Finally, anger at the abuses of the rich against the other 99 percent of Americans is bubbling up, giving energy to the Occupy Wall Street protests and their progeny around the country and fueling other actions. And just as unions are throwing their support behind those demonstrations, they hope the populist upsurge on the left will energize their own planned public demonstrations demanding jobs, many of them starting next week.
Minnesotan Kim Watkins, 40, single mother of a 16-year old daughter, is one of those who wants to see action on jobs. A member of the AFL-CIO community affiliate, Working America, she has worked since she was 15. Now she is employed only part-time at a local Walgreen’s, going to school to help her job-hunting prospects, and “really struggling.“
“I feel very much under attack,” she says. “I see people being fired, wages being reduced, instead of doing things that are really common sense, like creating jobs by building infrastructure. While the top 1 percent are getting all the gains, the 99 percent of us are really suffering, and there aren’t any jobs being created.” Next week she plans to join a tongue-in-cheek “fundraiser for the struggling rich” featuring nickel hot dogs.
Joblessness continues to be “devastating” to over 16 percent of the workforce and many communities and is “absolutely brutal” to people of color, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said Wednesday as he announced the kick-off next Monday of hundreds of events for the federation’s America Wants to Work campaign.
But on Wall Street, he said, “the bonuses keep flowing,” CEO pay was up 23 percent last year, and business as usual prevails — except that corporations and banks are sitting on more than $3 trillion in cash they won’t invest to put Americans back to work and rejuvenate the ailing economy.
The labor actions will push Congress to pass job-creating legislation — especially Obama’s American Jobs Act – and other economic reforms, many of which aim to better regulate the financial sector and make it pay for the damage it inflicted on the real economy and for creation of new jobs.
Trumka also endorsed the Occupy Wall Street protests, as the federation’s executive council did on a Wednesday conference call. Many local unions in New York had already joined the protests or offered support, but more national unions have issued statements of enthusiastic support, including the Service Employees (which has long had a campaign focused on the financial sector), the Teamsters, the Bakery Workers and others.
“We will support them in every way we can,” Trumka says, noting that unions had mobilized 15,000 marchers on Wall Street a year and a half ago. “We believe as they do that the economy is shutting out 99 percent of the people. It works for the top 1 percent marvelously…But the rest of us with stagnant wages, lost jobs, home foreclosures, kids that can’t go to school, lost health care, pensions taken away and retirement security destroyed, we think there’s a different and better way….We aren’t going to try to usurp them in any way but support them. And we certainly hope they support us on our America Wants to Work campaign.”
Organized labor has three demands that are shared by most Wall Street occupiers, Trumka says. First, corporations and banks should invest their cash in America, creating good jobs. Second, banks and other holders of the 14 million foreclosed or “under water” mortgages and then ten million more expected to go sour should be forced to write down the mortgages to reflect the real, post-bubble value. Finally, the government should impose a “speculation tax,” or financial transactions tax, of one-tenth of one percent. Researchers in Europe figure a similar tax would generate $78 billion a year, and with its larger financial markets, the U.S. could gain as much or more.
A similar campaign by a labor-community coalition, Stand Up, Chicago, will direct actions towards two major financial sector conventions being held next week in Chicago — one of mortgage bankers, the other futures traders — and towards local institutions. Spearheaded by the Service Employees Union and involving only the Teachers union from the AFL-CIO, the actions nevertheless parallel the AFL-CIO protests.
A study prepared by the Chicago Political Economy Group and released prior to the protests by Stand Up, Chicago, concluded that a twenty-five cent speculation fee paid by both buyer and seller of futures contracts would generate $1.4 billion that could fund creation of 40,000 new jobs. The report proposes a variety of public service jobs, including a community schools corps (rehiring laid-off teachers and other workers, refurbishing and increasing energy efficiency of schools, and making other upgrades) and other worker corps focused on community health, child care, jobs for youth, and neighborhood improvement.
“There’s anger and outrage,” Trumka says, although so far the anger from the right has been better organized along Tea Party lines. “We want to put that outrage to work to create jobs and restore balance to our economy.”
David Moberg, a former senior editor of In These Times, was on staff with the magazine from when it began publishing in 1976 until his passing in July 2022. 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 received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy.