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The Workers Rising in Union Square | Occupied Stories

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The Workers Rising in Union Square

The Workers Rising in Union Square

New York, NY–Yesterday afternoon I attended the Workers Rising rally in Union Square. I had visited the ConEd rally a week before, and this time around found a similar scene: handfuls of unions represented by hundreds of people assembled at the northern plaza of the square passing out flyers, embracing one another, and cheering against speakers recounting their struggles.

Last week’s rally had many unions showing solidarity for workers affected by the ConEdison lockout, it being a primary example of injustices against labor workers. This week, ConEd was just one of many targets of the day of action, including a group of delinquent employers such as Toys R Us, JC Penney, Chipotle, Dunkin’ Donuts, Burlington Coat Factory and more. The crowd was diverse, and altogether the mood seemed festive, but not without bite: a banner held high read “Gov Cuomo does not care about union workers,” and some class war rhetoric was tossed around mixed with religious sermons denouncing the powers-that-be as evil—to wild applause and cheers.

After the speakers were finished, energy was cultivated with a short hip-hop performance before the crowd departed the square to march. Most would be marching towards ConEd, and other groups would tackle the other targets along the way. I came to the rally with little information on what was going to happen, so my uninitiated self was confused at first with how the march operated. I had assumed there would be defined separate marches each going to the different targets to picket outside; instead, everyone left in one big march that broke off and divided itself. Just as the march crossed Park Avenue, some continued moving east while others turned to walk south on Park; those moving down Park divided again when some stood outside Babies R Us and others continued on to ConEd. Some seemed confused as I was, and at one point I didn’t know if I was marching or simply walking alongside civilians caught in the shuffle.

I stood with the group outside Babies R Us. Initially the police halted the action to give the familiar rule: do not take up more than half the sidewalk. We tried to spread out but the group admittedly did spread across the whole sidewalk, and police seemed not to care after all and let the action continue. A member of the clergy blessed the store of its bad karma, a funny sight as customers continued to enter and exit the place. After this, we backtracked north and onto 16th Street, assembling outside the NYC Human Resources building. There were maybe 50 of us here, a line of civilians across the street standing or sitting on the sidewalk watching to see what was up. I noticed on nearby Irving Place a cavalcade of protesters moving south towards 15th Street. I was eager to follow the action, so I scurried over that way.

Here’s where the party was: an estimated 4,000 people assembled (according to a Twitter update) on the west sidewalk blowing horns, playing music, chatting and cheering alongside ConEd’s locked out workers. There was a series of barricades: a line of them in the street, allowing protesters some space in the street, and another in the sidewalk to facilitate pedestrian traffic. Funnily enough, as we stood together in this moment of solidarity, a large line of civilians stood packed against us waiting for a show at Irving Plaza.

Again, the police were being lenient in this permitted action. Every so often one or two protesters would walk down the street just to be there, enjoying applause from us on the other side as they walked by, but the police didn’t care as much as I’ve seen on Occupy-related marches, in which literally one wrong step is enough to put you in a jail cell for the night. Eventually police tightened up the barricades, but as a few entered the streets—and I’m surprised so few did—there remained no conflict between the people and the police.

Once 7pm came around, the permit was up and many dispersed quickly. One protester went in the street and yelled “Let’s go! Time to go home!” to encourage people to leave before there could be any conflict. It was weird to hear fiery language at both rallies only to find protesters reticent to be daring in their actions; within the span of 10 minutes maybe half the people who were there had left. I crossed 15th Street only to find a whole other section of the action between 15th & 14th (I stood between 15th & 16th the whole time), where there was a big push for noisemaking before closing the action. On my way out, rounding the corner on 14th, I was happy to see a large group picketing outside Chipotle. And then I went on my way.

– Joe Sutton –


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