Declaring that “Wall Street’s out of control,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has embraced street protests such as the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations—and others like them that are planned for cities across the country.
Asked about the ongoing mass protest in New York’s financial district, which has begun to gain support from major unions, Trumka said Friday morning: “I think it’s a tactic and a valid tactic to call attention to a problem. Wall Street is out of control. We have three imbalances in this country—the imbalance between imports and exports, the imbalance between employer power and working power, and the imbalance between the real economy and the financial economy. We need to bring back balance to the financial economy, and calling attention to it and peacefully protesting is a very legitimate way of doing it.”
Hailing the power of street protests to shift the dialogue, Trumka said, “I think being in the streets and calling attention to issues is sometimes the only recourse you have because, God only knows, you can go to the Hill, and you can talk to a lot of people and see nothing ever happen…”
Organized largely by young people and initially neglected by much of the media and major political players, the Occupy Wall Street protest has begun to attract global attention, as prominent figures such as filmmaker Michael Moore and Dr. Cornel West have joined the hundreds of demonstrators who have maintained a steady presence since thousands of anticorporate activists massed on September 17.
Trumka’s remarks came as key union locals began to endorse the Occupy Wall Street protests, which have gained increasing attention over the past two weeks. Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents 38,000 New York City transit workers (and 26,000 retirees), endorsed the protests Wednesday, with a statement that read:
The Transport Workers Union Local 100 applauds the courage of the young people on Wall Street who are dramatically demonstrating for what our position has been for some time: the shared sacrifice preached by government officials looks awfully like a one-way street. Workers and ordinary citizens are putting up all the sacrifice, and the financiers who imploded our economy are getting away scot-free, increasing their holdings and bonuses.
Young people face a bleak future with high unemployment, and minimum-wage jobs. Public sector workers face Mayors and Governors who demand massive wage and benefits givebacks or face thousands of layoffs. That’s not bargaining. That’s blackmail.
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Local 100 spokesman Jim Gannon said: “These young folks are out there and they’re singing our tune, and they’re saying what we’ve been saying for quite some time, that the so-called shared sacrifice is a one-way street. Young people face high unemployment, it’s very difficult to get jobs and in many ways they’re in the same boat as public sector workers are. So we all get together and who knows, this might become a movement.”
Gannon linked the Wall Street protests of recent weeks with the protests earlier this year in Madison, Wisconsin, where Republican Governor Scott Walker attacked collective-bargaining rights for public employees.
“In Madison they were fighting for themselves but they weren’t only fighting for themselves. It hit a chord with a lot of people across the country, not just union workers,” explained Gannon. “And I think [Occupy Wall Street] is starting to hit a real chord, especially with blue-collar workers.”
Trumka, who marched in Madison in February, sounded a similar theme Friday.
“Our international unions are involved, our locals are involved, and you’ll see a lot of working people” Trumka said of protests against Wall Street abuses. “You’ll see a lot of small business people. You’ll see a lot of manufacturing people who actually produce in this country [and] are being stepped on the same way by multinationals in Wall Street.”
During discussion of unemployment and economic issues at the Brookings Institute, Trumka was asked about the Occupy Wall Street protests by Paul Crist, an Americans for Democratic Action board member, who began: “My question actually has to do with the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests that are going on in New York City, and there’s been some recent activity where some union locals are kind of becoming involved in that, and I was wondering if you have an opinion on some of the AFL-CIO national member organizations, kind of beginning to take a role in that because I sort of think that that street demonstration activity is sort of forcing dialogue on the issues that you’re talking about.”
“I happen to agree with you,” Trumka responded, as he expressed his own faith in the power of street protests. “God only knows, I’ve done it thousands of times myself, and may do it again.”
He’ll have an opportunity to “do it again” on October 5, when a planned march will show solidarity with protests and the broader struggle to hold Wall Street to account. Many unions—including the United Federation of Teachers, 32BJ SEIU & 1199 SEIU and Workers United—are expected to join Transport Workers Union Local 100 members in that march, which has also drawn encouragement from the Working Families Party, Moveon.org, Make the Road New York, the Coalition for the Homeless, the Alliance for Quality Education, Community Voices Heard, United New York and Strong Economy For All