On the heels of some of the greatest anti-worker policies being proposed in the U.S., about 200 South Florida labor leaders, workers, community activists and members of the clergy rallied at Greater Bethel AME Church in Overtown Monday night to mark the anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his support for collective bargaining and the rights of working families.
The rally, titled, “We Are One,” was organized by a coalition of community and labor groups opposed to “extreme agendas,” according to Kit Rafferty, executive director of South Florida Jobs with Justice. Similar rallies took place around the nation Monday night to remember the life of King who was shot and killed on April 4, 1968 as he campaigned in Memphis on behalf of striking AFSCME sanitation workers fighting for the right to collectively bargain.
The South Florida rally was sponsored by the A. Philip Randolph Institute; the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Local 1363; Florida New Majority/JustWork; Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Florida; the South Florida American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO); South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice; South Florida Jobs with Justice; and UNITE HERE! Local 355.
“We formed in response to the events in Wisconsin where they were trying to take workers’ rights away,” Rafferty said, referring to the state’s looming constitutional crisis as Gov. Scott Walker’s administration continues to attempt the implementation of a bill stripping most public workers of their collective bargaining rights.
Teachers, firefighters and other unionized workers are under attack, said Andy Madtes, South Florida AFL-CIO president.
“One of the great attributes Dr. King had was bringing people together. Hundreds, thousands, came together. They marched; some lay down and died for civil rights. It’s time for us to come together and organize,” Madtes said.
Fredrick Ingram, United Teachers of Dade (UTU) vice president and a Miami-Dade public school educator, added, “We got into the mess because we were lackadaisical about voting. And now they think we can teach 40 [students] better than we can 20.”
“MLK was one of the greatest fighters we have ever seen and he never threw a punch. What does that say about our mission?” Ingram said.
Florida is not broke, Monica Russo, SEIU Healthcare Florida president, said. “Miami is one of the richest communities and then it’s the poorest, yet they are trying to cut our school teachers. There is no time like the present to stand up,” Russo said.
Dr. King died supporting the unions, said the Rev. Eddie Lake, pastor of Greater Bethel, “so there is a great connection here [in Florida] because of the injustices that took place during that time. We need to be strategically engaged if we are going to dismantle the injustice.”
“We have a black president, black politicians in power. We seem to get ahead but we seem to take a couple of steps backwards,” Lake said. The significance of all this is that we cannot forget that the struggle still exists; the fight is still on.”
Lake said he supports what unions are doing. “They are standing for what’s right,” he said.
Overtown resident Breena Tyler, 48, who attended the event, is angry at the thought of firing teachers.
“The classes are crowded, the kids can’t learn, the teachers don’t give homework because there is no time to grade papers. What would Dr. King think of this?” she said. “Didn’t he want our babies to have equal education? He was killed while helping people avoid this same type of thing: standing up for our rights. And here we are in 2011. It’s sad and hard to believe.”
Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net