By Eric T. Campbell, Special to the NNPA from the Michigan Citizen –
DETROIT — UAW and AFL-CIO members joined Occupy Detroit protestors during a Nov. 6 march and rally to collect winter supplies. The demonstration highlighted a continuing alliance between the region’s labor unions and Occupy Detroit activists.
According to organizers, more than 500 union members and protesters participated in the rally at Hart Plaza and march to Grand Circus Park. Occupy Detroit Labor Work Group member, Writer L. Bush, told the Michigan Citizen that monetary donations reached almost $5,000. He said a truckload of donated supplies — blankets, gloves, batteries, tarps, flashlights, etc. — allow occupiers to consider continuing their protests through the winter months.
“The rally was extremely successful in terms of getting more labor activists in lockstep with the movement,” Bush said. “The movement cannot survive without labor.”
Beyond much-needed supplies, Bush says the support of labor provides a new group of volunteers and buffers the encampment against police actions.
Chris Michalakis, legislative and political director of the UFCW and secretary treasurer for the metro Detroit AFL-CIO, has spent several nights in Grand Circus Park.
He says labor has supported the Occupy movement from the beginning, but the Nov. 6 rally was a significant indication of solidarity.
“It’s good for the Occupy movement to see labor’s contributions,” Michalakis told the Michigan Citizen. “It’s also good for the labor movement’s rank-and-file members to see the occupation for themselves and see a lot of the contributions being put to good use.”
Labor is part of a wide-ranging coalition, according to Michalakis, and not in a leadership capacity. He says that gives the movement the best chance to grow organically and create positive political change for all working people.
“The camp is the symbolic center of the Occupy movement and the General Assemblies will be going on well into the winter — committee groups are meeting and putting together a lot of great actions,” says Michalakis. “This is really the beginning of what’s going to be a very politically charged election cycle next year.”
Martha Grevatt, member of UAW Local 869, says considering the anemic job market, there is very little distinction between the labor and Occupy movements. She says autoworkers have responded accordingly.
“I work on the auto shop floor, and working people really identify with the fact that people are standing up to the banks,” Grevatt said at the Nov. 6 rally. “They’re standing up to the bosses, they’re saying no more cutbacks, no more givebacks. We demand jobs.”
Grevatt, who also works with MECAWI (Michigan emergency Committee Against War and Injustice), says union participation has graduated beyond pronouncements and vocal support.
“It means everything that labor is involved. There are people who are union members, and union leaders who have been camping out, who have been here every day,” Grevatt said.
AFL-CIO’s Michalakis says observers should refrain from narrowing the political framework of the Occupy movement.
“While this movement isn’t political specifically — it doesn’t endorse candidates and its not about partisanship — we hope they are going to raise a lot of issues that we hope our elected officials take up in the next election,” said Michalakis.
He added that the city, including the police, has been fair in its hands-off approach and he hopes that will continue through the holiday season.