October 31 - November 1, 2011
Revised from: "Unions Assume A Support Role For Occupy Movement" and Response
By Lil Joe
"Labor unions have become a growing force in the Occupy movement. That shouldn't be surprising since the movement is succeeding at advancing a message unions have been trying to convey for a long time: that the ultra-wealthy are taking more than their fair share. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered a speech on Wall Street shortly after he took office in 2009. "Our economy falters and people suffer," he said then. "But the richest 1 percent — they're living high on the hog."
Subjective anger and denouncing of 'Wall Street fat cats', 'banksters', 'the top 1%', 'the rich', and slogans such as 'feed the needy, not the 'greedy', and 'people before profits', show the success of demogogues appeal to emotions rather than reason and the gullibility of those who don't understand the objective laws of motion of capitalist commodity production by wage labor, proposing proclivities -virtues and vices - of individuals, as opposed to objective analysis of capitalist modes of production and appropriation determining class interests in conflict. Here is Rhodes, leap here!
The issue is not one of who is an 'ultra-wealthy' or 'richest 1 percent' that's 'living high on the hog' [see http://www.cnbc.com/id/44960983/Protests_Target_One_Percent_But_Who_Exactly_Are_They] - the question is not who they are but, in the language of economic category, what they are.
As Karl Marx:
To prevent possible misunderstanding, a word. I paint the capitalist and the landlord in no sense couleur de rose [i.e., seen through rose-tinted glasses]. But here individuals are dealt with only in so far as they are the personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class-relations and class-interests. My standpoint, from which the evolution of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history, can less than any other make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he socially remains, however much he may subjectively raise himself above them. http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/p1.htm
The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself. It is that capital and its self-expansion appear as the starting and the closing point, the motive and the purpose of production; that production is only production for capital and not vice versa, the means of production are not mere means for a constant expansion of the living process of the society of producers. The limits within which the preservation and self-expansion of the value of capital resting on the expropriation and pauperisation of the great mass of producers can alone move — these limits come continually into conflict with the methods of production employed by capital for its purposes, which drive towards unlimited extension of production, towards production as an end in itself, towards unconditional development of the social productivity of labour. The means — unconditional development of the productive forces of society — comes continually into conflict with the limited purpose, the self-expansion of the existing capital. The capitalist mode of production is, for this reason, a historical means of developing the material forces of production and creating an appropriate world-market and is, at the same time, a continual conflict between this its historical task and its own corresponding relations of social production. http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1894-c3/ch15.htm
Objective economic analysis is my standpoint as well.
To be clear - this is the historical philosophical and subsequent legel meaning of the term Person, including the statement that capitalist's Corporations are Persons - which is not to be confused with the concept of 'people' - i.e. homo sapiens - as Mitt Romney tried to twist it's meaning by shear demogoguery.
The historical and etymological meaning of the term person is predicated upon the fact that a community of prople are different with different interests and ambitions.
Thomas Hobbes asserted (without presenting any empirical evidence of documentation) that these self-serving people were previously in what he called 'state of nature' [individuals as greedy, vain, selfish, egotistic murderers in a 'war of all abainst all' - 'life was nasty, brutish and short'. This point of view was also adopted by Hegel.
In both cases the objective was to base on this fictitious 'history' of 'man' arguments against democracy qua mass rule or 'tyranny of the majority' and in favor of absolute or at the very least for Constitutional Monarchy.
The same viewpoint was appropriated by U.S. Federalist Alexander Hamalton's paraphasing of Hobbes, that 'human nature' -i.e. 'Man' is 'by nature': "ambitious, vindicative and rapacious"; but, also George Washington. The Constitutional Convention was in reaction and opposed to the Declaration of Independence and the Shays Rebellion.
Hobbesian doctrine served the interests of propertied classes in opposition to democractic instincts of the yoemen and proletarians: the ones that actually fought the colonist's War of Independence - who had read and believed the Thomas Jefferson formulation, on the intellectual basis of John Locke's 2nd Treatise on Civil Government and Jean Jacque Rousseau's The Social Contract, that the war of independence was predicated upon the "all men are created equal, and have the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" -that "man is born free". This premise of the colonist's Declaration of Independence was argued and articulated in/ by Thomas Paine's articulation: Common Sense!
