Best of the Web on Widening Wall Street Protests

The Occupy Wall Street protests spread Thursday to Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Philadelphia, though these rallies were relatively small compared to the estimated 20,000 who came out in New York on Wednesday.

Aljazeera English reports on the Thursday protests, in which some protesters tried to breach the steel barriers police have erected around Wall Street’s skyscrapers– essentially creating a “no free speech” zone in the penumbra of Capital:

Surprise! Corporate mass media is hostile to the movement. So let us look at what the Web is saying about it.

The big numbers in New York were a result of the union support the movement is attracting, which suggest that it is neither a flash in the pan nor inconsequential.

The grassroots movement and the unions, of course, have to work out the terms of their cooperation. Some union organizers are annoyed that they got out 100,000 protesters last year in Washington, D.C. and were blacked out completely by corporate media, but the OccupyWallStreet.org supporters are being reported on.

But the Occupy Wall Street people were also largely ignored until the police attacked them, and until some of them closed down the Brooklyn Bridge. It may be that unions are too well-behaved to make a media splash nowadays.

Also, only 11.7 percent of US workers are unionized, a 70-year low, which may have given the reporters the notion that this is a declining and increasingly unimportant movement. Its downfall began when Ronald Reagan signaled that employers could fire union organizers without fear of Department of Justice retaliation. Walmart and other big corporations routinely just fire workers for trying to make a union, and this authoritarian behavior by corporations has been accepted by American society. Often these corporations use tricks like hiring employees for fewer than full-time hours, so as to avoid having to pay health insurance. Since Walmart, e.g., made its way importing Chinese-made goods into small town America, goods produced in a Communist system where unions are also prohibited or tightly controlled, the entire Neoliberal project worked against worker rights from both sides of the Pacific.

In the contest between multi-billion-dollar corporations with operations on several continents, and some poor little group of small town employees, the corporations win every time if the employees can’t even organize to challenge corporate policies. And American workers are flat on their backs, and vulnerable to a stomping, with millions thrown out of their jobs altogether and the rest kept on a short leash.

Jonathan Alter considers the potential impact of the OWS movement:

1. It might make Mitt Romney a posterboy of hated banks if he is the Republican presidential candidate in the general election

2. It could mobilize people to vote who otherwise might not have (though Alter notes that Republican state legislatures have been trying to make it more difficult to vote for youth and non-drivers– most of whom would be Democrats)

At Tomdispatch.com, Andy Kroll outlines the reasons for the outrage sparking these protests– centered on the “lost decade” of the Bush era, during which everyone got poorer except the very rich:

1. “In 2010, the average middle-class family took home $49,445, a drop of $3,719 or 7%, in yearly earnings from 10 years earlier.”

2. “poor families watched their income shrivel by 12%, falling from $13,538 to $11,904.”

3. The US now counts “more than 46 million men, women, and children among this country’s poor. In other words, 15.1% of all Americans are now living in officially defined poverty, the most since 1993″

4. African-Americans and Latinos were hit especially hard, with their middle classes virtually wiped out, as many homeowners lost their most important asset:

“Between 2005 and 2009, the household wealth of a typical black family dropped off a cliff, plunging by a whopping 53%; for a typical Hispanic family, it was even worse, at 66%. For white middle-class households, losses on average totaled “only” 16%.”

BUT

5. “the top 1% of earners enjoyed 65% of all income growth in America for much of the decade”

It could make a person angry.

John Lake at Blogcritics looks more closely at Alexa Obrien of @USDaysofRage and the principles she put forward for her Days of Rage campaign, aimed at securing

1. Non-Violence
2. Principles before Party — US Day of Rage will never endorse, finance, or lend our name to any candidate or party
3. Volunteer — Every US Day of Rage organizational committee on the state, city, and federal level should be entirely self-supporting, declining outside contributions from any political party, association, or candidate. US Day of Rage is not a money making operation. We are volunteers.
4. Autonomous Except in Matters Affecting the Whole — We do not support, for example, violations to our principle of non-violence. USDayofRage.org is here to help facilitate city and state level organization, and to organize the federal protest at the US Capitol.”

