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National labor group springboards off Occupy movement

BY CHASTITY DILLARD | APRIL 09, 2012 6:30 AM

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Current tax policies and the rising cost of tuition are one of many causes pushing local labor leaders to participate in the 99% Spring movement — an organization building on the Occupy Wall Street protests of last fall.

"If we don't have fair taxation, we're going to continue to have the economic crunch that young people are facing today," said Jen Sherer, the director of the University of Iowa Labor Center.

Beginning today through April 15, labor leaders nationwide will flock to homes, places of worship, campuses, and the streets to train 100,000 Americans for nonviolent direct action for the 99% Spring initiative — a push to renew and support the labor movement.

The majority of events will take place April 14, including the Iowa Citizens for Community Involvement Des Moines' 99% push: the Iowa Statewide Summit to Confront Corporate Power.

Michael Appel, a UI law student and vice president of the Executive Council of Graduate and Professional Students, said students can relate to difficult economic times.

"If you are paying for your school, it will affect how view the economy," he said. "Rising tuition is always a concern; the question then becomes how do we as students advocate in a positive way to shift the burden from us back to the state so the state can share some of that responsibility again."

Though not directly affiliated with Occupy Wall Street, David Goodner, a community organizer with Iowa Citizens for Community Involvement, said last fall's protests gave the organization momentum.

"We need to rebuild a mass social movement that is broadly entrenched within the 99 percent in our community," he said. "We will take action during spring and summer in a way that is going to push and cause the crisis that we need."

Sherer will speak on April 14 about economic trends and inequality that hurt many nationwide. Des Moines leaders expect 200 Iowans will attend the event.

"I think there is an opportunity for people to act in a democratic way to voice the concerns the vast majority of people have… and call for better policies that will help level the playing field," Sherer said, noting issues such as wealth inequality.

The 99% Spring started Feb. 15 and was endorsed by more than 40 leaders from community, faith, and labor organizations.

Chris Larimer, a political-science associate professor at University of Northern Iowa, said such social movements come from frustration with the current political and economic system.

"People see this as a way to battle the market of unfairness," he said. "A lot of people are still upset about CEOs making lots of money while people are being laid off, and if it's an issue of fairness, I think it'll appeal to a lot."

The training planned is just the beginning, Goodner said.

"Saturday's event is more than training, that's why we are calling it a summit," he said. "The training is going to lead to a big, confrontational direct-action street protest afterwards."

The labor movement has struggled over the years, and aligning with past Occupy movement efforts may be beneficial, Larimer said.

"If [the 99% Spring movement] is able to get people out that see a direct connection with their own community and own economic situation, it will be more appealing," he said. "One thing we know about political discussions is if you know someone talking about politics, that influences how you think about politics."


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