CLEVELAND - The Cleveland AFL-CIO gave the Occupy Wall Street movement a warm welcome of solidarity Oct. 12, a day when local occupiers won a permit for their encampment in Public Square and joined two downtown demonstrations for state and federal action on jobs.
Delegates cheered and offered support as Becka Hawkins and Nate Gero, organizers of Occupy Cleveland, spoke to the labor federation's monthly meeting about the movement's aims.
Hawkins, a law student and former union organizer, told the assembly that the Occupy movement grew out of the same "bad economic policies that labor has been fighting," including job-killing trade agreements, budget cuts and Gov. John Kasich's attempt to bust unions and destroy collective bargaining with Senate Bill 5.
Gero, a union welder in an electric equipment repair company, told how the Occupiers marched that day for jobs legislation in actions held by MoveOn at Sen. Rob Portman's office and by Fight for a Fair Economy at Kasich's office. He asked support for worldwide demonstrations set for the coming weekend in up to 1300 cities by the Occupy movement and appealed for donations of supplies needed for the encampment site established a week ago.
"I can't tell you how overjoyed I am at this movement," said Mike McIntyre, a delegate from Pipefitters Local 120. "This couldn't have come at a better time. For so long we have needed the youth and here they are!"
John Gallo, representing union retirees, announced that Senior Voice, a labor-community coalition, planned a solidarity action Oct. 22 with the young people camping.
At the end of the meeting proceeds of the monthly 50/50 raffle were donated to Occupy Cleveland and Loree Soggs, President of the labor council, invited the organizers to the next meeting of the Building Trades Council.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, several City Councilpersons and leaders of many community groups have visited the string of tents and makeshift shelters along one block of Public Square to voice encouragement and support. Councilman Brian Cummins had the encampment declared a "public event" and obtained a sidewalk encroachment permit He said an obscure ordinance allowed public events with educational purposes to maintain overnight canopies. The permit is good for two weeks and in the meantime the occupiers purchased six car ports to enclose the encampment in a long tube and provide an orderly appearance.
City officials and police have praised the efforts of the Occupiers for organizing clean-ups in the surrounding area and acting as a calming influence on teenagers going through the Square after school.
Late one night police, dispatched to arrest occupiers prior to the permit, simply drove by with fists raised in solidarity. Steve Loomis, President of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association, donated a pop-up tent to the encampment. Like other public employees, the police are targets of SB 5, the union-busting law that is on the ballot as Issue 2, in the current election.
"Vote No on 2" signs are prominent in the encampment and Occupiers plan to help with phone banks and canvassing in the effort to repeal the law.
Occupations are also taking place in other Ohio cities, including Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton and Toledo.
Photo: Construction Worker Preston "Smoke" Robinson, head of the Occupy Cleveland tech crew, and occupier Ali Thurman, unemployed, at the Public Square encampment site. Rick Nagin/PW