said. “They are reaching a lot of people and exciting a lot of people that the labor movement has been struggling to reach for years.”

In fact, the unexpected success of Occupy Wall Street in leveling criticism of corporate America has stirred some soul-searching among labor leaders. They have noted with envy that the new movement has done a far better job, not only of capturing interest, but also of attracting young people. Protests have spread to dozens of cities, including Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Several union leaders complained that their own protests over the past two years had received little attention, though they had put far more people on the streets than Occupy Wall Street has. A labor rally in Washington last October drew more than 100,000 people, with little news media coverage.

Behind the scenes in recent days, union leaders have debated how to respond to Occupy Wall Street. In internal discussions, some voiced worries that if labor were perceived as trying to co-opt the movement, it might alienate the protesters and touch off a backlash.

Others said they were wary of being embarrassed by the far-left activists in the group who have repeatedly denounced the United States government.

Those concerns may be renewed after a disturbance about 8 p.m. Wednesday as the march was breaking up. The police said they arrested eight protesters around the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street, after people rushed barriers and began spilling into the street. While a couple of witnesses said that officers used pepper spray to clear the streets, Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, said that one officer “possibly” used it. Several protesters were also arrested at State and Bridge Streets at 9:30 p.m.; the police said one protester was charged with assault after an officer was knocked off his scooter.

Despite questions about the protesters’ hostility to the authorities, many union leaders have decided to embrace Occupy Wall Street. On Wednesday, for example, members of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s executive council had a conference call in which they expressed unanimous support for the protest. One A.F.L.-C.I.O. official said leaders had heard from local union members wondering why organized labor was absent.

The two movements may be markedly different, but union leaders maintain that they can help each other — the weakened labor movement can tap into Occupy Wall Street’s vitality, while the protesters can benefit from labor’s money, its millions of members and its stature.

The labor leaders said they hoped Occupy Wall Street would serve as a counterweight to the Tea Party and help pressure President Obama and Congress to focus on job creation and other concerns important to unions.

“This is very much a crystallizing moment,” said Denise Mitchell, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s communications director. “We have to look for sparks wherever they are. It could be an opportunity to talk about what’s wrong with the system and how to make it better.”

Still, it may not be easy for organized labor to mesh with this new movement. Labor unions generally represent older workers, while the Occupy Wall Street protesters are younger. Unions are hierarchical, while the Occupy Wall Street protesters are more loosely knit and like to see themselves as highly democratic.

Unions invariably have a long and specific list of demands, while Occupy Wall Street has not articulated formal ones. Union leaders often like the limelight, while Occupy Wall Street is largely leaderless.

“Labor’s needed a way to excite younger people with their message,” Michael Kazin, a historian at Georgetown University, said. “And to the extent that Occupy Wall Street’s ‘99 percent versus 1 percent’ theme goes along with what labor has been saying for a while, it’s a natural fit.”

“But obviously,” said Professor Kazin, who has written several books on populist and progressive movements, “demographically, there may be some problems here. The protests haven’t gotten much institutional presence, and if labor can help give them institutional presence, that can really help them.”

Several major labor groups — including the Transport Workers Union, the Service Employees International Union, the United Federation of Teachers and the United Auto Workers — took part in the march on Wednesday. Some more traditionally conservative ones, like those in the construction trades, stayed away.

George White, 60, a retired union member who lives in Marine Park, Brooklyn, said it was up to the young protesters to champion bread-and-butter issues in the future. “Unions are on the way out,” he said. “These are the children of mothers and fathers who have worked hard all their lives and now can’t put food on the tables. These are the children who can’t pay off their loans, who have nowhere to go and no opportunities.”

Julie Fry, 32, a lawyer who is a member of the union at the Legal Aid Society, said labor’s backing of the protest was momentous, and born out of frustration.

“We’re so fed up and getting nowhere through the old political structures that there needs to be old-fashioned rage in the streets,” she said.

Before the march, protesters at the Occupy Wall Street encampment’s welcome table said that while the unions were welcome, they would be only one more base of support.

“The idea that the unions will take over the crowd, that’s not going to happen,” said Jeff Smith, 41, a freelancer in advertising who has been on the welcome committee since the protests began. “We are not a group looking for a leader.”

Others expressed frustration with the unions. Chris Cicala, 26, from Staten Island, said his father, a union painter, had been laid off, leaving his family without health insurance. “I don’t get where the unions have been for the past 10 years,” Mr. Cicala said.

Reporting was contributed by Al Baker, Joseph Goldstein, Rob Harris and Colin Moynihan.

8 Responses

  1. @DCB
    I got lost there, you take me to task over criminal wrongdoing in a free market system, criminal wrongdoing that can and should be prosecuted, after I make a comment that the union leadership is exactly like the Kremlin. I do not disagree with what you say, although I remind you that this is a site that is all about the fraud the banks laid on us in the name of profit. I am fine with talking about how 20,000 different government agencies fail daily to stop this kind of criminal activity, but I am not going to throw the baby out with the bath water. Crime is crime and should be prosecuted but if you think things will be better in a socialist or communist system you are sadly mistaken and you wish to exchange one type of criminal for another.

  2. @DCB

    I ditto what you say below.

    And what you say is why Warren Buffet says –

    ” You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.”

    The tide is going out in the financial world and they are trying to wear clothes………..

    “Over the years, Charlie and I have observed many accounting-based frauds of staggering size. Few of the perpetrators have been punished; many have not even been censured. It has been far safer to steal large sums with pen than small sums with a gun.”

    Warren and Charlie know of the corruption in Wall St and the Governments of the world.

    “Investors making purchases in an overheated market need to recognize that it may often take an extended period for the value of even an outstanding company to catch up with the price they paid.”

    Sub investors with homeowners and sub company with home………..and you realize citizens have been took.

  3. Hey HK

    Where are those free markets—you mean the free-wheelers that walk out the boardroom and race each other to leak the insider stuff—-or the casino gambling CDS and shorts that clump up to drive a stock or bond into the hole with free cash “injected into the system” by the fed?

    ok they already stole my house–now they are after the damn pension monies through blatant market signaling

    or maybe the congressman giving the high sign on a committee vote

    when they send a kid out to make bets like that french guy—–but then tell him–just dont lose–of course hes gonna cheat any way he can–now thats way past houses–its entire lives being sucked into that hole–entire countries—and this will be one if they are not stopped

    wake up

  4. I, for one, will not align myself with leftist union thugs that get paid to go demonstrate on the backs of the rank and file. These unions are now nothing more than a microcosm of russian communist society, with the haves, the ruling elite, and the have nots, the rank and file. I have been having a problem with the socialistic and communistic tone of these “protests” and now I see that my misgivings were warranted…If you want to protest that the banks did soemthing criminal then fine, if you want to protest legal capitalism and free markets then you lose my support.

  5. boycot what?

  6. We need a massive debtors union. No more payments until 2% on all debts. Penalties, fees and foreclosure mill services deleted. Secured status of mortgages disclosed -paper trail and money trail. True creditors and application of past and present payments disclosed. Homes owned outright and those who have paid on time get a bonus stimulus (ie moral hazard issue). Those who lost homes illegally cannot be compensated enough….something must be paid and they should receive their home back or another home. All homes with mortgages marked down to the same ltv at origination of the existing mortgage adjusted to current sale prices. Public owned banking on the model of North Dakota – temporarily or permanently. Boycott until demands for fairness are met. 12 trillion has already been wasted.

  7. The labor leaders are erroneously stereotyping Tea Party as simply right wing religious zealot republicans. That group may be in part included and noisy but the group also includes many disaffected moderate republicans and dems that cant swallow immigration, govt waste and corruption—these people are loosely connected to Tea Party religious zealots—because there is simply no other alternative “disgruntled” group that is expressing disgust with mainstream 2-party corrupt politics. I doubt anybody in the Tea Party is going to be weaping about banks getting a bad rap—although its not exactly sunk in that the banks had cheated both homeowners and pension fund investors [ also tea partiers] —but with repeated bailouts acting as bookends to banker billion dollar bonus pools— they are now seeing the handwriting on the wall.

    And its going to get worse—-the europeans are preparing to write down the sovereign debts by approximately 50% across the board–today they are saying in Financial Times that it is necessary to set up a $2 trillion bailout pool for the euro-banks. The US banks insurers and pension funds are also large holders of the overleveraged euro banks’ bonds as well as sovereign debt–so just as soon as Jamie Dimon stops yelling about how unfairly he is being treated by being asked to live by rules [of any sort] —hes going to be DEMANDING a huge bailout again in time to make another bonus pool distribution. when that happens the Tea Party folks will join hands with those kids–who are children and grandchildren of the Tea partiers. In fact–probably lots of those kids are hearing at home how awful the banks are–the kids have no money–no credit—who do you think they are speaking for–they cant get jobs–but they are speaking to the seizure of their parents’ homes and their grandparents social secuity,

    There is no group that supports the bankers–if we really had a functioning democracy those monsters would be hanging from scaffolds in prison yards. Maybe they will keep pushing on “the 99” until we all set aside our petty differences and look true evil in the face and WE DEMAND that Jamie Dimon gets what he is truly entitled to and that is a hearty last meal before facing the hangman–or firing squad–let him have his choice.. The kids probably think the death penalty for crimes against humanity is wrong–but as a fiscal conservative, I do not want to pay for more than one meal and a length of rope. Or turn him over to the Germans–or maybe the Greeks.

  8. please help—thank you!

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