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Working In These Times

Tuesday, Feb 28, 2012, 7:38 pm

Occupy to ‘Shut Down’ Corporations and ALEC—With Nods to Labor Struggles

BY David Moberg

Responding to a call from Occupy Portland to "shut down the corporations," Occupy movements around the country are planning protests tomorrow (February 29) in about 70 cities against corporate power and political influence. With rallies, picket lines and some anticipated civil disobedience, the actions target big corporations that promote "legislation that puts corporate profit over the well-being of ordinary people" through the nonprofit front group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Since its formation in the early '70s by conservative politicians linked to what would become the Reagan counter-revolution, the "severely conservative" ALEC—as Mitt Romney might describe it, has promoted model right-wing legislation for state governments. Recently it has promoted initiatives against public- and private-sector unions and worker rights. Last year it pushed hundreds of anti-worker bills—including right-to-work acts, restrictions on public employee unionization and bargaining, privatization, prohibitions on automatic dues collection, and barriers to political use of dues.

More than most of last fall's Occupy activities, "this has been intentionally coordinated in a strategic fashion rather than being organic and spontaneous," marking an evolution in the Occupy movement, says Occupy Portland spokesperson David Osborn. But local groups still conceive and organize events that fit local conditions.

Some of the protests will feature worker issues—including legislative attacks on unions and on immigrant workers, but it appears that formal union mobilization of members will be rare, despite the mutual expressions of support between many unions and local Occupy groups. 

Occupy movements throughout southern California will converge on a giant warehouse in Mira Loma that is operated for Wal-Mart by Schneider Logistics. Schneider in turn sucontracts with other companies to provide much of the labor. Many workers complain of wage theft and other abuses, which they have protested through Warehouse Workers United (WWU). They want Wal-Mart to adopt a responsible contractor policy.

"Since Wal-Mart sets the precedent for the industry, we decided to make it our target," says Dani Hill, a member of the organizing committee. Members of WWU issued a statement which stated:

the action on February 29 is not our action—we are glad it is happening but we had no role in its plannning...Warehouse Workers United is not coordinating with any organization or group that takes action on February 29....WE DID NOT PLAN THIS ACTION AND we have no control over DEMONSTRATORS.

Citing their low pay, they said they intended to go to work. They told demonstrators,"we are encouraged by your actions," yet urged them to be nonviolent and law enforcement officials to avoid "police over-reaction." No civil disobedience is planned, Hill says, but she did not rule out the possibility that some protestors would engage in nonviolent actions. 

In Portland, as part of the day of actions, Jobs With Justice (JWJ) is targeting Verizon, which is an ALEC board member. The company currently is demanding concessions from its unionized land-line employees in the eastern half of the country and is fighting the organization of mobile telephone workers, including those in Portland.

Meanwhile, it pushes for government subsidies and tax breaks and promotes legislation harmful to workers and consumers, says Madelyn Elder, a Communications Workers of America local president and board member of JWJ. ALEC has slowly been building a presence, but Democratic control of the Senate has constrained its influence, says Common Cause Oregon executive director Janice Thompson.

Their planned protest "is about the 1 percent being greedier than ever while the 99 percent suffer unemployment, underemployment and cutbacks," Elder says. "It's all of the same piece. Labor sees that. And Occupy is the best thing that ever happened to labor."

David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at davidmoberg@inthesetimes.com.

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