Consistent with Rousseau and on the basis of Locke's logic; political as philosophical-ideologico-political arguments were presented in contrast to metaphysics as etheral ideas seperated from material lust: etheral, ideational beings that have no flesh rather than sensuous positives Jefferson's logic contrasted to his being -the slave owner. Whereas - Patrick Henry, but especially Thomas Paine - both were abolitionists. Patrick Henry quiped of the Constitutional Convention: "I smell a rat". He boycotted the Constitutional Convention, as did Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine.
Those whose class interests were personified in Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists, were Hobbesian counter-revolutionary. This is why Conservatives love the Constitution and attack Jefferson, whereas every rebellious movement of slaves -the Abolitionists- oppressed gender, workers and minorities in the United States base the intellectual arguments for their rebellions on the Declaration of Independence, even the Bill of Rights argument was based on the Declaration of Independence!
Hobbes was a monarchist against the democratic proclivities in the English Revelution of the Levellers, the English Revolution of 1640. He was in support of Cromwell's version of republicanism, of a strong Executive at any rate, but in opposition to John Locke and Rousseau as appropriated by Jefferson so, the Constitutional Convention was in opposition to the language of the Continental Congress' Declaration of Independence.
Hobbes assertions regarding a prehistoric man in a state of nature, consciously, or unconsciously, fed into the subliminal ideological culture of capitalist Britain -Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. http://www.users.muohio.edu/mandellc/capit.htm
Civil society - class based on modes of appropriations' relations of production are corresponding to modes of production forms of distribution between producers and appropriaters. The producing classes, their labor and work is the basis of every Civil Society: humanity, and therefore no society can exist without means of production and consumption. "The question has often been asked, in what degree are the different classes of society useful or even necessary? And the answer was naturally a different one for every different epoch of history considered. There was undoubtedly a time when a territorial aristocracy was an unavoidable and necessary element of society. That, however, is very, very long ago. Then there was a time when a capitalist middle class, a bourgeoisie as the French call it, arose with equally unavoidable necessity, struggled against the territorial aristocracy, broke its political power, and in its turn became economically and politically predominant. But, since classes arose, there never was a time when society could do without a working class. The name, the social status of that class has changed; the serf took the place of the slave, to be in his turn relieved by the free working man -- free from servitude but also free from any earthly possessions save his own labour force. But it is plain: whatever changes took place in the upper, non-producing ranks of society, society could not live without a class of producers. This class, then, is necessary under all circumstances -- though the time must come, when it will no longer be a class, when it will comprise all society. " http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1881/08/06.htm
The producing classes therefore, by their labor, transform Nature (natural resources) into raw materials and usefule things/ consumer products.
"Labour is, in the first place, a process in which both man and Nature participate, and in which man of his own accord starts, regulates, and controls the material re-actions between himself and Nature. He opposes himself to Nature as one of her own forces, setting in motion arms and legs, head and hands, the natural forces of his body, in order to appropriate Nature's productions in a form adapted to his own wants. By thus acting on the external world and changing it, he at the same time changes his own nature. He develops his slumbering powers and compels them to act in obedience to his sway. We are not now dealing with those primitive instinctive forms of labour that remind us of the mere animal. An immeasurable interval of time separates the state of things in which a man brings his labour-power to market for sale as a commodity, from that state in which human labour was still in its first instinctive stage. We pre-suppose labour in a form that stamps it as exclusively human. A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement. He not only effects a change of form in the material on which he works, but he also realises a purpose of his own that gives the law to his modus operandi, and to which he must subordinate his will. And this subordination is no mere momentary act. Besides the exertion of the bodily organs, the process demands that, during the whole operation, the workman's will be steadily in consonance with his purpose. This means close attention. The less he is attracted by the nature of the work, and the mode in which it is carried on, and the less, therefore, he enjoys it as something which gives play to his bodily and mental powers, the more close his attention is forced to be.
