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Labor Relations

By Josh Feit October 14, 2011

After a long-planned labor rally in Westlake Center happened to sync up with the Occupy Seattle protests there yesterday (here's Thursday's Jolt on it—victory to the hippies—and check out Eli Sanders' Slog coverage), we were curious about the relationship between labor and the Westlakers.

It might seem like a natural fit right now (labor officially threw its support behind the protests late last week), but alliances between labor and vegan anti-establishment youth has not always been a given (Joe Six-Pack has historically been pretty suspicious of James Bong Hit.)

We asked King County Labor Council Executive Secretary Dave Freiboth about labor's relationship with the group and what labor "support" actually means—are they going to send members down to help occupy? (Frankly, I was a little surprised earlier this week when local labor leader David Rolf, the Service Employees International Union 775 president, spoke to the protesters and proclaimed that one of the movement's main issues was backing Obama's jobs bill.)

We also wanted to know  if local labor supported Mayor Mike McGinn's efforts to shut down the protesters' supply tent and overnight camp at Westlake.

Freiboth responded with a thoughtful email that seemed worth publishing in its entirety:
We linked up with Occupy Seattle folks on the day of the rally at their request. Labor [understands] the economic frustration expressed by the Occupy movement. That said we do not want to co-opt their structure so are therefore taking a path of support that puts in the proximity of the effort without overwhelming or steering their energy for our use in a way that would be harmful or disrespectful of the Occupy effort. It is a fine line at times. The alternative would be to completely ignore the effort and draw bright lines between their frustration and our messaging. We are trying to find middle ground.[pullquote]There is a natural link between our jobs rally and the protests.—David Freiboth, KCLC [/pullquote]

We do little advance work with the group. To keep it organic we work with them in the moment. They have not asked for our organizing resources and we will not impose it on them. This is to ensure that they feel they are, again, not being coopted. It is also intended to prevent the right from diluting the effort by charging that the movement is not a popular uprising but instead orchestrated by left wing political players.

We are not going to weigh in on City process concerning the protests. To do so would again color and potentially denigrate our ability to be supportive of the movement.

In planning the event we invited all local elected officials to speak at our jobs rally. Our rally remained a part of a nationwide week of action to promote good job creation. Creating good jobs through progressive tax policies and governmental programs that will put people back to work is our message. That this relates in terms of the economic disparity being expressed by the protests presents us with common ground from which to speak. To that extent there is a natural link between our jobs rally and the protests.
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