Thousands of Unionists Expected to Join Miami Trade Protest

Since September 11, the global justice movement has been struggling to regain its footing.

Without backing from labor and other well-funded progressive organizations, global justice activists have found they lack the numbers and resources to mount the kind of opposition that captured the world’s attention in Seattle and Quebec.

But two years later, the tide may be turning.

National and local Florida groupings-from the AFL-CIO to the South Floridians for Fair Trade and Global Justice-have been working for months to ensure a strong labor presence in Miami this November, when trade representatives from 22 Western Hemispheric nations will meet to discuss the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement.

Organizers expect as many as 25,000 trade unionists to make the trip to Florida, where they will participate in five full days of rallies, workshops, parades, and teach-ins November 17-21-much of it with an explicit focus on workers’ issues.


The most active unions in the global justice movement have traditionally been blue collar unions such as the Steelworkers (USWA) and the Teamsters, as both have suffered massive job loss due to plant closings and deregulation.

The Steelworkers plan to bus 2,000 of their most active members to Miami for a forum on corporate responsibility and a rapid response conference.

Additionally, they have partnered with the Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment to organize a 32-city bus tour which they hope will raise public awareness of how globalization affects individual communities.

According to USWA staffer Tara Widner, rather than present a standard program at each stop, the tour will highlight grassroots issues and draw on the expertise of local organizers.

Relatively new to the global justice movement are many service and public sector unions, who point to clauses in FTAA that will encourage privatization and increase restrictions on immigrants.

AFSCME plans to host a rally targeting the Miami-Dade County school board to protest the privatization of school services, and service unions will also be heavily represented at a Workers Forum where speakers from various industries will deliver personal testimony against the FTAA.

Other new faces include a number of locally based community organizations, such as the Miami Workers Center (MWC), which has joined forces with other community and labor groups in the area around the upcoming meeting.

Relatively new to the global justice movement are many service and public sector unions, who point to clauses in FTAA that will encourage privatization and increase restrictions on immigrants.

The MWC, the Coalition for Immokalee Workers, and POWER U will hold a series of events under the banner “Root Cause: Global Justice from the Grassroots.” The events include the public release of a local community impact report, a march, a unity ceremony, and a protest at one of Miami’s two Free Trade Zones.

Although the mainstream media are already depicting protesters as an “invading army” of “spoiled rich kids,” MWC staffer Gihan Perera hopes to put a “Miami face” on the mobilization and demonstrate “there are people here in town who think this thing is wrong.”

As the poorest large urban center in the United States, with one-third of its population below the poverty line and large Cuban and Haitian immigrant populations, Miami’s working class communities will be hit especially hard by FTAA.



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By organizing autonomously, Perera hopes to make sure “that these voices are not overlooked in the broader mobilization.”


Although most insiders are cautiously optimistic, some privately express their doubts about the internal dynamics of the coalition.

Of 59 organizations to endorse the Call to Action as of early October, 15 were unions, but organizers concede that there has been little rank-and-file involvement in the planning, and the results are predictably disappointing.

The AFL-CIO has committed national staff to the event, but it has focused its energy on a series of forums, meetings, and press conferences-with protest taking a back seat.

Skeptics observe that scarce resources have been funneled towards a largely symbolic ballot campaign aimed at influencing the trade representatives through a mock referendum.

These efforts are closely tied to labor’s preparations for the 2004 elections, where it hopes to use FTAA as a litmus test: according to AFL-CIO political organizer Deborah Dion, “all the ballot collecting and educational work will culminate in...electoral work.”

Tensions have also arisen over a forum sponsored by United States Trade Representative Bob Zoellick, in which a select group of leaders will have the chance to discuss global trade policy.

Perera wonders, “The real question here is-who makes and moves the agenda at this meeting?”

Likewise, Tim Waters of the Steelworkers concedes, “To expect that Bob Zoellick is going to open the doors to the people who are opposing the Bush administration...that may be stretching it a little bit.”


While the AFL-CIO focuses on effecting change from above, grassroots and community-based groups are finding themselves increasingly isolated and vulnerable.

At press time, the Miami city council was threatening to pass an ordinance that would place severe restrictions on the protests under the guise of protecting “public safety.”

Yet some organizers feel the real aim of this ordinance is to create a climate of fear and panic, thus driving a wedge between “good” and “bad” protesters.

To some extent, this divide and conquer strategy seems to have succeeded. The AFL-CIO has attempted to downplay the demonstrations, labeling its mass procession a “parade” as opposed to a “march” in order to appeal to those who “may be unwilling to risk the liability of being seen as a malcontent,” as the South Floridians’ website put it.

According to the Miami Herald, the AFL-CIO has also taken the lead in negotiations with police and will restrict its actions to a fenced-in “protest pen,” while providing 500 orange-vested marshals to “line the route [and] direct people to make sure it’s an orderly event.”

Union tops may be anxious to move away from the streets, but some of the ranks may be less eager to follow suit.

As Cliff Willmeng, a member of Carpenters Local 1 declares, “Wall Street and corporate America are not limiting their attack on working people today, therefore we have to stop limiting our response.”