As “Occupy” continues to grow, more unions – including those in D.C. – are joining the movement.
Occupy Wall Street protests have spread across America, from New York City to Oakland, Calif., and unions around the country are stepping forward to throw their support behind the protesters.
The movement, which started Sept. 17 with Occupy Wall Street and has since spread to over 900 cities around the world, has attracted vocal support from unions who are seeing their own power flounder in the face of new anti-union legislation. In cities such as New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., unions have marched alongside protesters and provided them with everything from monetary support to rain jackets and hats emblazoned with union logos.
The Occupy protests have come at a time when labor unions are struggling. The percentage of union participation is the lowest in history — less than 10 percent. Union members across the country, from the Teamsters to teachers, have been locked out of their jobs.
Since the passage of legislation in Wisconsin and Ohio curbing collective bargaining rights, nearly every state has followed suit, with legislators introducing more than 700 new bills. Ohio’s bill has been particularly contentious. On Nov. 8, Ohio will vote on whether to retain the law that affects over 350,000 workers.
Occupy’s reasons for protesting – lack of jobs, the bailouts of large corporations and tax breaks for the wealthy – are strikingly similar to the complaints of many labor unions. And what unions fight for – a living wage, retirement and health care packages, and workers’ rights – are the demands of the Occupy movement. At Occupy Wall Street, a popular chant is: “What’s disgusting? Union busting!”
“Basically Occupy Wall Street is the union movement,” Dennis Hayda said in an interview for the Al Jazeera English documentary program Fault Lines. Hayda is a former member of the United Electrical Workers who worked for more than 30 years at a manufacturing plant in Niles, Ohio. His plant was one of several shut down in July 2010, when General Electric moved production to China, leaving many workers unemployed.
“They want fair wages, they want to be treated equally, and they want to be treated with respect,” he told Al Jazeera. “That’s all they want.”
In Washington, the comparatively small Occupy protests are beginning to see support from local unions like 32BJ, the East Coast chapter of the Service Employees Union, which rallied with the protesters during the “Jobs and Justice” march on Oct. 15.
“The Occupy Wall Street protest and similar actions in other cities stem from a deep and growing frustration shared by many people about the state of our economy and our country,” Julie Karant, a spokeswoman for the union said. “32BJ supports Occupy Wall Street in its demand for an economy that works for all Americans.”
Washington houses the headquarters for many unions, including the Service Employees Union and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. It’s also crucially important as the city where national union and economic legislation is decided.
William Chase, a protester at Occupy D.C., who has been at McPherson Square since the protest began on Oct. 1, said that is the very reason why a protest in Washington is so important, to make their voices heard against what they believe is a corrupt system.
“Everybody from every walk of life is here,” he said. “We’re all out here to change the system so that it works for everybody.”