MIAMI, Fla. – Election reform, voting rights and education, together with voter registration and mobilization were the front-burner issues for the nearly 400 participants who attended the AFL-CIO’s celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday here the weekend of Jan. 18-21.

Participants attended workshops, joined in a demonstration at the headquarters of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), painted and installed plumbing at a youth recreation center, distributed food and clothing to 20 community agencies, cleaned up two vacant lots and walked door-to-door registering voters. They topped off the weekend by marching in the local parade honoring King’s birthday. It was, as Richard Singleton, a member of the International Longshoremen’s Association from Charleston, S.C., said, “a weekend well spent.”

In her opening remarks Clayola Brown said the AFL-CIO had selected Miami for this year’s conference because of the disenfranchisement of thousands of Florida voters in 2000 and the actions of a Supreme Court that made it possible for George Bush to usurp the presidency.

“We’re here,” she said defiantly, “and we’re not going to go away. This year is payback time,” Brown is a vice president of the AFL-CIO and a national officer of UNITE.

Fred Cross, newly elected president of the South Florida AFL-CIO Central Labor Council, told the World the 2002 election where incumbent Gov. Jeb Bush is seeking re-election, is of national significance.

“If we can defeat him it will show everyone that it is possible to defeat the right wing and regain control of the House of Representatives as well as increase the anti-Bush forces in the U.S. Senate. And don’t forget Katherine Harris, the Florida Secretary of State, who played an important role in stealing the 2000 election, is running for Congress.”

Cross said the 2002 election “is the place to start when it comes to cleaning out the Bushes – Jeb in 2002 and George W. in 2004.”

Anthony “Tony” Hill, former secretary-treasurer of the Florida State AFL-CIO, is now a community organizer for SEIU 1199 Florida and a candidate for the state senate. In an interview with the World, Hill said the labor movement is determined not to allow a repeat of 2000.

“We increased the number of Black voters from 500,000 in 1996 to more than 900,000 in 2000 and then found that many of them were not counted,” he said. “But in spite of the vote stealing, we elected Democrat William Nelson to the U.S. Senate by capturing a seat held by the Republicans for years.”

Hill, running for the senate after being “term limited” out of the Florida’s House of Representatives, said he and other progressive candidates are running on issues such as privatization, education and affirmative action.

“Before Bush issued an executive order banning affirmative action, there were more than 1,800 African-American students enrolled in the University of Florida,” he said. “Today there are 800.”

Although participants exchanged views and information in eight workshops, those dealing with political action and legislative issues generated the most interest. Alphonso Pollard, legislative director of the American Federation of Musicians, said the AFL-CIO strategy for Labor 2002 was “defined by activism, advocacy and commitment” and would build on member-to-member activities.

“This strategy is tried and true,” Pollard said, pointing to the fact that union household voters accounted for 19 percent of all votes cast in 1992, up to 23 percent in 1996 and to 26 percent in 2000. “We expect to improve on that this year.”

Jerry Pape and Chester Coachman were among the 30,000 union and community activists, marching bands, and elected officials who paraded down 51st street in Liberty City on King’s birthday. Pape, president of Teamsters Local 390, said all people, especially women, have gained from the struggles King led. Coachman, a retired member of the Machinists union and Miami’s first Black taxi driver, said King had seldom taken part in parades. “He was too busy marching.”


Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries