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Strong labour presence at Occupy Vancouver

"Workers are the 99 per cent," said Amalgamated Transit Union member Mark Beeching with a grin, looking out over a demonstration studded with placards declaring "We are the 99%" -- the defiant slogan of the burgeoning, worldwide Occupy movement that came to Vancouver this weekend.

An estimated 4,000+ demonstrators filled the square in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery and marched through the city's financial district on the first day of Occupy Vancouver, held in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street action ongoing since Sept. 17, near Manhattan's fabled financial centre.

Evidence of trade union support was strong. Workers in union jackets and t-shirts stood among senior citizens, students, representatives of civil society groups, street people, chanting meditators and the simply curious.

Banners from the CUPE local that represents Air Canada flight attendants, currently embroiled in a labour dispute that saw the federal government intervene on the side of the employer, were among the first visible signs of labour support as the crowd began to assemble on Saturday morning.

Joey Hartman, president of the Vancouver and District Labour Council, told the Tyee that the executive of her group had decided to participate in the Occupy Vancouver rally, and fully expected that decision would be ratified by her membership at a meeting on Tuesday night.

"The labour movement shares the values and goals of this occupation," Hartman said. "The relationship between labour and this movement needs to be respectful. We're not here as leaders or to usurp a community movement. We're here to stand in solidarity."

Jim Sinclair, president of the BC Federation of Labour, which represents half a million unionized workers in B.C., was in the crowd too. The federation announced its endorsement of the Occupy Vancouver action earlier in the week, saying it was in solidarity with the movement's "... call for good jobs, fair taxes and strong public services." Sinclair told the Tyee that the day was an exciting one for him.

Other Canadian unions that have voiced support for the Occupy movement include the Canadian Autoworkers, the Service Employees International Union and the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers Union.

Alissa (preferred not to give her last name), a rank and file member of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, told the Tyee she was in the crowd because "government is way too generous to the corporate sector, and because I am concerned about the gap between the rich and the poor."

Randy Dillon, a steelworker, said that government and corporations were not working for ordinary people.

"I'm here in hopes we can build a community and a world more responsive to the needs of people," he said.

David Pacheco, president of CUPE local 4094, the Air Canada flight attendants, said he and his members were here not only because their rights were being taken away, but because they saw the danger of all workers losing their rights.

"We're not the first," he said. "Look at what happened to postal workers and CAW. We are dealing with a government that doesn't believe in workers' rights."

Tom Sandborn covers health policy and labour beats for The Tyee.

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