With unions joining protests, will Occupy Wall Street’s message change?

In New York City and beyond, the Occupy Wall Street movement is starting to get support from organized labor and, with it, access to important resources. But the support could change the focus of the loosely knit group, making it even harder for organizers to rally around a single message.

Several New York area unions endorsed the movement, making plans to join in on Occupy Wall Street rallies.

In Boston, the Greater Boston Labor Council endorsed the movement, as did the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

And at least one international union, the Amalgamated Transit Union ATU in Washington, D.C., with union locals in the United States and Canada, pledged its support.

“The ATU applauds the Occupy Wall Street activists for their courage and strength to expose the greed and corruption on Wall Street as the rest of America struggles to survive,” said ATU President Larry Hanley in a press release.

Until now, the “Occupy” protests have operated as a loose coalition of activist groups, with varying messages across different rallies. Union involvement could be just what it needs to coalesce into a unified movement.

“Union support brings resources,” says David Meyer, a sociology professor at the University of California at Irvine who studies protest movements. “They have money, experienced organizers, membership lists and coherent agendas.”

The ATU, for example, pledged to provide support to the Wall Street protests through donations of food and supplies.

The trick, however, is for the “Occupy” protesters not to be caught up in an agenda that caters specifically to the labor unions. “The challenge, now, for the Occupiers is to benefit from all the unions can offer, while still maintaining focus on what they are protesting for,” Dr. Meyer says.

In Boston on Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of nurses from all over the state were expected to rally in the city’s Dewey Square area in support of the ongoing Occupy Boston protests. The rallies appear to be spreading into the city’s sizable college-age population: Students at Northeastern University, Boston University, Tufts and several other schools around the city planned a noon walkout Wednesday.

In New York, a local chapter of the Transport Workers’ Union, an organization that represents workers on buses, subway lines, and several airlines, endorsed the protests.

“The Transport Workers Union Local 100 applauds the courage of the young people on Wall Street who are dramatically demonstrating for what our position has been for some time: the shared sacrifice preached by government officials looks awfully like a one-way street,” a statement on the TWU Local 100 website read Wednesday. “We support the Wall Street protesters and their goal to reduce inequality and support every American’s right to a decent job, health care, and retirement security.”

Schuyler Velasco is a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/06/2011 - 10:20 am.

    It is a pity this is getting taken over by union bosses.

    If the protest stuck to a theme of outrage against government bailouts for Wall street brokerages it could gain the support of many conservatives and independents.

    Instead, it will now turn into just another pack of leftist special interest groups looking to advance their political power and burnt out hippies looking for a place to have a drum circle.

  2. Submitted by Jim Roth on 10/06/2011 - 11:22 am.

    Thomas, how do you know this is “getting taken over by union bosses”? Instead of projecting an outcome based on stereotypes maybe you should show up and make your perspective heard.

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/06/2011 - 03:43 pm.

    The problem is, if they start focusing on the bank bailouts, Obama’s name would eventually have to be mentioned and that would be counterproductive to their alleged cause.

  4. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 10/06/2011 - 08:03 pm.

    Gee, it might even drive the president to the left where he belongs. He might even get rid of his conservative Wall Street advisers and turn to Reich and Krugman and others who understand the problem as it affects ordinary people, not just Goldman Sachs. He might even get his base to support him enthusiastically instead of somewhat reluctantly.

    I would recommend as a help in his bid for re-election, however, that he refuse all corporate company and accept only small contributions.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/07/2011 - 07:44 am.

    Bernice, I hate to break it to you but bailing out the banks – in effect nationalizing them – IS “left.”

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/07/2011 - 09:05 am.

    “I would recommend as a help in his bid for re-election, however, that he refuse all corporate company and accept only small contributions.”

    So, despite the fact that as you yourself point out, Obama is walking hand-in-hand with the same Wall Street players you love to hate, he’s your guy in ’12.

    Amazing.

  7. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 10/07/2011 - 10:59 am.

    “Leftist special interest groups”: like me and you and the other 99% of people who work for a living (and those who don’t but would like to), Mr. Swift? Are each of us a “special interest group” if we unite behind something other than a bunch of money grubbing corporations? And “union bosses”? Employers are and have “bosses”. Unions help workers obtain decent pay and working conditions.

    Mr. Tester: The bank bailouts under TARP happened in 2008 under the leadership of your right wing icon, George W. Bush with the assist of Wall Street’s Mr. Henry Paulson, then acting as Secretary of the Treasury. son. Is George W. Bush a “left winger” now?

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