"The elementary factors of the labour-process are 1, the personal activity of man, i.e., work itself, 2, the subject of that work, and 3, its instruments.
"The soil (and this, economically speaking, includes water) in the virgin state in which it supplies  man with necessaries or the means of subsistence ready to hand, exists independently of him, and is the universal subject of human labour. All those things which labour merely separates from immediate connexion with their environment, are subjects of labour spontaneously provided by Nature. Such are fish which we catch and take from their element, water, timber which we fell in the virgin forest, and ores which we extract from their veins. If, on the other hand, the subject of labour has, so to say, been filtered through previous labour, we call it raw material; such is ore already extracted and ready for washing. All raw material is the subject of labour, but not every subject of labour is raw material: it can only become so, after it has undergone some alteration by means of labour.
An instrument of labour is a thing, or a complex of things, which the labourer interposes between himself and the subject of his labour, and which serves as the conductor of his activity. He makes use of the mechanical, physical, and chemical properties of some substances in order to make other substances subservient to his aims.  Leaving out of consideration such ready-made means of subsistence as fruits, in gathering which a man's own limbs serve as the instruments of his labour, the first thing of which the labourer possesses himself is not the subject of labour but its instrument. http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch07.htm
"Social relations are closely bound up with productive forces. In acquiring new productive forces men change their mode of production; and in changing their mode of production, in changing the way of earning their living, they change all their social relations. The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist.
"The same men who establish their social relations in conformity with the material productivity, produce also principles, ideas, and categories, in conformity with their social relations.
"Thus the ideas, these categories, are as little eternal as the relations they express. They are historical and transitory products. http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/poverty-philosophy/ch02.htm
"Capital has not invented surplus-labour. Wherever a part of society possesses the monopoly of the means of production, the labourer, free or not free, must add to the working-time necessary for his own maintenance an extra working-time in order to produce the means of subsistence for the owners of the means of production,  whether this proprietor be the Athenian caloň cagaqoň [well-to-do man], Etruscan theocrat, civis Romanus [Roman citizen], Norman baron, American slave-owner, Wallachian Boyard, modern landlord or capitalist.  It is, however, clear that in any given economic formation of society, where not the exchange-value but the use-value of the product predominates, surplus-labour will be limited by a given set of wants which may be greater or less, and that here no boundless thirst for surplus-labour arises from the nature of the production itself. http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch10.htm#S2
In Nature there are herbivores, carnivores and omnivores.
"In nature all species devour each other, and in society all the classes feed on one another. The worse times get, the more idioms multiply. Whatever the man is worth, that's what the job is worth, and conversely, in the end, whatever the job is worth, that's what the man is worth. So we value the job as much as we can." (Diderot http://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/diderot/rameau_e.htm)
Determinants characterizing the contemporary form of capitalist modes of appropriation, i.e. features of and therefore characterising the mode of production and distribution characteristic of homo sapiens, that which in capitalism distinguishes economic categories is not how much money an individual 'makes', but how they appropriate it: how, i.e. by what method, do conflicting classes get it. The mode of income is what defines classes and what determines what they are.
This brings us back to Hobbes and the U.S. Constitution and what it is that determines and defines the class content of the economic basis and [by this determination] what is described and what is meant by the philosophical, political and therefore legal term Person.
In response to the English bourgeois dominated Parliamentary Revolution against the Monarchy and its train of aristocrats that constituted the House of Lords, this discussion was first presented by Thomas Hobbes in his "Leviathan":
Chapter XVI: Of Persons, Authors, and Things Personated. A PERSON is he whose words or actions are considered, either as his own, or as representing the words or actions of another man, or of any other thing to whom they are attributed, whether truly or by fiction.
When they are considered as his own, then is he called a natural person: and when they are considered as representing the words and actions of another, then is he a feigned or artificial person.
The word person is Latin, instead whereof the Greeks have prosopon, which signifies the face, as persona in Latin signifies the disguise, or outward appearance of a man, counterfeited on the stage; and sometimes more particularly that part of it which disguiseth the face, as a mask or vizard: and from the stage hath been translated to any representer of speech and action, as well in tribunals as theatres. So that a person is the same that an actor is, both on the stage and in common conversation; and to personate is to act or represent himself or another; and he that acteth another is said to bear his person, or act in his name (in which sense Cicero useth it where he says, Unus sustineo tres personas; mei, adversarii, et judicis- I bear three persons; my own, my adversary's, and the judge's), and is called in diverse occasions, diversely; as a representer, or representative, a lieutenant, a vicar, an attorney, a deputy, a procurator, an actor, and the like.
Of persons artificial, some have their words and actions owned by those whom they represent. And then the person is the actor, and he that owneth his words and actions is the author, in which case the actor acteth by authority. For that which in speaking of goods and possessions is called an owner, and in Latin dominus in Greek kurios; speaking of actions, is called author. And as the right of possession is called dominion so the right of doing any action is called authority. So that by authority is always understood a right of doing any act; and done by authority, done by commission or license from him whose right it is.
From hence it followeth that when the actor maketh a covenant by authority, he bindeth thereby the author no less than if he had made it himself; and no less subjecteth him to all the consequences of the same. And therefore all that hath been said formerly (Chapter XIV) of the nature of covenants between man and man in their natural capacity is true also when they are made by their actors, representers, or procurators, that have authority from them, so far forth as is in their commission, but no further. http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/hobbes/leviathan-c.html#CHAPTERXVI
It is on the basis of the Hobbesian philosophical meaning, that is implicit in the economic content, the determinant meaning appropriated by the U.S. capitalist's political ruling class what is the judgement. Not just capital [corporation] but its artificial abstract quantification is itself 'Person'!
A capitalist corporation as Person is not synonymous with people, i.e. a corporation is not defined as homo sapien. A corporation is an association of capital: a class organization - capital personified by its function as management of capitalist commodity production by the appropriation of productive forces and labor power by purchase, and of the exploitation of wageworkers.
Economic categories are modes of appropriation's relations of production and corresponding classes. There are 'rich' capitalists, but capitalists are not defined as 'millionares and billionares', the 'top one to five or ten percent' of the nations population. The 'rich' may also include doctors, lawyers, athletes, entertainers and so on, as well as industrial, agricultural, merchant and finance capitalists.
The money power of capitalists is also the basis of their political power: in the United States capitalists distribute money to their political personifications, class parties. Corporation is a Person, Money is not 'speech', but a social power.
Being a 'human being' has nothing to do with being or having "an inalienable right to self-expression". Homo sapiens have at different times and locations organized themselves in different technoeconomic relations of production and corresponding sociopolitical structures.
The 13 British colonies in their Declaration of Independence sprouted rhetoric based on John Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government about 'unalienable rights', but this is not in the Constitution of the United States. Freedom of Assembly, Speech and so on were forced by the yoemen and farmers to be added as 'Amendments' to the Constitution. Besides, rights are not based on the existence of individual members of the species but of citizens - when the U.S. Constitution and subsequent Bill of Rights was written, only property owners of the male gender were regarded as citizens with political and civil rights.
Labor unions, as economic organizations that protect and advance the interests of specific categories of wage workers against the encroachments of capital, personify the interests of wage workers. But, thus far in the United States, workers have no class party and thus have no political representation of our social power. To have political power the working class has to have a Labor Party that is financially based in trade unions and socially in the class as a whole.
The Capitalist Class is the class in possession of the productive forces. Based on possession, it purchases and exploits wage workers. Wage workers, also known as the Working Class, are the class that sells its labor power in order to live. The profits of capital are derived from the appropriation of labor power from workers, separating them from the products of their labor and exploitation of those worker's labor processes. In the language of economic science, viz-a-viz value and surplus value, all the products of the labor process are alienated objects embodying value, the portion of socially necessary labor time expended is valorised in production, transferred to the products, is paid to the workers in the monetary equivalent, wages. The unpaid, surplus labor time expended is value added in this same labor process is the surplus produce that upon selling of those commodities is realised in monetary form, profits.
