Labor groups join local movements to Occupy Texas, careful to avoid getting too close
Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/OccupyDallasjacket_80.jpgAs soon as the Occupy Wall Street spinoffs began popping up in Austin, Dallas and Houston, local labor unions stepped up to endorse the movements around the state, in keeping with many of their national parent organizations.
“We’re just going as participants,” Texas AFL-CIO spokesman Ed Sills told the Texas Independent before the Austin protest’s first day. “We haven’t organized it.”
Now that the demonstrations have turned into campouts — proper “occupations” of city parks — workers’ unions continue to have a presence at Occupy protests, as union spokesmen stress their groups aren’t calling the shots or financing the efforts.
For demonstrators wary of being, or appearing to be, co-opted by larger groups, there’s a delicate balance required as they accept support from workers that believe in their cause.
Members of the Texas State Employees Union, a state chapter of the Communications Workers of America, submitted an open letter from Occupy Austin to other local union groups, urging their members to join in.
Spokesman Mike Gross told the Texas Independent that while many of the group’s members have turned up to join in the protest, most can’t keep skipping work to stay camped out at Austin City Hall. After the national CWA endorsed the Occupy Wall Street movement, he said, they decided to support the local protest.
“There are a lot of streams of political positions, but the original core is that we’re a country being dominated more and more by corporate powers,” Gross said. “We agree with the outrage on those things, so we think we ought to be there.”
Bus drivers from the Transport Workers Union Local 260 marched with Occupy Houston protesters last week, demanding a livable wage.
“When I tell you that a group of people started this that I didn’t know — it kind of freaked me out,” Stephen Benavides, an officer with the North Texas Association of Public Employees, a local United Steelworkers chapter, told the Texas Independent.
After deciding to endorse the nationwide movement along with other labor leaders at the the AFL-CIO’s Young Workers Summit in Minneapolis in early October, Benavides said he was amazed at how the movement grew in Dallas.
Since then, he’s joined the campout and says he’s “the only union guy” out here. While he’s heard charges that the unions are paying people to camp out or protest, Benavides said that’s something he hasn’t seen — in fact, he’s losing work hours to join in, he said.
Benavides said he’s helping with the campsite’s library and an education tent. “We may buy a tent, we may donate a generator,” he said, but the union’s involvement is really about moral support.