It has been an interesting two days in Miami. In spite of the massive repression forums and meetings continue to take place. Farmers, workers, greens, indigenous people and the poor are all part of this delicious milieu of resistance and power preparing to take to the streets on Thursday. But there are differences of style.
On Tuesday the AFL-CIO and the Organizacion Regional Interamericana de Trabajadores (ORIT) held a workers forum at the beautiful Gusman theatre. Delegates to the FTAA had been told not to wear suits lest they be identified in the streets and face the music for their crimes the ORIT official appeared in a nice suit and spoke to a small audience of fifty people in a theatre designed to hold hundreds. I had come to hear about our hemispheric struggle as workers for justice.
I knew something was up when I was asked to open my bag before entering. For the first time in my life I was asked to reveal the contents of my bag at a meeting of workers. This is something one full well expects from a repressive police state. It was a shock to see such a practice employed at meeting of the working class.
The ORIT official, Victor Baez, complained that the leaders "won't let us in" to their meetings. He pined over the fact that even ministers of labour have been "relegated from the negotiation process". He said that there was "no place for workers" and that "in spite of a very active movement they (the political establishment) have read some of our papers but they have never allowed us to negotiate with them". . There was no talk of mobilization. After presentations from a panel, the audience was allowed five questions. No debate. No ideas. No resistance. Just a mere petitioning of the king, and a plea for crumbs. Disturbing and revealing was the notion presented by Baez that "these agreements lack legitimacy" because workers "have not been consulted." Is "legitimacy" the name of the game for the FTAA ministers and ORIT?
My first morning in Miami left me feeling a little depressed. Is this it? Has our struggle been reduced to polite petitions to legitimize a corrupt order? Is there a strategy for resistance or is our lot to press our faces against the windows of the feast? Can we really hope to join up and legitimize them? Do we merely want to be thankful that we all are not forced to sleep in the street, be beaten up by cops or be deported on a whim?
Indeed, reducing things to requests for unenforceable labour standards, (a frequent mantra from some quarters of the labour movement) adds not only an air legitimacy to the FTAA process but dismisses the five hundred year struggle for indigenous rights in this hemisphere as a mere footnote. It suggests that the aim is to maintain a corrupt system rather than smash it. Besides, even if you believe in the ruse called capitalism, any good negotiator knows that negotiating from a position of weakness is a recipe for failure.
Needing a break I headed to the street. My photo of cops on bicycles pedaling around like armed boy scouts in short pants was met with yelling and screaming from members of the killing machine known as the Miami-Dade police. Unfazed and bemused I headed back to the forum only to be asked to once again reveal the contents of my bag.
I was hoping to find the convergence space (no one seemed to know where it was at the workers forum). It was suggested by one organizer that I "ask the police". Not a chance.
All this contrasted sharply with a visit to the convergence "welcome" centre. There was a different vibe there. People were creating, talking, sharing, painting, cooking, preparing and training to take on a system that has no future. Those without institutional support were more numerous than the subsidized fifty or so at the Gusman theatre. This was not a place of requests or buy-offs. This was a place of resistance. A place of rebellion. And it only got better.
The United Steelworkers of America have put on a fantastic show here. They have mobilized in the thousands and are a real presence in the street. All of us in organized labour could learn from them.
On my way to another labour meeting on Tuesday night I was absorbed into a festive march organized by Roots Cause. They had taken to the streets. People marched for 30 miles into the streets of Miami to be escorted by rows of police on bicycles ordering people off the sidewalks who were cheering on the march. Aggressive demands were barked at the locals. MOVE! NOW! One wonders what terrible danger those on the sidewalk posed. It seemed more about exercising authority and barking orders from damaged cult of Sargeant Slaughter clones. For a city with a large African American population I spotted one black cop in the gang.
This was a dignified march of resistance, celebration and power. These were farmworkers and the most exploited. They were black, brown and hispanic. The working poor who put food on our tables were not taking no for an answer. This contrasted sharply with the fear of the state. Riot cops, helicopters with powerful spotlights, and hidden cameras were in abundance. Armoured personnel carriers remained parked on sidestreets ready to pounce in an instant. The marchers were not intimidated. The power and dignity of this crowd in sharp contrast to my morning experience. There was no petitioning here.
This was the resistance and I had found it. Now that's a struggle I am longing to join.
Dave Bleakney, postal worker