DETROIT - Labor came out in a huge way to lend their support to Occupy Detroit this past Sunday, Nov. 6. Chanting, "We are the 99 percent," 500 trade unionists proudly marched down Detroit's main thoroughfare, Woodward Ave., toward the Occupy Detroit encampment at Grand Circus Park. Perhaps even more impressive than their numbers were the material things they brought.
Following alongside the marchers was a U-Haul full of food and supplies, donated by the locals and retiree chapters in the United Auto Workers (UAW) Region 1. Two more vehicles containing supplies collected from individuals and member unions by the Metro Detroit AFL-CIO also rolled along. It wasn't just goods, unions and their members generously opened their wallets.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union donated something near and dear to the occupier's hearts: porta-potties, located across from the park on the property of Central United Methodist Church. And to insure the occupiers have a workspace safe from the elements, the Metro AFL-CIO has temporarily donated office space.
In a city with an already rich labor history, one-more entry can now be added.
When marchers reached the park they rallied under the shadow of Hazen Pingree, Detroit's progressive and populist Mayor elected in 1899.
Chris Michalakis, from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and Secretary Treasurer of the Detroit Metro AFL-CIO, told the crowed that Pingree warned people of the great danger brought by "powerful private corporations" and he was "the first to awake to the great inequities in taxation and initiate steps for reform."
In a pointed criticism of Detroit Mayor Dave Bing - who is actively working to privatize many city services - Michalakis said, "if only (Mayor) Dave Bing were here to learn a few things from Pingree."
Michalakis said he was fortunate that his father was an autoworker who enjoyed union benefits he was able to pass on to his son. Michalakis blasted Wall Street institutions that fought against the bailout of the auto industry. "When General Motors and Chrysler finally received government loans, people went back to work. When Wall St. got bailed out, they hoarded the money."
In a veiled reference to rumors the Mayor may try to remove the encampment before the Thanksgiving Day Holiday, Michalakis thanked all who had generously given supplies and money saying, "because of your contributions we are going to be able to continue this occupation for a long time."
Tiffany Bush from UAW Region 1 Local 1781 declared, "I'm a lifelong Detroiter and I am the 99 percent." She brought greetings from UAW International President Bob King reading a statement to the occupiers from the union which said in part, "You have been instrumental in highlighting America's broken economic and political policies that have given an unfair advantage to the one percent over the 99 percent. Your commitment and dedication are inspiring."
Detroit Occupier Emily Lockhart thanked labor and gave eloquent testimony on why she joined the occupy movement. "For my entire life I have faced adversity, whether it be the color of my skin or the fact that I am gay. It is for that reason I believe in change. I believe that every man, woman and child deserves an equal start. I joined this movement for change so my future children won't have to live in a world with no decent public school education, no retirement fund and my fellow college students won't have to be in debt for decades for a four year degree we will never use because the jobs aren't there."
"Change will happen because the whole world is watching," Lockhart said.
Photo: John Rummel/PW