LaborPress

Poor People’s Campaign Comes to Wall Street

New York, NY – The Rev. Dr. William Barber will lead labor and social justice activists from throughout New York State and New England for a rally and march in lower Manhattan later today, March 11. Today’s Wall Street focused event is one of several around the country that are part of the Poor People’s Campaign Mobilization Tour culminating in the June 18 Mass Poor People’s & Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls.

Participants will gather at 5 p.m. at Bowling Green Park and then proceed through the financial district for a Moral March on Wall Street uptown several blocks to Trinity Church at Wall Street at 6 p.m. 

Today’s street protest comes a week after the Poor People’s Campaign released the first of its kind comprehensive study of COVID deaths in over 3,000 U.S. counties that documented the intersectionality of elevated mortality, poverty, income, race and geography. 

At the April 4 release of the detailed analysis at the National Press Club, Rev. Barber said thefindings were “shameful and shocking… because, as a nation, we do not talk about poverty. Yet in the pandemic, we will hear that there have been two, three, four, five-times the deaths in poorer communities as in richer ones….The findings are so contrary to a nation that claims first and foremost to establish justice and certainly contrary to the call of God to care for the least of these.”

 Rev. Barber continued. “Remember, this unnecessary death happened while we gave corporations $2 trillion to keep them alive and the richest Americans saw their wealth soar. It’s a gross example of what Naomi Klein has called the ‘shock doctrine,’ when the wealthy exploit tragedy to increase their own profits while poor people suffer. This report shows that a poverty-producing and sustaining system was also a death-dealing system. Within this analysis, we can see that it did not need to be this way, if only we were honest about poverty and systemic racism, and the systems of violence that allowed this tragedy.” 

The Poor People’s white paper was co-authored by renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs with the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. “The earning power of working people has been held in check for decades and there are structural reasons for it,” Sachs told LaborPress. “Of course, we have had the weakening of unions — the busting of unions, the move to the digital economy has been another aspect. Gig work has been part of it, and then there’re the tax policies that have pushed so much money to the top.”

The Poor People’s March mobilization comes at time of a surge in union organizing activity here in New York and around the nation, including the recent vote by Amazon employees in their Staten Island facility and a union victory at Starbucks Chelsea location.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, last year wages grew by 4.5 percent, the biggest spike since 1983. But when inflation is factored in, workers continued to lose ground. Early in President Biden’s term, a bi-partisan block of U.S. Senators refused to raise the $7.25 federal minimum wage that hasn’t been raised since 2009. 

The Poor People’s Campaign has been gathering considerable support from organized labor including the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Government Employees, the Communications Workers of America and the Union for Commercial Food Workers.

Last week, SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry told LaborPress, “working people are demanding change and a true voice on the job through a union with a ferocity we haven’t seen in decades.”

Here  in New York State, under the umbrella of the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State’s Labor Advisory Committee works to network the NYS Poor People’s Campaign with several unions, including 1199SEIU,  CSEA, GSEU, NYSNA, NYSUT, PSC-CUNY, SEIU Local 200United, UFCW, and UUP.

“Working families are under attack on multiple fronts from the self-interested politicians and their greedy corporate backers who have waged a decades-long assault on working people and communities of color,” said Henry back in 2017. “The Rev. William Barber’s new Poor People’s Campaign and National Call for a Moral Revival comes at a crucial time when we are under a more furious, sustained assault than any time in recent memory.” 

Henry continued. “The Rev. Barber understands that for our children to have a chance at a better life, we must link the fights for higher wages and the ability to join together in a union with the fight for racial justice. We cannot achieve economic justice unless we attack the systemic racism that still plagues our nation.”

That same year, the AFL-CIO passed a resolution that the 21st century revival of the original Poor People’s Campaign that was conceived of by Dr. Martin Luther King in the 1960s was “not an indulgence in nostalgia, but an essential activity in the fight for justice for all workers and poor people from diverse backgrounds.”

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