Our Standard of Living is Under Attack
For the past four years, our members have fought to maintain our wages, benefits and working conditions in the face of repeated attacks by our employers. In many jurisdictions, we have been forced to make significant concessions in the form of unpaid furloughs, increases in pension contributions, greater costs for medical benefits, two-tier pension plans, and other reductions in our standard of living.
The collapse of state and local finances is a direct result of the collapse of our economy, most noticeably the bursting of the housing bubble and a dramatic fall in property and real estate transfer taxes, followed by an ongoing recession that reduced revenues from business tax, sales tax and other sources. And the collapse of our economy is the direct result of the manipulations of the housing market by Wall Street investment firms, large banks, and the rest of the 1%, who enriched themselves at the expense of the 99%.
Outside of work, our standard of living is further threatened by the collapse of housing prices, the ongoing foreclosure crisis, and the Great Recession. Many of our members have lost their homes, and many more find themselves “underwater,” with houses now worth less than the mortgage debt on those properties. Many of our spouses and partners have also lost work or income. Meanwhile, public schools face continuing cutbacks, and tuition costs for higher education spiral out of control. And even with college degrees, young people cannot find jobs. At stake is not just our future, but that of our children.
Our Pensions Are Not the Problem
Before the Wall Street occupation began, the national conversation, particularly in the mainstream media, was overwhelmingly dominated with talk about the debt ceiling and calls for more cuts in government spending. Public employee pensions were the focus as if our benefits were to blame for the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
The continuing fiscal crisis of state and local governments has created cover for an unprecedented attack on public employee unions, including widespread efforts to reduce or eliminate our pension plans and to restrict or eliminate collective bargaining rights, as most visibly represented by events this year in Wisconsin and Ohio.
Occupy Wall Street Has Shifted the Focus Where It Belongs
Since the occupation began and quickly spread to hundreds of cities across the country and around the world, a new conversation is underway – one that understands that the obscene concentration of wealth in the hands of a small minority is in fact the reason why the rest of us are worse off.
We Have Common Goals
Not surprisingly, the labor movement responded quickly and enthusiastically to the Occupy movement. The AFL-CIO and major unions have endorsed the peaceful and nonviolent actions of the Wall Street movement, and thousands of union members have joined in actions against the banks and corporations with calls for reform of our banking and investment laws, an end to corporate domination of our political institutions, a jobs program based on public investment in infrastructure, education and alternative energy, and much more.
In short, the Occupy movement and the labor movement have common interests and need to forge a common agenda.
We Do Not Condone Violence or Vandalism
Supporting the movement does not mean that we accept or condone every tactic and misstep. Our members are upset by acts of vandalism and violence and have rejected such actions. But these are actions of a relatively small minority, not the orientation of the movement as a whole.
For the most part, the greatest “crime” of the Occupy movement has been the highly visible occupation of public spaces. But occupations are not a recent tactic. We need only look back at the great sit-down strikes of the 1930s that built the industrial unions, the lunch counter sit-ins and other actions that ended “Jim Crow” racial discrimination, the mass mobilizations and sit-ins that were a part of the student and anti-war movements in the 1960s and 1970s, or the encampments and occupations that challenged environmental degradation. These actions were also inconvenient and disruptive, but ultimately they advanced the cause of social justice.
We Are The 99%
Over the past decades, wealth and income have become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a very small minority, who have enriched themselves at the expense of working people and used that wealth to dominate our political system. This kind of inequality is bad for our economy and bad for democracy. No matter how well we do at the bargaining table, in good times or in bad, we will never be a part of the 1%. Our interests are different.
We believe our future is tied to maintaining a healthy middle class. During the post-World War II period, when unions were strong and income disparities were far less than today, everyone shared in economic growth and standards of living rose. Now those gains have been reversed. Our jobs and benefits will continue to be threatened until we address the widening gap between the 1% and everyone else, end the domination of politics by corporate interests, and make sure the 1% pay their fair share. We share those goals with the Occupy movement.