Steven Greenhouse writes about the mutually reinforcing relationship between the labor movement and Occupy Wall Street. As labor provides resources to help OWS get through the winter, and boots on the ground for their larger activities, OWS has helped labor think more boldly:
Last Wednesday, a union transit worker and a retired Teamster were arrested for civil disobedience inside Sotheby’s after sneaking through the entrance to harangue those attending an auction — echoing the lunchtime ruckus that Occupy Wall Street protesters caused weeks earlier at two well-known Manhattan restaurants owned by Danny Meyer, a Sotheby’s board member.
Organized labor’s public relations staff is also using Twitter, Tumblr and other social media much more aggressively after seeing how the Occupy protesters have used those services to mobilize support by immediately transmitting photos and videos of marches, tear-gassing and arrests. The Teamsters, for example, have beefed up their daily blog and posted many more photos of their battles with BMW, US Foods and Sotheby’s on Facebook and Twitter.
“The Occupy movement has changed unions,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. “You’re seeing a lot more unions wanting to be aggressive in their messaging and their activity. You’ll see more unions on the street, wanting to tap into the energy of Occupy Wall Street.”
The amusing part of this is that almost all of Occupy Wall Street’s tactics mirror tactics from the early labor movement. OWS members are planning a march from New York to Washington. This is precisely what Coxey’s Army, an early progenitor of the labor movement, did in the 1890s. The general strike in Oakland was once a standard labor tactic, and still is in Europe.
But it’s good to see labor taking this on. While they still engage in electoral politics, having bet the house to defeat SB 5 in Ohio and protect collective bargaining rights, labor has reduced its political giving in 2011, with donations down 26%. At least a sliver of that money has gone to Occupy Wall Street.
As for the tactics, labor groups are one of the sponsors the march on November 17, with satellite rallies across the country. And they’ve certainly seized on the messaging of the 99% movement. But the most inspiring tactic that labor can get in on is the movement within Occupy Wall Street to save people’s homes. Increasingly over the past few weeks, Occupy Wall Street, building on the bank accountability movement, has engaged in direct actions to stop foreclosures and evictions. Peter Olney, Director of Organizing for the International Longshore & Warehouse Union, explains one such action in San Francisco:
Inspired by the Occupy movement over 100 people showed up Friday outside the homes of two African American families in the Bay View, one of the traditional black neighborhoods of San Francisco. A year ago or even two months ago this home defense led by ACCE would have scraped to enlist 1-20 people to be present. Now buoyed by the effervescence of the Occupy moment, unionists, community leaders and politicians all swarmed Quesada Avenue in San Francisco. A high point was when a jubilant and visibly moved black homeowner came out her door and called the assembled group “her angels of mercy”. Then the banners of Occupy San Francisco arrived to cheers of all present: “They got bailed out, we got thrown out!” rang through the streets as we marched to two of the fourteen houses on the same street being foreclosed [...]
Home defense should become part of the daily routine of the hiring hall. Many of our members have been ashamed to admit they are struggling to keep their homes. The 99% frame is giving them space to come forward. The hiring hall to home defense nexus is a way to spread concrete working class participation in the Occupy movement and to the benefit of all. Unions with hiring halls can hook up with ACCE and other groups fighting foreclosures to make a graphic emotional statement about the crisis and actually do something about it.
This is sprouting all over the country. Occupy Oakland is targeting foreclosed and abandoned buildings for occupations. Occupy Atlanta has decamped in front of a foreclosed home, refusing to move and spotlighting the foreclosure crisis. I cannot think of a better evolution of the OWS movement than occupying homes that banks are trying to steal.
And the operative word is steal.
A major Wall Street bank is apologizing to a Maine couple who allege that the bank wrongfully claimed ownership of their second home on Green Mountain Road in Effingham. But the apology rings hollow for the Drew family.
Apparently, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. confused a little red house, owned by Travis and Paula Drew, at 529 Green Mountain Road, for a no-longer-existent mobile home at 519 Green Mountain Road.
The structures were owned by different people even though they once shared the same lot. The confusion led the bank’s agents to change the locks on the Drews’ home and remove $14,000 worth of belongings from the property.
There are multiple levels of checks in place that are supposed to stop something like this from happening. It shows the brittle nature of the entire residential housing market, and the fictions that the banks are peddling as “evidence” of ownership. It’s a perfect frame for labor and the OWS movement on which to work together.
And with more than 100,000 homes in Las Vegas, almost 20% of total housing stock, lost to foreclosure over the last four years, to use one egregious example, there’s no shortage of homes to occupy.