What has been happening is that the capitalist mode of production, capitalist commodity production on the basis of wage labor - the capitalist mode of appropriation of labor power and exploitation of labor, is in self-destruction resulting from its own internal irreconcilable contradictions. Thus, where Trumka speaks of 'our economy' faltering, which betray his identification with the capitalist owners of the economy, it is a nationalistic red herring.
As pointed out in previous write-ups, Richard Trumka and the officials of unions in the Democratic Party, big shots at the Democratic Party Conventions and paraded around by General Electric's MSNBC by its television pundit-propagandists, such as, the opportunist, demogogues Al Sharpton, Lawrence O'Donnell and the prime demogogue Ed Shultz. They are Democrats. Trumka is also a Democrat.
As far as unions are workers' organization in the physical realm, Trumka is a worker, but as the Democratic Party is a capitalist class organization in the political realm and Trumka is a cadre functionary in that Party, he is a class collaborator. Thus, as wage workers and capitalists interests are mutually exclusive and irreconcilable, Trumka is collaborating with the enemy. Insomuch as Trumka functions as a Democrat, he is the agent of the class enemy among workers and operates against workers' class interests.
The Democratic Party is the party that held the majority in the House of Representatives and Senate for the first two years of the Obama administration: both the administration's Presidential proposals and its initiatives and the Congressional legislation of these years rejected the Union proposal for Employee Free Choice Act legislation. The Democratic Party rejected defense of workers' rights to organize unions free of capitalist intimidation, rejected single payer heath care legislation, the public option and even rejected legislation to end the US capitalist pharmaceutical monopoly pricing of medicines, as well as on behalf of turning over trillions of dollars to finance capital - the so-called 'bank bailouts' - extended the Bush era tax cuts and turned over a trillion dollars to industrial capitalists in the auto industry while forcing workers in those industries to submit to reduced wages and benefits.
The issue here, therefore, is not what percentage of the 'population' has the highest 'income', but how they get it and thus, it is a class issue. The question of 'wealth' is an issue of class.
Republicans became the majority in the House of Representatives in 2010. The same as when they were the majorities, so now with this excuse - 'compromise' and 'putting country first' - the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress have been collaborating with reactionary Republicans in the cutting of trillions from programs of benefit to workers and the poor. As money is but an expression of wealth, these 'budget cuts' are depriving the working class access to the wealth of objects that in fact are the products of their own, alienated and exploited, labor power and work.
The wealth of nations are the products of labor. The capitalist classes, are the appropriating rather than the producing classes. The Capitalist Class is therefore an economic parasite.
What 'money' the working class gets from government is from the wealth that this productive class has produced that has been taken by the State in the form of taxes. Even the taxes paid by capitalists is a portion of the quantity this class has appropriated from the exploitation of wage workers.
The Republican Party politicians and their political propagandists on radio and television have the gall to propose that the capitalists get tax cuts and the elimination of regulation of their otherwise wreckless exploitation of wage workers as 'incentives' to 'create jobs' - i.e. appropriate and exploit wage workers! The Democrats have supported the same thing. As pointed on Occupy Wall Street Forum:
"Wake up people! have you actually read the bill, or just followed the deceptive narrative fed to you? Here is the thing, this past December, the President pushed the then Democratic Congress to pass a TWO YEAR Tax cut re-authorization bill (aka Bush Tax cuts bill). He signed the bill at the end of December. This means that Congress passed a tax cut bill that is good for TWO YEARS. Do you honestly believe that only 10 months later, the President and Congress have any intention of reversing that now? NO, it's all a deceptive P.R. game, meant to keep people tied up in their 'divide and conquer' game. Both parties are fully bought and paid for by the Corporate cartel, do you not get that yet? Did you also notice that part of the President's "jobs" bill includes additional payroll tax cuts? Do you know what that means? He wants to further weaken our Social Security and Medicare funds by further cutting their only source of revenue--the payroll taxes!! FICA and Medicare taxes ARE the payroll taxes he so deceptively speaks of. Please wake up!! This past December, sneaked into the Two year tax cut re-authorization bill, was a 2% FICA tax cut, and that alone cut the Social Security Fund's revenue by $128 Billion Dollars! Now he wants to cut its revenue more! What this means is that he is "offering" you an extra dollar on your pay now, in exchange for no Social Security benefits when you retire-since those revenue cuts are going to end up destroying the only solvent fund we have! Please wake up and stop paying attention to the deceptive P.R. crap you hear from members of both parties----their owners are the corporate cartel and they are working for them, not us! http://occupywallst.org/forum/the-obama-jobs-bill/
The clap trap about capitalists 'paying their fair share' assumes the lie that this class of exploiters had 'earned it'. Capitalists 'contributing' taxes for the benefit of the working class in terms of 'fairness' is as ridiculously stupid as if a robber, who beat a man up side the head, takes his money from him, and then, from that money 'returns' to the victim, say ten dollars from the hundred taken from him, so that the victim can pay taxi fare home or to hospital as the robber's 'fair contribution' to the welfare of the robbed victim.
The so-called 'debt deal' and the directives of the supercommittee to cut a trillion plus, is no deal that is in the interests of the working class.
President Obama proposes three trillion dollars more cuts from workers social programs, proposing more tax cuts to the capitalist exploiters as incentive to 'hire workers', along with turning over billions more to capitalists to finance the so-called rebuild America stimulous spending. Capitalists in the construction and road works industries don't have to invest their own money in the appropriation of materials and labor power to turn a profit by exploiting those workers, as the wage will be paid by the taxes of workers, therefore the capitalists get pure profits. Trumka has apologised for the adminstration's policies and backs the so-called 'jobs bill' cutting trillions and financing capitalist investments in rebuilding infrastructure.
This is true of Trumka and all Democrats, including their television propagandists. In this NPR article [below] Jeff Brady asserts from Richard Hurd, labor studies professor, Cornell University:
"The unions and Occupy protesters didn't immediately warm up to each other though. Before getting too involved, the unions had to be sure the movement was here to stay and that protests would remain nonviolent, according to Cornell University Labor Studies Professor Richard Hurd. "And the protesters certainly don't want the labor movement to come in and take over their movement," says Hurd. "They feel that they own it, they started it, they created some energy around it."
Who the hell is Richard Hurd? On what authority has he arrogated upon himself to speak on behalf of 'the unions' and 'the protesters'? None! He has not been elected by 'the unions', nor by 'the protesters' to speak of their mindsets or what they 'feel', neither is he clairavoyant. He is what he does - what he is paid to do by the capitalist to do: he has the authority of Cornell university and to speak on their behalf, and against the interests of the working class!
The more organised labor joins as workers the 'occupy Wall Street' movement, it is evident that those participants in general are not just a percenatage of a population, but workers or their children and grandchildren. It is necessary to drop the nebulous slogan 'we are the 99%', displace it with the empirical fact: We are the working class!
The objective is not to force 'the rich' to 'pay their fair share', but to abolish the existence of wealth and poverty by the abolition of commodity production and wage labor, by the producers of the wealth of society taking possession of the productive forces and putting an end to markets and therefore of money as means of distribution.
"The State puts in circulation bits of paper on which their various denominations - inconvertible paper money issued by the State and having compulsory circulation"(Marx).
Money i.e. in the forms of paper currency and coins as tokens, represents value but is not value. A paper dollar as paper has no more 'value' than the paper's cost of production. The 'value' of paper with "$100" stamped on it has the same cost price as the paper with "$1" or "$1000" printed on it. The value currency represents is enforced by the State, the authority of the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Bank, and, as money, as such, it is invested in the production of material wealth.
