Tuesday, November 1, 2011

2011-11 "Occupy" by Michael Theriault, Secretary-Treasurer of the "San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council"               
 These columns appear in print a week or two after I have written them, and online later still. A late hurricane or an early snowstorm might soon chase most Occupy Wall Street protestors from their tents and tarps and soak their signs into papier-mâché. I cannot know now what will have become of the protests when you read this.
 I expect they will have grown.
 As it enters old age much of the Baby Boom is looking ahead to not much at all. Few of its members have defined benefit pensions like ours, and ours are threatened. Many who have trusted investments for their later years have every reason to fear these will not recover enough to assure them even regular meals and dependable shelter unless they somehow continue also to work.
 Many of the young look forward to a life, not even of moderate comfort, but of burden and struggle.
 Those of the young aspiring to higher education have seen their costs become crushing, as public universities and colleges raise tuition and fees and as private schools find less in their endowments to spend on scholarships and financial aid. Whether they graduate or not, students will leave school packing years of heavy debt and working longer than their grandparents had to or their laid-off parents could. At the end of it all, the Social Security and Medicare that helped sustain generations before them might be reduced or even gone.
 Those of the young who want only an honest living with their hands have seen solid tools that could have provided it shipped overseas, and replaced – if at all – with broom and rag.
 Occupy Wall Street is not proposing a clear alternative to this descending gloom. This has allowed some news stories to emphasize the parti-colored, carnivalesque aspects of the protests. These aspects will be familiar to anyone who has participated in anti-war protests, whether those of my youth or others more recent. For all the seriousness behind a protest, some protesters will have as their primary concern the liberation of hamsters or the benefits of worldwide wheatgrass consumption.
 Occupy Wall Street is no less real because others have festooned it with the ribbons of their pet causes.
 What is important is that Occupy Wall Street can make obvious what should have been obvious all along: The few cannot profit mightily at the expense of the many without eventually pissing the many off. It need not have as its ultimate goal the rise of a completely new economic system or any such grand and consistent ideology. At the start, at least, it is enough that it is angry.
 We in the Trades have cause to share that anger. We may have made our livings in what is now seen as a “housing bubble,” but we were not the ones that made it a bubble. We made those livings by sweat and strain, not by considering ourselves a higher, cleverer class of human being, as did some in the financial industry. Now the cleverness of those exalted few has cost many of us family, friends, home, health.
 We have seen politicians from both sides exploit our misery and the misery of our brothers and sisters by playing us against each other.
 In Wisconsin, in Ohio, in Washington, in many another state and city the Republicans and even some Democrats say, Those teachers, those firefighters, those bridge and highway workers have what our wealthy patrons have already taken from the rest of you, and why should they have more than we have left you?
 In San Francisco a Jeff Adachi claims to protect the poor by assaulting defined benefit pensions. A John Avalos votes against tens of thousands of jobs, then pits worker against worker through a “local hire” ordinance that ignores what is really needed to provide opportunities for low-income communities in favor of saying, You here can work, you there cannot.
 If I had to make a prediction now, I would predict that we soon see more and more hard hats and Trades colors among the Occupy Wall Street protesters. We should.
 In a statement Oct. 5, AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka said, “We are proud that today on Wall Street, bus drivers, painters, nurses and utility workers are joining students and homeowners, the unemployed and the underemployed to call for fundamental change. Across America, working people are turning out with their friends and neighbors in parks, congregations and union halls to express their frustration – and anger – about our country's staggering wealth gap, the lack of work for people who want to work and the corrupting of our politics by business and financial elites. The people who do the work to keep our great country running are being robbed not only of income but of a voice. It is time for all of us – the 99 percent – to be heard.”
 If this is not how a revolution begins, it is close.

No comments:

Post a Comment