The “Occupy Wall Street” protests, now entering their third week, are poised to get a whole lot bigger than its core of 200 to 300 people, potentially even exceeding the protesters original goals of 20,000 demonstrators, thanks to recent pledges of support from some of New York City’s largest labor unions and community groups.
On Tuesday, over 700 uniformed pilots, members of the Air Line Pilots Association, took to the streets outside of Wall Street demanding better pay.
On Wednesday night, the executive board of the New York Transit Workers Union (TWU Local 100), which represents the city’s all-important train and bus workers, voted unanimously to support Occupy Wall Street. TWU Local 100 counts 38,000 active members and covers 26,000 retirees, according to its website.
The Union on Thursday used Twitter to urge members to take part in a massive march and rally on Wednesday, Oct. 5. That effort is being co-sponsored by another eight labor and community outreach organizations.
The Village Voice spoke with TWU Local 100’s spokesman Jim Gannon on Wednesday, who explained the group’s reasons for joining the protests:
“Well, actually, the protesters, it’s pretty courageous what they’re doing,” he said, “and it’s brought a new public focus in a different way to what we’ve been saying along. While Wall Street and the banks and the corporations are the ones that caused the mess that’s flowed down into the states and cities, it seems there’s no shared sacrifice. It’s the workers having to sacrifice while the wealthy get away scot-free. It’s kind of a natural alliance with the young people and the students — they’re voicing our message, why not join them? On many levels, our workers feel an affinity with the kids. They just seem to be hanging out there getting the crap beaten out of them, and maybe union support will help them out a little bit.”
The other eight organizations expected to join in the October 5 rally, based on its Facebook page, are United NY, Strong Economy for All Coalition, Working Families Party, VOCAL-NY, Community Voices Heard, Alliance for Quality Education, New York Communities for Change, Coalition for the Homeless, which have a collective membership of over 1 million.
As Jon Kest, the executive director of New York Communities for Change, told Crain’s New York Business: “It’s a responsibility for the progressive organizations in town to show their support and connect Occupy Wall Street to some of the struggles that are real in the city today. They’re speaking about issues we’re trying to speak about.”
Crain’s also quoted a political consultant who said of the demonstration: “”It’s become too big to ignore.”
Meanwhile, the New York Metro 32BJ SEIU, which represents maintenance workers and security officers and counts some 70,000 members, is also re-purposing a previously planned rally on Oct. 12 to express solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protesters, the Huffington Post reports.
“The call went out over a month ago, before actually the occupancy of Wall Street took place,” said 32BJ spokesman Kwame Patterson. Now, he added, “we’re all coming under one cause, even though we have our different initiatives.”
Occupy Wall Street, which was first proposed by Canadian countercultural magazine Adbusters in July, initially received traction online thanks the support of Anonymous, the loosely-knit “hacktivist” collective. The event began on September 17 with around 3,000 protesters, but the numbers have varied considerably since then, with a core group of around 200 to 300 people maintaining a camp in nearby Zuccotti Park, despite being pepper-sprayed, beaten and arrested for frivolous offenses by police.
But its appeal appears to be spreading, not only to other groups, but other U.S. cities as well. Around 200 protesters in Boston took to the streets around Boston Common to begin their own related demonstration there. An Occupy Chicago event also began on September 23, but has so far remained limited to a small number of protesters in the double digits.