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Unions, civic groups to join Occupy Wall Street march

October 5, 2011 | 10:07 am

Protest

Unions and civic groups will join Wednesday with protesters from Occupy Wall Street to march in Manhattan, enlarging what started as an anti-establishment protest of perhaps a few hundred unemployed, mainly college-aged people.

Since the occupiers began their anti-Wall Street demonstrations last month, protests have been held or are planned in cities including Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles and Washington.

What organizers hope will be the largest protest is scheduled for Wednesday in Manhattan, where a coalition of more than a dozen unions and more than 20 community groups representing those who have been hard hit by the current economic downturn are scheduled to join a march at Foley Square.

“Our members have been frustrated by falling living standards and decreasing pensions and are struggling to fight back,” said Amalgamated Transit Union President Larry Hanley, who heads an organization representing 190,000 members across the country, including about 20,000 in the New York area.

Hanley said union members have been unable to afford a college education for their children. And of those children who do manage to graduate, many have been unable to find work and have moved back in with their parents.

“We saw the children of the middle class denied a future,” he said in a telephone interview.

When Occupy Wall Street demonstrations began in New York, it presented an opportunity for the union. “This was everything we believe,” he said. “We were not unmindful of what happened when our government bailed out the banks and not the workers. This was no-brainer for us [to join the protesters]."

Occupy Wall Street began as a leaderless, amorphous group numbering in the hundreds staying in Zuccotti Park near the New York Stock Exchange, the symbol of Wall Street power. They have voiced general opposition to Wall Street corruption and greed, which they blame for the nation’s current economic woes, and the inability of the political system to solve social and economic issues.

The group has staged marches and fostered street theater, surviving on food donated by supporters from around the nation. In that sense, it is similar to the protests in Wisconsin earlier this year against GOP plans to limit the power of public employee unions.

But the tactics are also similar to the early days of the “tea party” movement, the conservative version of popular anger. Those demonstrators blamed what they also saw as a failed political system that has been unable to deal with economic malaise and the ongoing governmental budget and political crises.

The tea party movement, now centered in a variety of local and national groups, has grown in just a few years to a force within the GOP as politicians and more established groups have adopted its causes.

With the addition of the trade unions, the occupiers are perhaps seeing that same evolution. Among the civic groups that are backing the effort are established liberal groups such as MoveOn.org. Some politicians, including former New York Gov. David Paterson, have stopped by to view the protests, whose central themes of taxing the rich and restraining Wall Street are already part of the language used by national Democrats.

For Hanley, participation is part of a social consciousness that unions have had since their inception.

“This is spontaneous combustion,” he said of the original anti-Wall Street demonstrations, one of which led to the arrest of 700 people in New York. “People understand that the American Dream is being directly challenged by globalization, corporate greed and the shift in income from the middle class to the rich.”

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-- Michael Muskal

Photo: Occupy L.A. protesters march along Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, where demonstrations  have taken place in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

 

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