Demonstrators from New York City to San Francisco took to the streets to protest what they call a growing wealth disparity between large U.S. corporations and average citizens in the wake of the financial crisis.
Picketers marched yesterday as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement that began three weeks ago in Lower Manhattan and has spread across the U.S. The New York crowd was estimated at 10,000, according to Patrick Bruner, a spokesman for the effort.
“There’s power in numbers, and we outnumber the people we’re trying to hold accountable,” said Henry Liedtka, a 27- year-old pharmacy worker from New Jersey who said he’s protested since Oct. 2. “We should be bailing out the American public — not corporations — by raising the minimum wage, bringing jobs back from overseas and improving labor conditions.”
Protesters criticized the government for propping up hobbled financial giants, including Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp., with a $700 billion taxpayer-funded bailout in 2008, while leaving Americans to struggle with unemployment, depressed wages, soaring foreclosure rates and slashed retirement savings.
“We bailed them out and they are not lending the money,” JoAnn Herr, 60, a retired sheet-metal worker from Oakland, California, said in an interview yesterday outside the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, where a march through downtown formed. “They are just holding onto it, giving themselves bigger bonuses and not paying their fair share of taxes.”
U.S. labor unions are supporting the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations with rallies next week because the protests have tapped into the anger of unemployed Americans, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said yesterday.
“We’re not going to try to usurp them,” Trumka, leader of the nation’s largest labor federation, said on a conference call with reporters. “We’ll support them around the country and we’ll continue to work collectively with one another.”
In New York, members of National Nurses United, the profession’s largest U.S. union; Transport Workers Union Local 100, the biggest labor organization in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the Working Families Party, a coalition of community organizations, marched to Wall Street from Foley Square, north of City Hall.
The Transport union “applauds the courage of the young people on Wall Street,” the union said on its website. “Workers and ordinary citizens are putting up all the sacrifice, and the financiers who imploded our economy are getting away scot-free.”
‘People Losing Hope’
Laurence Fink, the chief executive officer of BlackRock Inc., the world’s largest asset manager, said he understands the concerns of the protesters.
“These are not lazy people sitting around looking for something to do,” Fink, 58, said yesterday during an event in Toronto. “We have people losing hope and they’re going into the street, whether it’s justified or not.”
Not everyone watching the march near Wall Street yesterday supported the protesters.
“They’re just a bunch of wacko leftists trying to get on TV,” said Onel Delorb, 33, an unemployed office worker from the Bronx. “It’s my fault that I’m not doing anything for work. It’s not government’s fault.”
He said the demonstrators undermined their credibility by carrying iPhones and iPads made by Apple Inc., which is valued at $350 billion.
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SOURCE: Bloomberg BusinessWeek
Esmé E. Deprez and Alison Vekshin