Noelle Swan

Occupy Boston Protesters Clash with Union Supporters During March on Beacon Hill

Noelle Swan
New England Post
November 3, 2011
 

Local union leaders and Occupy Boston protesters struggled for creative control of Wednesday evening’s march through Beacon Hill.

Some 200 protesters from Occupy Boston, area universities, and local unions took to the streets Wednesday in a statement of solidarity with a sister protest in Oakland. Union members used the opportunity to bring attention to issues of union busting and school closings.

Some protesters expressed frustration that the additional issues raised by the unions detracted from the original purpose of the march. A press release issued by Occupy Boston on Monday called for protesters to gather for an “Action of Solidarity with Oakland.”

Frank L. of Beverly, a resident of the Dewey campsite, and march organizers intended to highlight the Oakland Police Department’s use of tear gas, flashbangs, and rubber bullets on protesters camping in front of Oakland city hall. “From videos that I saw it looked like a war scene. People need to know what’s happening out there.”

As protesters neared the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Avenue de Lafayette, chants of “From Oakland to Greece, disarm the police,” were replaced by, “What’s disgusting, union busting. What’s outrageous, Hyatt’s wages.” Edward Chiles of Unite Here, a labor union representing U.S. and Canadian workers, addressed the crowd through a bullhorn in front of the hotel entrance, denouncing layoffs of 100 housekeeping employees in 2009 due to outsourcing.

Some members of Occupy Boston were visibly upset at the shift in discussion. One young man walking ahead of the march and, directing protesters, called out, “No more union chants. Tonight’s about Oakland.”

The march continued onto the steps of the State House on Beacon Hill. The bullhorn toggled back and forth between union related issues to Occupy related issues. Several union members criticized the defunding and closure of Boston Public Schools. One protester chastised Oakland police officers for their “brutal attack on Occupy Oakland.” Another told the crowd, “Whenever we get too powerful, we will be attacked.”

As another union member suggested that the end to apartheid in South Africa came because the people “Made the country ungovernable,” many in the crowd began to lose patience.

“I’m not sure that’s true,” one bystander said to his companion.

Another called out, “Stop preaching to me.”

One protester who declined to give her name said, “I think we are all members of the 99%, but right now we’re on a march and shouldn’t be standing in front of the State House holding a meeting.”

When the group did get moving again, chants returned to Oakland. “When Occupy is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.”

Pedestrians gawked from the sidewalk with a mixture of amusement, dismay, and confusion.

Bart Stewart, a bus driver from Waltham watched from the sidewalk in front of Government Center. He said that he has been watching Occupy Boston and has visited their camp in Dewey Square. He said that he is sympathetic to their complaints, but added, “I think they need to come up with an Act II.”

While some Occupy protesters have said that they are wary of unions using the movement to their own purposes, the unions may be offering them their Act II.

Occupy Boston protesters have been staging marches through the streets of Boston for a month now. Their planned solidarity was a tactical maneuver to draw local media attention toward actions in Oakland on Wednesday, but also to place some added pressure on law enforcement. By adding to the coverage of the aggressive actions of Oakland police, they are sending a clear message to mayors and police commissioners all over the country that the movement can make police action an embarrassing national spectacle.

However, there is a danger in creating a cyclical protest where marches’ main efforts are to highlight events related to the protest. The economic issues that the movement is supposed to highlight could be lost.

Tom Arabia, a clerk at a local hospital from Boston, worked with other volunteers at Occupy Boston to coordinate union participation in the march. “The International Longshore and Warehouse Union shut down a port in Oakland today. That sends a message to corporations and businesses that 99% including union support can disrupt their business.”

There are those that welcome the experience and power of the unions. One protester, who asked to be referred to as Smant, said, “The movement is nothing without union support.”

Others worry that unions will co-opt their movement.

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