NEW YORK — May 1, 2012. May Day is traditionally the International Workers Holiday but when Occupy Wall Street, looking to revitalize the movement, teamed up with Labor in the streets of Manhattan it became the Holiday of Hope.
WRITERS AND BOOKSELLERS
Workers at New York’s Strand Bookstore, represented by UAW Local 2179, have been working without a contract since August.
In March, Local 2179 rejected the owner’s latest offer. Management is demanding a two tier system in which new employees will get less benefits. Management also wants to increase employee contributions to health insurance premiums by 50 percent and is looking to cut personal days.
The union sees this as a clear case of union busting and, according to the website (takebackthestrand.com), a threat to collective bargaining in general.
On May Day the UAW picketed the Strand to draw attention to the negotiations, or lack thereof.
The Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) are supporting the Local 2179 workers and the IWW’s New York City branch joined in the picket.
Musical support for the picket – which was well attended and boistrous – was provided by the Rude Mechanical Orchestra.
Turning out to support the booksellers were the authors: the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981, fielded a contingent at the picket. They were led by union president Larry Goldbetter.
MAY DAY 2012: LABOR AND OWS, REACHING OUT
On the southern edge of Union Square, a short distance from the Strand, a large stage was set up and various speakers and musicians, exhorted and performed as protesters prepared to take part in the main May Day march. Police moved onlookers along with variations on, “Sir, you can’t stand there.” Nonetheless, protesters on the opposite side of the barricades smiled for the cameras of the photographers being shooed away.
Stage left, on the southwest corner of the Square, one couple held a sign that read, “Police Officers, please join our march.”
INCENSE AND INNOCENCE — STEPPING BACKWARDS IN TIME
Just north of the hopeful couple stood Mahamtma Gandhi. His bronze image placidly surveyed the staging area for various anti-war groups including the venerable War Resisters League. The WRLers held a banner urging the working class to end war, watching as a circle of stillness erupted a short distance away from their position.
A short distance from the anti-warriors, in what would normally be a vendor’s stall, a red-bearded man in a straw hat and psychedelic pants sat the lotus position, hands on his knees, meditating. He was flanked by others in similar postures. Some held signs illuminating their cause: “Quietly Determined” and “Be Here Now.” As this reporter videotaped the peaceful practitioners the smell of incense drifted past. I mentioned to another photographer that it was a shame my camera couldn’t record olfactory data.
LABOR STEPS UP
Just north of the meditation circle TWU Local 100 marchers chatted with members of the New York Metro Area Postal Union, including newly elected president Jonathan Smith.
I’LL BE YOUR MIRROR
On the northwestern tip of the Square, under the watchful eye of a chrome colored Andy Warhol — his Polaroid Big Shot hanging around his neck — the UAW contingent gathered. Members of the Legal Services Staff Association (Local 2320), the National Writers Union, and other locals, chatted with members of U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW).
Nearby 1199 SEIU, clad in trademark purple, unfurled banners as members of Local 802, American Federation of Musicians, tuned up.
TEACHERS V. WALL STREET
Due east of the trade unions, opposite the big Barnes and Noble, educators gathered. The Professional Staff Congress (PSC), with their signature red signs, were one of the first unions to begin to file out of the Square. One of their number carried a handmade sign that said, “Charter Schools: Wall Street’s Hostile Takeover Of Public Education.”
WE’RE ALL IN THE SAME BOAT
Members of Occupy Queens and Occupy Staten Island posed for a few snapshots as the UAW joined the march, following the teachers. Behind the auto workers was a group of protesters “rowing” a large triangular banner. As their lead marcher banged on cymbals two of the “sailors” held up a banner that read, “We’re all in the same boat.”
Police responded to the immense turnout — according to NY Protest’s Todd Eaton over 12,000 showed up — by sending some of the unions west across 16 Street. The marchers headed down 5 Avenue, and completed the bottleneck bypass maneuver by turning east on 10 Street. The procession was instructed to walk up 10 Street and rejoin the main march, already making its way down Broadway. The plan hit a snag when the NYPD told the “We’re All In The Same Boat” contingent to use the sidewalk on 10 Street. After a standoff the protesters agreed to move to the sidewalk but it was too late — several union contingents had simply walked around the phalanx of police and returned to the street shouting, “Whose streets? Our streets!” Police stepped aside and allowed the rest of the march to proceed.
Rejoining the main body, the union contingents continued on towards Foley Square as New Yorkers, standing on the sidewalks, looked on. After the main march ended a smaller group of protesters was arrested at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in lower Manhattan.
Overall, the general mood amongst those who took part was triumphant. While the distribution of scarcity is still controlled by the elite, the re-distribution of Hope is in the hands of the people and has apparently already begun.