Taking it to Wall Street: Rallies vs. bailout crowd 'the street'

NEW YORK—Unions, civil rights groups and community organizations called a series of protest rallies on Wall Street this week in response to President George Bush’s plan to bailout financial firms with no strings attached.

“Our country is facing the biggest financial disaster since the Great Depression.,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney at the New York City Central Labor Council noontime rally on Sept 25. Nearly 1,000 union members gathered within earshot of the American Stock Exchange to demand Congress “bailout Main Street not Wall Street.”

“But for working people, this crisis is not new. Working people have been living this crisis with lost jobs and stagnant wages, crumbling schools and roads, with eroding healthcare and disappearing pensions.”

Sweeney went on to say that the then proposed bailout “does not even begin to address the roots of our crisis. It’s a bailout that simply ignores the real problems of working families.” Labor Council Executive Director Ed Ott was MC at the rally, speakers at which included Randi Weingearten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress of the City University of New York, Lillian Roberts, executive director of District Council 37 of the American Federation of State Councty and Municipal Employees, and other New York labor leaders. The Labor Council announced in a press release the same day “Seven Conditions for $700 Billion Bailout Plan,” which includes a stop to home foreclosure, aggressive public oversight, repeal of the Bush tax cuts, and overhaul of financial governance and regulation. Later that same day, hundreds gathered near the Wall Street Bull, a 7,000-lb bronze sculpture in the financial district, forming just one of over 250 protests held nationwide at the same time. Called by US Action, Jobs with Justice, ACORN, United for Peace & Justice and other groups, the protests declared, “No Bush bailout!”

The diverse crowd carried homemade signs, sang songs and chanted slogans. Many protestors brought “junk” from home as an ironic stunt mocking the “cash for trash” deal in which the U.S. government will buy bad loans from financial institutes in order to aid their liquidity. Some protestors made their way up Broadway to Wall Street and gathered on the steps of Federal Hall, site of George Washington’s oath of office, which is kitty-corner from the Stock Exchange.

After announcement of a deal on the bailout in Congress Sept. 29, hundreds of union members rallied again on Wall Street in a protest called by Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union (TWU), 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s RainbowPUSH Coalition.

“The plan in Washington today involves too much money, controlled by too few people, without enough transparency,” said Jackson. “We should not be panicked into signing. We need hearings now. We need to save workers now. We need to save homeowners now.”

“If you want taxpayers’ money, then you should be accountable to the taxpayers,” TWU President Roger Toussaint said to Wall Street financiers. “If you want taxpayers’ money, then taxpayers should share in the upside not just the downside. If you want taxpayers’ money, then you have to make sure there are assurances against this happening again. If you want taxpayers’ money, then you have to curb excessive CEO pay. If you want taxpayers’ money, then we want assistance given to the victims not the predators. If you want taxpayers’ money, then we want protections for public employees, private employees, working people’s pension funds. If you want taxpayers’ money, then we want the money invested in the real economy—in healthcare and education, in mass transit, in our parks, our libraries. We want money invested where it matters.”

Congressional Democrats had tacked a number of measures onto the bailout before this week’s vote to ensure some protections for taxpayers and more economic protections for average Americans.

“The bulls and the bears of Wall Street have mauled and gored the American people for the very last time,” said Arthur Cheliotes, president of Local 1180 of the Communication Workers of America. “The free market doesn’t work. The free market is the law of the jungle. And in a jungle, only the biggest and the baddest survive.”

1199 Secretary-Treasurer Maria Castaneda added, “What we are watching is the cumulative effect of the failed policies of Bush/McCain for the last eight years. We cannot afford four more years.”

While many speakers pointed out the complicity of both major parties in the deregulation of the financial sector, they also made it clear the difference between the two presidential candidates when it comes to financial governance. “They want a McCain/Reagan moment. We want a Roosevelt/Obama moment,” said Jackson.

Jackson ended Monday’s rally by calling for a massive march on Washington demanding economic democracy regardless the outcome of the current legislation in Congress. Participants dispersed with little idea that Congress was at that moment voting down the compromise bailout.

ldellapiana @ cpusa.org