Walter Hillegas marches with a scale-model of the former World Trade Center. “I was there for the first five days after the tower came down,” he tells me, “doing debris-recovery and victim-removal. I got sick and lost my job.” Hillegas is beset by sarcoidosis and lower lumbar spondylosis, both of which he attributes to his first responder work in the days after September 11, 2001. “These guys taught me how to stand up,” he says of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protesters in whose midst he marches. Hillegas had his day in court this week and won: “I’m here to honor them.”
As I write this, Hillegas and thousands of other New Yorkers continue to stream into Union Square for this year’s May Day celebration, for which OWS has called for a General Strike. As the afternoon draws on, we approach the day’s biggest action, a march from Union Square to Wall Street that will have the endorsement and participation not just of the thousands already participating, but of a large list of labor unions and activist groups to boot.
A lot happened this morning, much more than any one person can cover. Early in the morning, in the cool rain, the earliest protesters assembled at Bryant Park, in midtown, a short walk from a number of corporate offices where, for the first several hours, self-organized groups split off to go picket. Targets included Chase, Bank of America and Newscorp, whose right-wing tabloid, The New York Post, published a front page headline today calling OWS “bums” who would “foul up working folks in NY”
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Protesters from the Newspaper Guild stood outside the McGraw-Hill Companies building, protesting Standard & Poor’s (S&P), the Wall Street ratings agency. They were not protesting the corrupt arrangement by which ratings agencies accept handsome remuneration for favorably rating junk assets – a critical component in precipitating the financial collapse at the end of the Bush years – but rather the internal labor practices of the company.
S&P, according to a Newspaper Guild leaflet, “is looking to outsource thousands of good-paying McGraw-Hill jobs to India.” Elizabeth, who has worked at the company for 39 years, told me that those in Statistical Services will be gone by the end of the year. Terry McGraw, whom the leaflet dubs “Standard & Poor’s Fat Cat” serves as President Barack Obama’s appointee on the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy & Negotiations. “The irony,” Elizabeth said, “is that if you’re at Trade Policy, you should try to keep jobs here.” Still, it is not her own job that most concerns Elizabeth. “I’m just worried about the young people coming out here,” she says. “How are they going to get a job? “
At Bryant Park, a “pop-up” occupation included theatrical performances, face-painting, sign-making, food, teach-ins and workshops, and a free store with clothes for those who needed some. One of the larger early marches was an immigrant workers’ justice tour. May Day, being an international celebration of labor, has acquired significance as a celebration of immigrants, though the holiday started in the United States, in commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket massacre, when a bombing at a labor demonstration provided the impetus for a lethal police crack-down.
As the march down to Union Square progressed, the sun emerged in earnest for the first time today, and strikers forsook the sidewalk and took Broadway for their own. Even now, they come…