Can Occupy Wall Street Pick Up Where The Labor Movement Left Off?

Arguments exist over the results of Occupy Wall Street; however one undeniable outcome of the Occupy Wall Street Movement is the result of national awareness being raised to the issue of inequality in the current American Economy.  This is a National issue which has surprisingly not been raised in this type of large scale in America in a long time (Too Long). A movement somewhat similar to OWS took place in 1981 when Union Leaders and blue collar laborers, frustrated with Ronald Reagan’s Economic policy, began to protest. This protest was viewed as the start of an attempt led by Unions to bring greater economic protection to the middle class labor force. However this attempt was unsuccessful in its goals for policy change and quickly faded as an insignificant blip in American History. An article in Bloomberg raised an interesting question,: (

“Can Occupy Wall Street Replace the Labor Movement?”

This article cites the failure of the Labor Movement of 1981 for the current economic conditions which are currently being protested today.  “We’ve recently seen the political consequences of this collapse (Labor Movement of 1981). By many measures, economic conditions today are worse than in the summer of 1981. Real gross domestic product was actually increasing in the four years before 1981, but it flat-lined between 2007 and 2011. The unemployment rate was also higher in 2011 — stuck at more than 9 percent for almost three years. And the labor-force participation rate declined from 2006 to 2011, while it increased from 1976 to 1981.”, bringing forward the question, if had labor movements in 1981 been successful in producing economic legislative policy in favor of middle class workers would the current economic system be the same as it is today?

Regardless of that speculation the better question is, where is the labor protests of this current economic system? The economic conditions are incredibly similar (some would say worse) than in 1981, and the current economy is “ripe” for laborer protest yet there is no strong middle laborer class or union presence in economic protests? Or is there…(plot twist)

Although the members of the Labor Movement in 1981 were blue collared middle class and OWS members have gained the stereotype as hippies, the motives are still ironically similar. They both were in protest of poor economic conditions, unemployment and corporate greed. Occupy Wall Street represents the 99%, while the Labor Movement represented the blue collar “Working American”. The main difference in these two movements is how the protests are being carried out and how the protestors are being perceived.

“The marchers tended to smoke Marlboros, not marijuana.”

Occupy Wall Street has the ability to replace the labor movement in the sense that they are picking up where the labor movement left off by being able to adapt its structure in ways the labor movement could not. Because of the steep decline of Unions it has been extremely difficult to form a protest among the labor class, as there is no longer an umbrella of solidarity to fall under. Structured forms of economic protest as seen in 1981 have become largely outdated. Protests such as Occupy Wall Street or similar protest groups seen at economic summits have evolved and adapted and now are much more loosely structured, making them more effective at protesting in this current era or information sharing. The metaphor used to describe this current loose form of protest is, “They’re like the new species that thrive after a wildfire destroys an old-growth forest.” Several draw backs still exisit. With less structure creates a greater difficultly of effectively articulating demands (one of the major criticisms of the OWS movement)

The OWS movement has picked up where the laborer movement left off in converting general economic anxiety and inequality into awareness and protest. Whether or not the OWS movement has replaced the labor movement can only be answered if these economic anxieties and inequalities can be articulated into demands and converted in legislative change as the labor movement originally intended.


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