The cavalry has arrived in Lower Manhattan. Representatives from no fewer than 15 of the country’s largest labor unions will join the Occupy Wall Street protesters for a mass rally and march today in New York City.
The AFL-CIO, United Auto Workers, and Transit Workers’ Union are among the groups expected to stand in solidarity with the hundreds of mostly young men and women who have spent the better part of three weeks sleeping, eating, and organizing from Zuccotti Square.
Their arrival is being touted as a watershed moment for the “Occupy” movement, which has now seen copycat protests spring up across the country. And while the specific demands of the “occupiers” remain wide-ranging, the presence of the unions – implicitly inclined to making more direct demands – may sharpen their focus.
Today’s action is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. ET, when the protesters in Zuccotti Square march approximately one mile north to Foley Square, where they will be met by community and labor leaders. Then, at 4:30 p.m., they plan to march together back down toward Wall Street. They do not yet have a city-issued permit for the gathering, but are now pursuing one.
The “Union March” is expected to be the movement’s largest yet and there is the potential for a significant number of arrests. The New York Police Department booked an estimated 700 protesters Saturday as they attempted to cross the Brooklyn Bridge, bringing the total number arrested to over 1,000 in less than three weeks.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, speaking at a retirement community in Florida yesterday, denounced the movement. “I think it’s dangerous, this class warfare,” he said.
While some on the ground welcome the concept of a showdown with the “one percent,” organizers (who claim to represent “the 99 percent” of Americans they say are being trampled on by the financial elite), say they remain committed to “non-violent” protest.
The question for today, though, is what affect the presence of labor unions will have on the tenor of the demonstrations. To date, Occupy Wall Street has set their agenda during twice-daily “general assemblies” with large-scale votes and directly elected “working groups.”
The unions do not operate this way. They are top-down organizations. Their leaders, though elected, make most decisions autonomously. They are well-versed in fashioning specific appeals, the very concept of which runs counter to Occupy Wall Street’s purposefully abstract message.