NEW YORK Several thousand demonstrators marched through the New York financial district on Thursday in a protest led by labor unions, saying Wall Street's biggest banks must account for record profits while average Americans still suffer financially.
Spearheaded by the AFL-CIO, the march made its way through the downtown Manhattan financial district with signs saying "Wall Street overdrafted our economy" and "Reclaim America, hold banks accountable."
The march featured a variety of organizations and labor unions with grievances about the economy and jobs.
Union member Kurt Hallman, an electrician who was marching in the rally, said the big banks "let everybody here sink to the bottom."
"They tightened up all the loaning. Now there's no money," he said. "These guys who gave themselves billion dollar bonuses."
The U.S. Senate began debating an overhaul of the U.S. financial system on Thursday after Republicans tried for three days threatened to ground proceedings to a halt.
Support for the Democrats' push on Wall Street reform was boosted following a Senate hearing this week in which executives from giant investment bank Goldman Sachs faced questioning about the company's ethics and treatment of clients.
"Big Banks tanked our economy and took our money when they needed a bailout," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a column posted on the Huffington Post website. "The bottom line is Wall Street should pay to clean up the mess they made and Congress must enact strong Wall Street reform."
Last week President Barack Obama delivered a speech in New York in which he scolded Wall Street for fighting tighter regulation and said legislation was needed to avoid future crises.
"I am very disappointed Obama didn't come down stronger," said Tanya Gallo, an educator at the rally. "If there is ever a time to be mad as hell, it's now."
One group at the rally dubbed itself "The Other 98 Percent" and called for policies that focus on "the rest of us" instead of the wealthy.
"We're not here to say get rid of the markets," said Marco Ceglie, a co-founder, "just that they need adult supervision."
(Reporting by Basil Katz; editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Mohammad Zargham)