U.S. labor unions will support the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations because the protests spreading nationwide have tapped into the anger of unemployed Americans, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said.
“We’re not going to try to usurp them,” Trumka, leader of the nation’s largest labor federation, said today on a conference call with reporters. “We’ll support them around the country and we’ll continue to work collectively with one another.”
The anti-Wall Street protest, marked by the arrest of 700 people at a weekend march over the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, is an opportunity for labor groups to lobby for job- creating government programs, Trumka said. The AFL-CIO plans rallies next week and will use the events in New York and other cities to call for more spending on infrastructure repair as a way to create jobs, he said.
Unions, which represent a record low proportion of the private workforce after losing members for at least three decades, share the concerns of the protesters who are arranging rallies using Twitter, Facebook and the Internet, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said.
“I think it’s a tremendous opportunity,” Gerard said at a press conference yesterday. “That’s why we’re going to help them, all over the country.”
The Occupy Wall Street protests spread to Boston, Chicago, Denver, Seattle and other cities last month. A coalition of community groups, environmentalists and advocates for causes from affordable housing and universal health care to ending the war in Afghanistan have joined the marches.
“It’s really a little scattershot, but in a good way,” Thea Lee, policy director of the AFL-CIO, said in an interview.
The demonstrations have been “growing organically” in the same way union members in Wisconsin rallied against Republican proposals to cut back benefits last year, she said. On some days, more than 70,000 protesters gathered at the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison.
In the nation’s capital, Occupy DC has an encampment in McPherson Square, a few blocks from the White House, and is planning marches tomorrow.
Activities in Washington may include a march on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobbying group, and along K Street, where some lobbying firms have offices.
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