Material measurable value of human life, is quantified as the socially necessary labor time required to reproduce humanity by producing means of production and consumption necessary for human consumption and health. The value crystalized in commodities, wealth, is the labor objectified in the form of useful things as commodities: workers produce it, capitalists own it - workers, by the sale of their labor power, it, and therefore its products, are alienated from those producers.
Once the working class appropriate the productive forces the entire economic system will be changed: labor power ceases to be a commodity that is sold, bought, alienated and exploited. Once there is no commodity production there will be no money and therefore no banks. In a Society of social producers production and distribution will be democratically decided by the producers on the basis of rational common human interests. Wall Street will be no more than useless buildings, a museum reminder of a vicious economy of the past.
* * * * *
Unions Assume A Support Role For Occupy Movement
by Jeff Brady
October 29, 2011
Listen to the Story
Weekend Edition Saturday
October 29, 2011
Attend just about any of the Occupy Wall Street-inspired protests across the country and you're likely to see a group of people dressed in matching union T-shirts somewhere in the crowd. Typically, they're older than your average Occupy protester but no less enthusiastic in their chanting.
Union posters can be found all over the Occupy Philadelphia protest site near City Hall. Protesters and local union leaders meet regularly to discuss tactics and how to involve labor.
"I've been doing this [protesting] for five decades," said Mike Wisniewski at a recent Occupy Philadelphia protest at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Wisniewski says he's a university library employee and has been a union member since 1972.
Labor unions have become a growing force in the Occupy movement. That shouldn't be surprising since the movement is succeeding at advancing a message unions have been trying to convey for a long time: that the ultra-wealthy are taking more than their fair share.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered a speech on Wall Street shortly after he took office in 2009. "Our economy falters and people suffer," he said then. "But the richest 1 percent — they're living high on the hog."
Cautiously Joining Forces
That sounds similar to the "We are the 99 percent" message of Occupy protesters.
"As Occupy Wall Street gathered steam it was sort of like, well, they're doing the same thing we were doing; we better be part of this," says Damon Silvers, policy director and special counsel at the AFL-CIO.
The protesters certainly don't want the labor movement to come in and take over their movement.
- Richard Hurd, labor studies professor,, Cornell University
The unions and Occupy protesters didn't immediately warm up to each other though. Before getting too involved, the unions had to be sure the movement was here to stay and that protests would remain nonviolent, according to Cornell University Labor Studies Professor Richard Hurd.
"And the protesters certainly don't want the labor movement to come in and take over their movement," says Hurd. "They feel that they own it, they started it, they created some energy around it."
So far the unions seem satisfied playing a supporting role.
"I think we know that this is a movement led by students and we're not leading this movement as union people," says Paul Dannenfelser, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1723.
Dannenfelser and union leaders across the country are participating in labor outreach committees set up by Occupy protesters. He says he has regular, informal meetings with organizers of Occupy Philadelphia.
Welcoming Union Support, But Wanting More
Downtown, in front of City Hall, there are several dozen tents set up, along with two lending libraries, a place to receive medical care and an area for artists to hang out. Protesters here welcome union involvement.
"I feel like the 99 percent involves a lot of people, and that includes the unions," says Leila Wright, a protester from West Philadelphia. "I've marched with them and I support them."
"They [unions] are the spinal cord of the left; they're the backbone," says Stanley Joseph, who lives in northwest Philadelphia. "I think we're helping bring attention to their issues, just like we're bringing attention to many other issues."
Some of the protesters think unions should be playing an even larger role. Look around the Occupy Philadelphia site on a weekday afternoon and the only sign of unions are actual signs: There are posters everywhere that read "Workers rights are human rights," but no union tent or other permanent presence.
Marlene Bodner with the group Granny Peace Brigade says if unions really supported protesters, they'd be here.
"It would mean they'd have a table here and they'd be walking around and embedding themselves in this," she says, "and they're not."
AFSCME's Dannenfelser says unions don't have the resources to staff a tent day and night. But the AFL-CIO's Silvers says unions around the country are opening their halls to protestors who need a place to shower, and he says unions are providing legal help to protest organizers.
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