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99ers protest cutoff of benefits

Published Aug 22, 2010 10:01 PM

New York — Chants of “We want jobs!” rang out at the corner of Wall and Broad streets in the shadow of the Stock Exchange at noon on Aug. 12 as the “99ers” made their first appearance in struggle in the streets.

The name refers to workers who have been jobless for so long that their unemployment benefits have run out after they received 99 weeks of payments. Many had been working for decades before they were laid off in 2007 or 2008 as the economic crisis took hold.

More than 100 such unemployed workers and their supporters answered an Internet call posted by Kian Frederick — who chaired the rally — and the three other founders of the group, themselves all 99ers. They set up an Internet website and started communicating among themselves and working to get favorable publicity for legislation extending benefits. There is a bill before the U.S. Senate to provide another extension of unemployment benefits — Tier 5 — to states where the official unemployment rate is greater than 7.5 percent.

Most of the participants were meeting each other for the first time at the protest. Nevertheless, there was an obvious sense of solidarity among the assembled unemployed workers, whatever their individual situations. Frederick said that 66 of the 100 attending the protest were unemployed people who signed up to be on the group’s mailing list.

According to the comments and slogans at the protest, most need an extension of benefits but would prefer to find a steady job at decent pay. “We need a Tier 5 to survive,” “A job is a right” and “Jobs or income now” were among the slogans. A delegation from the Professional Staff Congress, representing CUNY teachers and other workers, held a banner at the protest.

Some of those attending the protest expressed the hope that this movement can spread beyond its initial Internet success to reach into areas of the country with the highest unemployment and not only win greater jobless benefits but also launch a struggle to provide jobs for millions.