As Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio prepared to take office, a broad coalition of labor unions, community groups and veterans of Occupy Wall Street organized a “Wall Street Week of Action” for economic justice in the first week of December. At a December 5 rally in Foley Square that drew about 1,000 people, organizers said they were ready to fight for the changes so many New Yorkers had voted for.
“New York is the most unequal city in the country. The richest 1% of New Yorkers take home an estimated 39% of the income,” said a statement from the New Day New York coalition. “For too long, New York has been a city that only works for billionaires, run by a mayor who spent too much of his time listening only to billionaires. It’s high time for a New York that works for all of us.”
Many of the activists in New Day New York worked hard to elect de Blasio and progressive candidates for City Council. But they know that those newly elected will be under tremendous pressure to abandon or water down their promises of change.
“The mayor-elect and the incoming City Council have to be reminded that New Yorkers not only support the agenda on which they ran, but also expect them to deliver on their commitments,” the PSC said in a statement in support of the December 5 rally.
With community organizations like Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change playing an important role, the rally focused on the struggles of insecure, low-wage workers such as fast-food workers, Walmart employees, airplane cleaners, “carwasheros,” bank tellers – and CUNY adjuncts.
Earlier that day, thousands of fast-food workers went on one-day strikes at a number of locations in New York City and more than 100 other cities around the US, part of an organizing campaign dubbed Fast Food Forward, which is demanding a wage of $15 an hour.
As day quickly gave way to night, rally participants placed artificial candles in a circle on the plaza. Inside the circle, more candles were set down to spell out “One NYC for All of Us.” Standing behind, well over a dozen people carried glowing signs that named the groups they were marching with: teachers, artists, tenants, adjuncts, youth, nurses, fast-food workers and others. Some signs were in Spanish: padres, inmigrantes.
“The time has come,” said Héctor Figueroa, president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ, which represents building service workers. “We need to change the rules. We need a new rule that says no one who works in New York City should live in poverty.”
“The city is moving in a more progressive direction,” said Letitia James, who was elected public advocate with strong backing from the PSC and other unions. “The power lies in your hands. You’ve got to recognize that power,” she said.
The PSC was one of several local unions that turned out for the march. De Blasio has pledged to provide an additional $150 million per year in City funding for CUNY, and Elizabeth Tompkins, a librarian at Kingsborough Community College, said the money is badly needed. “Since the economy crashed in 2008 we’ve had an increase in enrollment,” she said, pointing to the need for more counselors, librarians and others. “We need more supports for students.”
Howie Letzelter of the PSC Retirees Chapter said reversing the trend toward growing inequality couldn’t come a moment too soon. “This has been going on since the ’70s,” Letzelter told Clarion. “People are just losing purchasing power, getting paid less for work, losing their rights, and at some point it has to stop.”
Wall Street Week
New Day New York kicked off its Week of Action on December 3 by releasing a report on changing the terms on which the City does business with Wall Street, concluding that the City could save $1 billion by instituting some basic reforms. Noting that New York City and its pension funds control $350 billion that circulates through the financial system, the study argued that the City should use this market power to renegotiate bad deals and unnecessary fees with its bankers, as well as use the $300 million in existing city subsidies for banks to insist that they keep commitments to the community.
On December 5, the protesters who convened at Foley Square finished the evening by marching down Broadway and gathering in Zuccotti Park, the birthplace of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“It’s the people who make change happen,” a coalition statement said the next day. “And we’re not going to stop until we win.”