Thursday, October 06, 2011

Zuccotti Park Protests Continue After Major March Energizes Movement

Yesterday, I saw that the Occupy Wall Street Protesters were far more energized than they had been in preceeding days and weeks, particularly because of the infusion of union workers into the protest/marches planned for yesterday.

For the most part, the 10-20,000 people who showed up for the march did so peacefully, but things got out of hand after dark when a group decided to attempt a sit-in at Wall Street itself. Some in the group apparently pushed forward, and senior NYPD officers then pushed back, including one who came out swinging with his baton. There were more arrests in that portion of the protest, but who exactly is protesting?

The NY Observer has a cross section of those protesting (and those covering the protests). I recall at least crossing paths with some of the protesters profiled - particularly this gentleman, who I recall because of the signs he was carrying.

The unions brought numbers, but the protesters who have been at Zuccotti Park since day 1 haven't ceded ground or control to the unions. They welcome the union participation but aren't going to let the unions take over the message.

I think that's the right move. Not only have the unions been late to this particular message, but many Americans consider the unions to be part of the problem.

Some unions are wary of joining in with the protesters, in part because some of the groups harbor anti-Semitic views (but have largely avoided such displays down at Zuccotti Park). Included in the mix of protesters are enough people who not only blame the bankers, but throw in Israel and the Jews into the mix, it's a fallback to a longstanding anti-Semitic smear.

For all the anger at Wall Street, there should be even more ire against Congress and government in general, which has been far too cozy with Wall Street and looked the other way when it should have been regulating and monitoring the industry far more closely than it has done. It means enforcing the rules already on the books. It means prosecuting those who have engaged in criminal acts; it means businesses that engaged in wrongful practices should be hammered hard - and not cut cozy deals that a homeowner in pending foreclosure hell could only dream of.

Government, business, and citizens of the country have a compact with each other - and far too many think that the government and businesses' compact with the people has broken down. Government and business is seen as far too cozy with each other to the detriment of people. Watching governments issue multibillion dollar bailouts for banks that precipitated the credit crisis and imploded in the real estate collapse because they didn't do their jobs to manage risk but do little to help homeowners who played by all the rules is frustrating and only adds to the anger and pain.

Watching companies fatten their bottom line by cutting jobs even as they give bonuses to top executives adds to the anger and pain. Rather than seeing organic growth, businesses are attempting to do more with less, and the end result is an economic situation that borders on a persistent recession.

Some companies are trying to forge new links with unions and improve not only their bottom line, but those of its workers. Ford is one such company. It just cut a deal with the UAW to not only raise salaries, but to bring more jobs back into the US, expand production and improve other benefits. That deal is also likely to result in an upgrade in Ford's credit rating, which will reduce its debt load as the company can refinance its debt obligations and improve its bottom line.

Other companies need to take a similar tact. Hiring people shouldn't be an anathema to businesses. Raises shouldn't be either, and yet that's exactly the kind of situation seen at major companies all across the country. Wages have stagnated, even as executives get promoted and given raises for keeping the bottom line lean.

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