19 Responses

  1. Typo? The article you linked to says 100,000 came out to the union protest in Washington D.C. last year, not 10,000. (“A labor rally in Washington last October drew more than 100,000 people, with little news media coverage.”)

  2. Time to spread it even further to most of the western world. May be , dreaming a lot here, 2011 could do what we could not achieve in 1968.

  3. The decline in the wages of American workers predates the G.W. Bush Presidency by a whole generation. Data from the US Bureau of Labour Statistics link to workinglife.org seems to indicate that wages have been in decline since the early 1970s, that’s almost FORTY years.

    Professor Richard D. Wolff has written about this in The Guardian link to guardian.co.uk. His website has a lot about the OWS movement link to rdwolff.com

    Sadly the union movement often seems to be its own worst enemy link to sacbee.com

    • In 1971, the average working husband could support a family of four. Today, both parents working struggle to accomplish the same thing–and that on top of meeting the payments on their numerous debt obligations. It’s been all downhill since 1971. That same year Richard Nixon took the dollar off the gold standard, ending the Bretton Woods system, putting the nation, and in effect, the world, on an entirely fiat monetary system, and declared himself a Keynesian. That fiat currency system, along with it’s oversight by the Federal Reserve, has done nothing but whittle away at the middle class, until today, we have reached the greatest disparity of rich and poor in the developed nations. I hear that the OWS may soon move their operation to the doorstep of the Fed. Finally, the battle may be taken to the heart of the kingdom.

      For a rundown of the collapsing middle class, this woman lays it out pretty clearly:
      link to youtube.com;

      • America was plenty Keynesian from 1933 to 1971; in ’33 FDR outlawed private ownership of gold coins, which was a pretty damn extreme act to keep money circulating instead of sitting in vaults. Bretton Woods was not a contradiction of Keynesianism. Furthermore, the Federal Reserve was established 20 years before Keynesianism, because fly-by-night banks had been collapsing for decades and wiping out people’s savings.

        WHY did Nixon terminate Bretton Woods? Because the dollar was overpriced due to Vietnam and the unwillingness of politicians to raise taxes to pay for it. But also, the US had been the world’s largest oil exporter in the ’60s, a situation which changed with breathtaking speed. By 1971, US oil production peaked at an amount similar to Saudi Arabia’s current output, and has been falling ever since, while consumption was exploding, creating a huge trade deficit that logically would wreck the dollar’s value. However, in that same year, OPEC voted to denominate all its members’ oil sales in US dollars. This historic act meant that the dollar went from being tied to gold to being tied to oil. All over the world people now had to have dollars to buy oil. All OPEC member profits were in dollars, and where could they invest them? It is probably not a coincidence that after Kissinger threatened to invade Saudi Arabia in 1973, the petrodollars began to be invested right back in the USA.

        The Fed is merely a cog in the machinations of the forces that have propped up the dollar and America artificially. The question is, what would have happened if the dollar had been allowed to fall all at once then instead of stretching it out over 40 years? Who would have benefitted or suffered?

    • Phil D. and PRS point out that wages today are lower than they were in 1971, and that’s true.

      But that’s not quite the same thing as saying that wages have been declining for 40 years. Wages for workers actually rose in the 1990s. We then gave those gains back in the succeeding years.

      • Wages are down, but benefits are way up. Health care, more paid days off, and retirement benefits are common with many jobs, and that simply wasn’t the case back in 1971. Even if you got health care in 1971, the thanks to high inflation in the health sector, the cost of providing that health care by an employer has gone way up. On the flip side, you see trends towards households having to have more than 1 person working to maintain a middle class lifestyle. That said, the middle class is constantly redefined. A poor family in 2011 is better off than a middle class family in 1971. The “basket of goods” used to determine real wages in 1971 are a heckuva lot worse than the basket of good used in today’s calculation, thanks to technology and productivity gains.

