How the 99% Won In the Fight for Worker Rights
No headlines announced it. No TV pundits called it. But on the evening of November 8, Occupy Wall Street, the populist uprising built on economic justice and corruption-free politics, notched its first major political victory, and in the unlikeliest of places: Ohio.
You might have missed OWS’s win amid the recent wave of Occupy crackdowns. Police raided Occupy Denver, Occupy Salt Lake City, Occupy Oakland, Occupy Portland, and Occupy Seattle in a five-day span. Hundreds were arrested. Then, in the early morning hours on Tuesday,
Instead of simply condemning the eviction, many pundits and columnists praised it or highlighted what they considered its bright side. The
The New York Times’ Paul Krugman wrote that OWS “should be grateful” for Bloomberg’s eviction decree: “By acting so badly, Bloomberg has made it easy to see who won’t be truthful and can’t handle open discourse. He’s also saved OWS from what was probably its greatest problem, the prospect that it would just fade away as time went on and the days grew colder.”
Read between the lines and what Klein, Krugman, and others are really saying is: you had your occupation; now, get real. Start organizing, meaningfully connect your many Occupy protests, build a real movement. As these columnists see it, that movement—whether you call it Occupy
But such assessments miss an important truth: Occupy Wall Street has already won its first victory—in Ohio, when voters repealed Republican governor John Kasich’s law to slash bargaining rights for 350,000 public workers and gut what remained of organized labor’s political power.
Commandeering the Conversation
Don’t believe me? Think back to this spring and summer when Occupy Wall Street was a glimmer in the imagination of a few activists, artists, and students. In
A National Journal analysis in May found that the number of news articles in major newspapers mentioning “deficit” was climbing, while mentions of “unemployment” had plummeted. In the last week of July, the liberal blog ThinkProgress tallied 7,583 mentions of the word “debt” on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News alone. “Unemployment?” A measly 427.
This all-deficit, all-the-time debate shaped the final debt-ceiling deal in which House Speaker John Boehner and his “cut-and-grow”-loving GOP allies got just about everything they wanted. So lopsided was the debate in
These cuts, the president explained, would bring the country to “the lowest level of annual domestic spending since Dwight Eisenhower was president.” After studying the deal, Ethan Pollock of the Economic Policy Institute told me, “There’s no way to square this plan with the president’s ‘Winning the Future’ agenda. That agenda ends.” Yet Obama said this as if it were a good thing.
Six weeks after Obama’s speech, protesters heard the call of Adbusters, the Canadian anti-capitalist magazine, and followed the lead of a small crew of activists, writers, and students to “Occupy Wall Street.”
What a game-changing few months it’s been. Occupy Wall Street has inspired 750 events around the world, and hundreds of (semi-)permanent encampments around the
Mentions of the phrase “income inequality” in print publications, web stories, and broadcast transcripts went from 91 times a week in early September to nearly 500 in late October, according to the website Politico—an increase of nearly 450 percent. In the second week of October, according to Think-Progress, the words most uttered on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News were “jobs” (2,738), “Wall Street” (2,387), and “Occupy” (1,278). References to “debt” tumbled to 398.
And here’s another sign of the way Occupy Wall Street has forced what it considers the most pressing economic issues for the country into the spotlight: conservatives have lately gone on the defensive by attacking the very existence of income inequality, even if to little effect. As AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka put it, “Give credit to the Occupy Wall Street movement (and historic inequality) for redefining the political narrative.”
Wall Street in
Just as OWS was grabbing that narrative, labor unions and Democrats headed into the final stretch of one of their biggest fights of 2011: an up-or-down referendum on the fate of
I spent a week in
It was as if a great tide had lifted the pro-repeal forces in a way you only fully grasped if you were there. Organizers and volunteers had a spring in their step that hadn’t been evident since the recall elections of nine state senators targeted for their actions during the fight over Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union law. Nearly everywhere I went in
And not just voters or local activists either. I heard it from union leaders as well. Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, told me that her union had recruited volunteers from 15 different states for the final get-out-the-vote effort in
This isn’t to take anything away from labor’s own accomplishments in
It’s undeniable that a mood change had hit
As the debate rages over what will happen to Occupy Wall Street after its eviction from
Andy Kroll is a staff reporter in the DC bureau of Mother Jones magazine and an associate editor at TomDispatch. He has appeared on MSNBC, Al Jazeera English, Democracy Now, and Current TV’s “Countdown” with Keith Olbermann. This article is credited to TomDispatch.com.