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Unions endorse, will join Occupy Wall Street protests

By Jason Kessler and Michael Martinez
October 5, 2011 -- Updated 0211 GMT (1011 HKT)
Demonstrators with
Demonstrators with "Occupy Wall Street" participate in a march dressed as "corporate zombies" in New York on Monday, October 3.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Labor leaders say the Occupy Wall Street protesters raise issues they support
  • The movement is more than two weeks old
  • Protesters are camping in a park in New York's financial district
  • Labor organizers don't have an estimate on Wednesday's participation

New York (CNN) -- Several unions endorsed the two-week-old Occupy Wall Street movement and plan to join the protesters' street theater in New York on Wednesday, labor leaders said.

"It's really simple. These young people on Wall Street are giving voice to many of the problems that working people in America have been confronting over the last several years," Larry Hanley, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which has 20,000 member in the New York area, told CNN.

"These young people are speaking for the vast majority of Americans who are frustrated by the bankers and brokers who have profited on the backs of hard-working people," Hanley added in a statement. "While we battle it out day after day, month after month, the millionaires and billionaires on Wall Street sit by -- untouched -- and lecture us on the level of our sacrifice."

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Transport Workers Union Local 100 spokesman Jim Gannon said the Occupy Wall Street movement, which denounces social inequities in the financial system and draws inspiration from the Arab Spring revolutions in Africa and the Middle East, has advanced issues that unions typically support.

"Their goals are our goals," Gannon said. "They brought a spotlight on issues that we've believed in for quite some time now.... Wall Street caused the implosion in the first place and is getting away Scot-free while workers, transit workers, everybody, is forced to pay for their excesses.

"These young folks have brought a pretty bright spotlight," Gannon added. "It's kind of a natural alliance."

Just who are these people?

President Michael Mulgrew of the United Federation of Teachers, the sole bargaining agent for most non-supervisory New York City public teachers with 200,000 members, said he was "proud" to support the Occupy demonstrators, who have been camping out in New York and elsewhere across the nation.

'Occupy Wall Street' protests spread

"The way our society is now headed it does not work for 99% of people, so when Occupy Wall Street started ... they kept to it and they've been able to create a national conversation that we think should have been going on for years," Mulgrew said.

The labor officials couldn't provide a projection on how many of their members will take the day off from work Wednesday and join the protests.

The demonstrators have bivouacked in the park in New York's Financial District, calling for 20,000 people to flood the area for a "few months."

The protest campaign -- which uses the hashtag #occupywallstreet on the microblogging site Twitter -- began in July with the launch of a simple campaign website calling for a march and a sit-in at the New York Stock Exchange.

Over the past two weeks, demonstrations have addressed various issues, including police brutality, union busting and the economy, the group said.

Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless movement made largely of twentysomethings upset with the state of the economy, the state of the war in Afghanistan, the state of the environment, and the state of America and the world in general.

View a gallery of high-resolution photos from the protests

In less than three weeks, the movement has become a magnet for countless disaffected Americans at a time when an overwhelming majority of U.S. adults say the country's on the wrong track.

Occupy protests have been held in Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle and Boston.

Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots have clear strains of liberal economic populism -- a powerful force in U.S. history during various times characterized by growing economic stress. That said, it could be a mistake to label or tie the movement to a specific agenda, said Susan Olzak, a Stanford University sociology professor.

"It's difficult to classify a social protest movement early on in its history," Olzak told CNN. "Clearer goals could eventually emerge, but there's no guarantee."

"Many movements fizzle out. Others become more organized," she said. But "I think we run a risk (by) taking a snapshot at any one point in time, and trying to categorize the movement in any one way based on that snapshot. The only way to study these protest movements is to follow them over time."

CNN's Terry Frieden contributed to this report.

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