From Appleton, Wis., to Prescott Valley, Ariz., activists nationwide are ensuring that the 99% Spring is in full bloom. They are gathering and training this week of April 9-15 – and planning “non-violent direct action” they say will help them take back the nation for the 99%.
The mark of the labor movement was evident in all the activity this week with the Communications Workers, the Steelworkers, Unite Here, the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees, the American Federation of Government Employees and the Teamsters, handling everything from training activists in union halls and churches to getting permits for marches and demonstrations outside the offices of big banks and other corporations.
“This is the 99% Spring for workers’ rights and economic justice,” Communica-tions Workers President Larry Cohen told an Economic Policy Institute session in the nation’s capital on April 11. “There are more than 60,000 people being trained at sites around the country.”
Organizers of the movement had set a goal of training 100,000 activists to go out in the streets and campaign peacefully for retaking the nation back for the “99%,” adopting the symbol for the rest of the country that was first popularized by Occupy Wall Street.
“We have a narrative about the economy and about the collapse of democracy, where billionaires control the political process. It fits with economic justice and the issues and the fact of virtually no collective bargaining rights” in the private sector, Cohen added.
Leading banks and corporations are among the targets of the non-violent demonstrations, not just on April 15 but beyond.
There are plans, for example, for many “tax days of action,” among them a major event on April 17 at the Fairfield, Conn. Headquarters of General Electric, a company that has paid no federal taxes for several years and has actually received tax rebates instead.
Other firms and banks being targeted on or after April 15 include Darden Restaurants in Durham, N.C., and Wells Fargo in St. Paul, Minn. The Steelworkers will lead events outside four Tesoro Oil refineries in Washington, California and North Dakota. Both the Tesoro and Wells Fargo protests – the latter demands the bank stop a scheduled foreclosure on a homeowner — are scheduled for April 14.
In Pittsburgh on April 16, activists will demand that the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the area’s largest employer, pay its fair share of taxes. “They’re our number one tax dodger,” an area activist said. “We give UPMC special tax breaks with the idea that they invest in our community. Yet they’ve taken the millions we give them each year and spent their huge profits on CEO pay and building hospitals in the affluent suburbs while closing them in working-class communities.”
Also tomorrow, but in the Bronx, People’s Moratorium will stage a “Singing Foreclosure Auction Blockade” at the state Supreme Court. “We’re calling for an end to the suffering caused by the nation’s largest banks,” through their foreclosures, activists said.
Wells Fargo is the target in several locations, including Spokane, Wash. Acitivists there will demand on April 17 that Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., vote to end tax breaks that gave the big bank $21 billion over the last three years.
“Things should never have reached this point,” the 99% Spring Coalition said in their mission statement. “Every day, the American Dream seems a little farther away. More of our grandparents are being thrown from their homes. Our mothers and fathers can’t retire because their pension funds tanked. Our brothers and sisters are burdened by student loan debt. For our children, budget cuts resulted in crumbling schools, skyrocketing class sizes, and teachers denied the supports they need to do their best.
“Our friends and family are being denied collective bargaining rights in their workplaces and are falling further and further behind. Our neighbors are poisoned by pollution in our air and water. The numbers are staggering: In recent years, millions of jobs have been destroyed, homes foreclosed, and an unconscionable number of children live in poverty.
“And worst of all: This is no accident. It is a result of rampant greed — deliberate manipulation of our democracy and our economy by a tiny minority in the 1%, by those who amass ever more wealth and power at our expense.
“We are at a crossroads as a country. We have a choice to make: Greater wealth for a few or opportunity for many. Tax breaks for the richest or a fair shot for the rest of us. A government that can be bought by the highest bidder, or a democracy that is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people.
“The choice is in our hands. This spring, we will act on that choice.”
Besides Cohen, other union presidents signing the mission statement, endorsing the “99% Spring” campaign were: Bob King of the United Auto Workers, Ai-jen Poo of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Mary Kay Henry of SEIU, Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO, John Wilhelm of Unite Here, Leo Gerard of the Steelworkers, Randi Weingarten of the Teachers, Gerald McEntee of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Joe Hansen of the UFCW, James Hoffa of the Teamsters, Sarita Gupta of Jobs With Justice and Saket Soni of the National Guestworker Alliance. Other union officials, from Change To Win, the United Electrical Workers (Secretary-Treasurer Bruce Klipple), the National Education Association, AFGE and the National Day Laborers Organizing Network also signed.