Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Unions Hard At Work Occupying the 99%

It would appear that the Occupy movement is now being co-opted by labor unions. For unions, the freshness, energy, and publicity surrounding the movement is a rare opportunity to make news for reasons other than declining membership rolls.

Union leaders are wrapping themselves with the Occupy banner both rhetorically and literally. SEIU President Mary Kay Henry casts the Occupiers as natural allies reading from a script the unions wrote long ago.

“We have been talking about the increasing inequality in this country for a long time,” she said last October. “I think what’s wonderful about the Occupy movement is that they captured this with…’We are the 99 percent.’ I feel like what we are doing is echoing a very smart thing that the occupiers began with.”

Unions are more than echoing. As details, they’re organizing Occupy protests and voicing official support for demonstrators—using the movement as a springboard for their own efforts and agenda. In Chicago, Boston and Orange County (Calif.), area affiliates of the AFL-CIO organized protests for Occupiers and union members.

This is more than a casual relationship forged by fellow travelers. While labor leaders tout the Occupy movement’s economic themes, they quietly allow front groups to do the dirty work of collaborating with Occupiers on disruptive protests. As The Daily Caller reports, Occupy groups are connected to unions across the country by personnel and funding.

Last November, an SEIU front group, Good Jobs LA, joined with Occupy LA in demonstration against Bank of America. (Twenty protestors were arrested.) In Pittsburgh, the local Occupiers hooked up with another SEIU-linked group, One Pittsburgh, to protest against Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.).

The demonstration was billed as an anti-Wall Street event, but with SEIU’s influence it became a protest against Toomey’s “no” vote on advancing President Obama’s American Jobs Act legislation — a failed bill that would have benefited unions. (The Daily Caller, 3/8/12)

Meanwhile, one Seattle-based group, Working Washington, that mentions nothing about its ties to SEIU was co-founded by union executives and organizers and incorporated by an inside-the-beltway law firm tied to the union. In a logical next step, unions have now arranged to start training Occupiers in so-called “direct action” tactics.

Whatever sort of radical change Occupiers seek, most must never have imagined that they’d be facing assimilation into stale old union hierarchies.

Categories: Center for Union Facts