Mobilizations across the country are demanding that Washington answer to the 99% instead of to the 1%. But on Wednesday, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is poised to do the opposite: pass three Wall Street-driven trade deals written by the 1% for the benefit of the 1%, which will further impoverish and disempower the 99%, in the U.S. and abroad.
We now have an opportunity to give the values and interests of the 99% a higher profile in the Washington debate over Wall Street-driven trade policy, because we have mobilizations around the country of people trying to put forward the agenda of the 99%.
In particular, we have two separate but overlapping mobilizations in Washington which are raising the demands of the 99% and drawing public attention. One of these mobilizations, #october2011, has been organizing for months and has an explicit focus on reforming U.S. foreign policy as well as domestic economic reform. The other, #occupydc, arose in solidarity with #occupywallstreet. But, in my experience of the last few days, the #occupydc folks have no problem raising demands related to U.S. foreign policy, as when they chanted: "How to end this deficit? End the wars and tax the rich."
In addition, organized labor is already mobilized against the trade deals, which would likely have the effect of increasing unemployment in the U.S. still further by increasing the trade deficit.
Labor is particularly mobilized against the Colombia deal, which is kind of a poster child for everything that is wrong with our Wall Street-driven trade policy, because Colombia is the world record holder for killing trade unionists, and the Colombia deal would ratify that. [A recent study by Human Rights Watch reported "virtually no progress" in addressing the killings.]
Many Americans don't know that organized labor is mobilized, because when organized labor mobilizes itself around its own demands it tends to get largely shut out of the corporate media.
But notice that when organized labor marched on Wall Street in solidarity with #occupywallstreet, mainstream media not only took note, but reported sympathetically, to the benefit of both organized labor and #occupywallstreet.
This is the community of interests and cooperation that gave the Seattle mobilization against the World Trade Organization in 1999 its world-historical, explosive power. There were some 50,000 protesters in the street in Seattle; some 40,000 were put there by organized labor. The self-organized creativity of the 10,000 was key to making the mobilization sexy for the media - "Turtles love Teamsters!" - and helped attract world attention. But it was organized labor who supplied 80% of the ground troops.
If the #occupy movement is going to grow, be sustained, and have an impact on government policy, it's going to want to sustain a cooperative relationship with organized labor.
It's worth keeping in mind, in this regard, that the mobilization in Madison was a story of organized labor - street protest cooperation. It's also worth keeping in mind that the intervention of organized labor in Egypt was critical to the downfall of Mubarak.
Such #occupy-organized labor cooperation isn't going to be a trivial or painless task, by any means. You have two very different models of organizing, two very different ways of framing demands, two very different ways of relating to the political system. There is bound to be anxiety on both sides.
However, the story so far of organized labor - #occupy cooperation since the emergence of #occupywallstreet has been quite good overall. And because this is so important, we have to keep at it, even if it is a pain. Even if some efforts fail, we have to try again.
And now we have another opportunity to try. Let's see what we can do to raise some #occupy noise against Wall Street's trade deals.
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.