        • Americans spend twice as much of their income on health care today in real dollars as they did in 1970. Food costs have fallen during the same period, but it is more or less a wash. You slip in the need for two incomes now to replace the one of 1970 but don’t want to acknowledge that it indicates that we are worse off, not better. Productivity gains have not been impressive in recent decades, compared to the period after WW II. Most of the increase in national wealth since 1970 has been captured by the 1%. You’ve just submitted some platitudes that prove nothing and give a positive impression, when any consideration of the actual statistics shows grand larceny on a cosmic scale.

        • I didn’t say there wasn’t growing inequality, nor that it wasn’t a problem. I said people are better off today than they were in 1971. There hasn’t been a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. The richer are getting richer far faster than the poor are getting richer. It’s definitely a problem; I never said it wasn’t. My point is that I think it’s harmful if you confuse transfers from the poor to the rich, with the poor growing more slowly than the rich.

          Income mobility in the US is actually fairly robust. What I’ve read I think puts it roughly on par with Western Europe. Statistics bear out that someone in the bottom 20% in 1971 will see a pretty drastic increase in their income over the span of their working career and be solidly in the middle class by the time they retire. In fact, someone in the bottom 20% will see a higher percentage increase in their income than someone in the top 20%. It’s no minor point to note that it’s easier to double a really low wage than a really high one, but the point is, people do get better off.

          Statistically speaking, it’s hugely relevant for policy to note you are comparing two snapshots of the bottom 20%, rather than looking at people in the bottom 20% in 1970, and then seeing where they are 20 years later.

          The real issue then is why isn’t why those in the bottom 20% stay in the bottom 20% (that largely doesn’t happen), but why the bottom 20% in 30 years isn’t any better off in terms of real wage. This is not a question I have an good answer to. I think it trends well with declining primary/secondary education for poor families. I haven’t seen the data, but it’s usually true that poorer families reproduce more than richer families. This country certainly needs to do more with equality of opportunity in education. A part of it is also probably the US is a very fast moving economy, where sectors are becoming constantly obsolete while others are created. Unfortunately, removing labor from one sector doesn’t mean they are qualified for the new sector, which is why I tend to favor education and job re-training programs.

        • But gee, Mike, the “basket of goods” in 1971 was a heckuva lot better than the basket of goods in 1931 because of technological improvements, yet the workers demanded and got massive wage increases on top of that in the interim and America prospered at all levels.

          In other words, the workers refused to accept that they had to let capitalists rape, starve and shoot them in order to obtain technological improvements. One is not a tradeoff for the other; look at Northern Europe where there continues to be plenty of technological progress.

          In fact, less and less of that technological progress is the product of Americans, whether entrepreneurs or engineers. So why should our bosses get all the added profits?

  4. Dear Professor Cole

    Support from a Nobel prizewinner is always welcome.

    link to nytimes.com

    What can we say about the protests? First things first: The protesters’ indictment of Wall Street as a destructive force, economically and politically, is completely right.

    A weary cynicism, a belief that justice will never get served, has taken over much of our political debate — and, yes, I myself have sometimes succumbed. In the process, it has been easy to forget just how outrageous the story of our economic woes really is.

  5. Professor, feel free to edit. If you think some of my comments could put me on the spy and/or hit list of the 1% Dictators use “anonymous” as name and delete any reference to my email. Thanks

    Surprised, definitely not. “Corporate mass media is hostile to the movement.” Anything that doesn’t support the elected Republican and Democratic puppets and their 1% Dictators is either given spin or ignored by the mass media.

    PBS Newshour and Talk of the Nation, programs on national public TV and radio stations are suppose to be unbiased.
    I haven’t watch the Newshour for months. When I watched Shields and Brooks give their analysis of the Occupy Wall Street on Monday or Tuesday, all I saw was spin. Mark Shields and David Brooks sounded washed out and dead, I felt sorry for them. They must realize that they’re both sad clowns and just puppets to the 1% Dictators. They stopped being authentic news people years ago. Before they lose all consciouness, both of them should listen to Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement Speech 2005: link to youtube.com

    The speech is about 14 minutes.
    Here a couple quotes from it:

    Sometimes life’s going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You got to find what you love and that is as true for work as it is for you lovers. ——– The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking and don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And like any great relationship it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking and don’t settle.”

