Friday, September 30, 2011

Wall Street protest gains wings!

YOU could trust them with your lives.

But understandably, they don't trust Wall Street with theirs.

Over 700 hundred Continental and United pilots, joined by additional pilots from other Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) carriers, demonstrate in front of stock exchange on Wall Street, September 27, 2011, New York City.

SOMETIMES it seems our media are full of America. The razzmatazz of its electoral system, the super-rich and Hollywood stars. At the other extreme - or sometimes not that far apart - we get the drugs, prostitution and crime. But ordinary working and poor America, now, are something less often seen. Especially when people just like us stand up to the wealth and power.

First it was the workers and students fighting the cuts in Wisconsin, now it is Wall Street, the main centre of not just American but worldwide capitalism, which a motley crew of protestors decided to occupy, setting up their own 'Tahrir Square'.

At first it might have been the "usual suspects", seeming to be as untidy in their outfits as their aims. In an article that was critical of the protesters, Ginia Bellafante wrote in The New York Times:"The group’s lack of cohesion and its apparent wish to pantomime progressivism rather than practice it knowledgably is unsettling in the face of the challenges so many of its generation face — finding work, repaying student loans, figuring out ways to finish college when money has run out."[20][16]

Glenn Greenwald responded to this criticism, writing "Does anyone really not know what the basic message is of this protest: that Wall Street is oozing corruption and criminality and its unrestrained political power -- in the form of crony capitalism and ownership of political institutions -- is destroying financial security for everyone else?"[21]

In fact, focussing on the centre of capitalism has proved a popular pulling point, it seems, as our picture above might show, bringing some decidedly un-hippyish protesters, as Forbes business magazine reports:

"Hundreds of uniformed pilots, standing in stark contrast to the youthful Occupy Wall Street protesters, staged their own protest outside of Wall Street over the past couple of days, holding signs with the picture of the Hudson river crash asking “What’s a Pilot Worth” and others declaring “Management is Destroying Our Airline.” This comes after pilots at United asked a federal judge to halt the merger with Continental, arguing that the whole thing is proceeding too quickly.

Piloting an airplane may seem like a good line of work, a high-skilled job that places many lives in the hands of a highly skilled worker. The highly-skilled portion of this assumption is true. However, pilots are among the most dismally paid workers in the country – at least when they start flying.

According to first year pilots make as little as $21,600 a year. Some airlines, such as Southwest, pay more than twice that. On average, starting pay for the major airlines is just above $36,000 a year.

Fortunately for pilots, the payscale does climb and it climbs pretty high. Fifth year median pay is close to double what first year pilots earn. Top pay can be much better. The high-end of the salary scale tops out with UPS and FedEx pilots who can earn over $200,000, though most major airlines average closer to $150,000.

Notably, non-unionized JetBlue is one of the lowest paying airlines. Southwest, which is almost entirely unionized, pays its pilots almost as well as UPS and FedEx. Something to think about."

See also: Why I Support the Teachers Unions

As to the reaction of other protesters, as one remarked, in contrast to some other Wall Street denizens, "These guys don't get rich if they crash!"

Indeed, pilot Chesley Sullenberger, hailed as a hero who had achieved a "miracle" when he managed to save 155 passengers and crew by crash-landing in the ice-bound Hudson river, revealed that he had suffered a forty per cent pay cut and had his pension terminated, and warned that airlines making cuts in pay and precautions were endangering lives.

Although the Wall Street occupation failed to fetch the many thousands hoped for by organisers, and police prevented people putting up tents, it has kept going for nearly a fortnight, and seems to grow. It has been largely peaceful, but there have been more than 80 arrests - for such crimes as wearing masks, passing a police barrier, entering the Bank of America. Protesters have identified a police officer who pepper-sprayed women in the face.

After several reports of police brutality against protesters there were claims this week that numbers of police officers who don't share the enthusiasm for protecting capitalism against decent young people were finding ways to go sick or otherwise avoid going on duty.

But besides this claim of "solidarity" that is hard to substantiate comes a report that a large group of workers - those who run New York's public transport services - were planning to join the Wall Street demonstration.

This could be the start of something big, as the song goes.

I shall watch tonight's TV news to see if it is reported.

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