The 60,000-strong Vancouver and District Labour Council is taking notice of independent organizing efforts for a local version of the Occupy Wall Street protest movement in New York City.
When the Straight reached Joey Hartman on October 4, the first female president of the VDLC, she had just wrapped up a phone call with two fellow executives of Canada’s second-largest labour council about the October 15 Occupy Vancouver event.
Hartman noted that while it’s still too early to say how the VDLC will be involved, she plans to attend a meeting called by organizers for Saturday (October 8) at the W2 Media Café (111 West Hastings Street).
“We don’t have a Wall Street but we do have a Howe Street,” Hartman said by phone. “I think that people in Vancouver and other parts of Canada are equally frustrated with the direction that the world has been taking, and that it’s important for us to speak out against it.”
The Occupy Wall Street phenomenon, which has sparked global interest, has largely caught by surprise established political parties and groups, including organized labour.
According to Mark Leier, an expert on popular movements, the crucial question now is whether or not the “rebel energy” unleashed by the Occupy protests can combine with the “institutional power” of political parties and labour unions to reach out to more people.
“That will require a major rethinking on the part of some of the labour and political leaders who often don’t like this kind of unrest because they can’t control and shape it in their own directions,” Leier, chair of SFU’s history department, told the Straight in a phone interview. “But if they are sincere about the kinds of political change that we think is necessary, then they will find ways to work with that.”
Although there’s a lot of web chatter about a revolution sweeping across the globe, Min Reyes, one of the core organizers of Occupy Vancouver, speaks in modest terms.
“We’re expecting a somewhat large gathering of people at the Vancouver Art Gallery to just come out and actually join in our…public debate on issues that matter to all of us,” Reyes told the Straight in a phone interview.
A visual artist, Reyes noted that the October 15 event will largely be shaped by people who are going to attend the meeting on Saturday.
“Overall if you are looking at it globally, along with all these other movements, what we’re trying to achieve is one goal and that is humanity before profit,” Reyes said.
Kimball Cariou of the Communist Party of Canada said that he doesn’t get the sense that the situation in this country is as desperate as in the U.S., although he noted that could change.
“If the economic situation was to seriously deteriorate the way it looked like a few years ago—2008, 2009—then I would think all bets would be off,” Cariou told the Straight by phone. “At the moment, I think people in Canada have more of an expectation of their electoral options than they do in the United States.”