    “My third story is about death. When I was seventeen I read a quote that went something like “If you live each day as if it was your last someday you most certainly will be right. It made an impression on me and since then for the past 33 years, I’ve looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, if today were the last day of my life would I want to do what am about to do today. And whenever the answer has been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” ———

  6. The OccupyWallStreet criticism of the role of corporatism/big banks in government is definitely warranted. OpenSecrets.org shows however that this trend in politics is hardly left-right. Both Republicans and Democrats enjoy about equal support from the financial services industry. My feeling is that banks give support to whoever they think will win. Republicans tend to get more money from corporations, while Democrats get more support from unions.

    A note on your data regarding unions. While you are correct regarding the national average, in NY the percentage of unionized workers is closer to 25%, and most of them in NY are white-collar government employees with higher than average pay and benefits. The real story with unionized labor is the stark decline of the blue-collar private sector worker, but those people don’t even come close to representing the union movement, especially as far as NY is concerned. In fact, NY public sector unions are now moving towards a deal with the state that would lead to layoffs, not job creation, so that their senior union members can receive higher pay/benefits.

    Moving forward regarding growing inequality and lack of jobs is difficult. I think the President’s job bill highlights this, since the 447billion dollar package basically tries a little bit of everything. I have opinions about what are the stronger/weaker aspects of it, but other people have other opinions, and I’m pretty sure there is no clear data as to what’s going to work and what isn’t. That said, 447 billion on a lot of things likely won’t help all that much since we don’t know what’s going to work and what isn’t, and my hunch is there will be aspects of the bill that are a huge failure. Thanks to running deficits since Bush, our ability to afford multiple rounds of stimulus to figure out what policies work and what don’t, isn’t really possible; we’re dangerously close to the point where our level of debt will impact our long-term economic growth, and that makes everybody worse off. There is no obvious policy. Straight-up wealth redistribution is crude, short-sighted, and the math simply doesn’t work for any extended period of time.

    • Average wages is an amount that is skewed by big earners. A far more accurate indicator is the median wage, that is the wages of the 50th percentile earner. That is the real average wage.

      • Which is why in NY, if you take away the financial services sector, unionized public sector workers are relatively even more better off than non-government workers. While private sector NYers suffer (except Wall Street), public sector unions are still unwilling to compromise on reducing the growth of their pay/benefits, even though they are largely better off than their neighbors (unless you leave in the few blocks around Wall Street). The answer can’t be tax Wall Street more to cover these costs. If you’re going to tax Wall Street more, these public sector union members aren’t the first than should be in line to benefit from any increases in tax revenue.

    • Mike,

      A Reagan cabinet official made the mistake of boasting in his biography that Reagan’s crew intentionally built massive deficits into their budget so as to cause a budget crisis in the future that would be used to destroy social programs.

      So stop acting like Wall Street is an innocent victim of liberal fiscal miscalculation. The elites came to the conclusion decades ago that it was worth it to reign in a broken, impoverished Hell rather than share the wealth in a functioning Heaven. More evidence as to the extent to which all of this was a long-planned crime:

      link to mindfully.org

  7. RE: motivating more people to vote.

    If voting for Democrats actually caused our political system to turn away from being completely subservient to corporate interests, the OWS protests probably would not exist. I, for one, hope that these protests stay far away from being channeled into supporting the electoral fortunes of the corporate/militarist party, whether it be branded Republican or Democrat. That way irrelevance lies.

  8. We don’t have any leverage until we can make the rich expendable. They can threaten to leave America if we don’t cave in to their destructive demands, but we can’t do the same to them.

    Solve this problem, and we can go from marching to building.

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