By Brenda Ryan
November 10, 2011
Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, activists have launched an Occupy For Jobs Network to demand a massive public works program big enough to provide jobs at union wages for the more than 30 million unemployed and underemployed workers in the country.
The network was proposed and adopted at a People’s Assembly held Nov. 5 at Hostos Community College in the South Bronx. The event drew a multinational crowd of activists from organizations throughout New York and several other cities. Activists from Occupy Wall Street, Occupy the Bronx, Occupy Philadelphia and Occupy Boston were among those who enthusiastically embraced the formation of a network to fight for jobs.
“Occupy Wall Street has opened up space for people to do other things,” said Larry Holmes, a founder of the Bail Out the People Movement. “It is vital to open up new fronts and no front is more necessary than the fight for jobs. The underlying issue is depression level unemployment.”
Occupy For Jobs is intended to be a national network with local affiliates determining their priorities and working together to coordinate national actions. During a breakout session on the network, people adopted a proposal to hold actions on the Martin Luther King holiday weekend of Jan. 14-16.
They also agreed to do something on Nov. 23, the deadline for the congressional Super Committee to announce its proposals to slash at least $1.2 trillion from the federal budget. Among other things, the Occupy For Jobs Network will demand no closing of thousands of post offices, which would involve slashing 250,000 postal worker jobs.
Sharon Black, a member of the All People’s Congress in Baltimore, said the Occupy For Jobs Network will do whatever is necessary to expand the fight for jobs in order to be effective.
“If they go to shut down a workplace, what should we do? Occupy! If they try to shut down post offices, what should we do? Occupy!” she declared. “If they try to do anything against workers, the rest of us have got to unite and take action.”
It was particularly significant that the People’s Assembly took place at Hostos College, the site of a historic occupation in 1976. Ramon Jimenez, a founder of the South Bronx Community Congress and a participant in that occupation, said students occupied the school for 20 days when the city announced it was going to close it. They won the battle to keep the school open. “It all took place because people fought back, struggled and occupied,” Jimenez said.
During the meeting, people noted the current struggles that are taking place. Aminifu Williams, a leader of the People’s Organization for Progress, reported that his group has protested in downtown Newark for 130 days in a row calling for a national jobs program like the Work Projects Administration. Launched by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, the WPA employed millions of people in the construction of buildings, roads, bridges and schools, as well as in arts and literary projects.
The Jobless Working Group of Occupy Wall Street held a march to subway stations on Oct. 28 to demand that the Metropolitan Transit Authority provide free fares for the unemployed. And Occupy Latin America, which is within Occupy Wall Street en Español, is holding a march on Nov. 20 focused on women’s rights. And the Immigrant Rights Working Group of OWS is planning a march at Zuccotti Park on immigrant rights.
The initial signers of the call for an Occupy For Jobs Network include the Bail Out the People Movement; Frantz Mendez, president, Boston School Bus Drivers, Steelworkers Local 8751; Chris Silvera, secretary-treasurer, Teamsters Local 808; former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney; Teresa Gutierrez, co-coordinator of the May 1st Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights; Larry Adams, vice president, People’s Organization for Progress and former president, National Postal Mail Handlers Local 300; Clarence Thomas, ILWU Local 10 and Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, pres., Baltimore SCLC..