The 2013 Labor Day weekend was anything but a holiday for activists. Organizations locally and across the U.S. spoke out for the right to a livable wage, and protesters gathered in Tampa to make their voices heard about the agonizing situation in Syria. Creative Loafing reported on the protests on the Daily Loaf; excerpts follow.
Fair pay on Fowler
In what was billed as a fast food workers’ strike, about 50 people marched on Fowler Avenue in Tampa on Thursday afternoon. Protesters in Boston, New York, and Chicago also staged walkouts as part of a nationwide movement to raise awareness of the low wages traditionally paid employees in the fast food industry. The rally met in front of a Wendy’s around 4:30 p.m. on Thursday and proceeded down Fowler to three other fast food chains. The original plan was to cross the highway and wrap up at a Kentucky Fried Chicken on the other side, but after more than 20 minutes of heavy rain, organizers dispersed the crowd around 5:30 p.m. Many of those in attendance wore labor union T-shirts. Dustin Ponder, who described himself as a rank-and-file member of the Teamsters at UPS, said the unions were there to support and educate fast food workers. Toward the end of the rally those in attendance were asked if anyone in the group was a fast food worker. No one replied. Ponder explained that seven workers had been planning to attend but were threatened by their managers with a cut in hours if they left work. —Chip Weiner
During the holiday weekend, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a membership-led farmworker organization comprised mostly of Latino, Haitian and Mayan-Indian immigrants, protested at Florida Publixes, stopping off at the Gandy Boulevard Publix Saturday at sunset.
Publix has not yet signed onto CIW’s Fair Food Program. As part of that program, CIW has reached agreements with Taco Bell and its parent company Yum Brands, McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Whole Foods, Bon Appétit Management Co., Compass Group, Aramark, and Sodexo to pay a penny more a pound for tomatoes toward farmworker wages and working conditions. The Coalition’s current supermarket campaign has also called on the Kroger Co., Ahold USA (parent company of Stop & Shop and Giant) and Trader Joe’s to pay workers more than what they’ve been earning for nearly a half-century.
Members of the Coalition are boycotting Publix but do not urge Publix customers to do the same, says Alayne Unterberger, a local activist and anthropology professor. She said that the Coalition requests Publix shoppers to go to ciw-online.org/publix, and print and sign a letter asking the company to reach an agreement with the Coalition.
“Publix needs to know that the students, farmworkers, clergy and former customers are not going to go away. We are going to continue until they do the right thing.” —Julie Garisto
While any attack on Syria now appears to be delayed by President Obama’s declaration that Congress should have a say in the matter, a crowd of around 125-150 protesters gathered on all four corners of the intersection of Dale Mabry Highway and Gandy Boulevard in Tampa Saturday night to call for Obama not to attack.
Not now. Not next week. Not ever.
“What if Congress votes no?” asked St. Pete Beach resident Pete See. “Is he going to abide by that? He didn’t say.”
Congress is not scheduled to return to the nation’s capital until Sept. 9, and there appears to be no urgent call by House or Senate leaders to come in anytime before that. But the crowd in Tampa, which included members of both the far left and far right, said that although they sympathized with the Syrian people, dropping bombs wasn’t going to make the situation any better.
“You’ve got a ruthless dictator on one side, and Al-Qaeda on the other. Which one should we fight for?” asked Tampa resident Chuck Harmon, who was wearing a Tampa 9.12 T-shirt. “When you send bombs after people, that’s an act of war, number one. It’s pretty serious. There’s got to be a better way than that. I think the U.S. has no business being there.”
Several people in the crowd said that while they don’t question that chemical weapons were employed on Aug. 21 in Syria, there is still a question about who in fact released them, killing over 1,000 people.
Tampa resident Amir Baghajati said Western powers have already been hypocritical by giving aid to some of the rebel groups who have terrorism ties. He says the best thing that the U.S. can do is force the rebels to have serious talks with the Bashar government in Syria. “The fighting has to stop inside Syria, but any intervention from the West isn’t going to solve it,” he said.
According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Friday, by 50 to 42 percent, more Americans say the U.S. should not take broad military action against Syria, though those numbers are nearly reversed when asked if they supported cruise missile strikes, with 50 percent supporting them and 44 percent opposed.
More than one protester said that they just didn’t believe Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.
“I don’t believe anything our government says as far as chemical weapons being used,” said Christina Petro from Tampa. “It’s like how they said Iraq had WMD. That was obviously a lie, so why should I believe them now?”
Her last words expressed what seemed to be the theme of the protest.
“We need to take care of ourselves and not be the policemen of the world,” she said. —Mitch Perry