Union movement condemns Miami police conduct

MIAMI — The Steelworkers Union called for a congressional investigation into “a massive police state,” created in part with federal funds, to intimidate union members and other opponents of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and limit their rights during FTAA meetings Nov. 18-21 in Miami.

“The fundamental rights of thousands of Americans were blatantly violated, sometimes violently, by the Miami police, who systematically repressed our constitutional right to free assembly with massive force, riot gear and armaments,” Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said in a letter to congressional leaders.

More than 2,500 police amassed for the events in Miami, funded by an estimated $16.5 million, including $8.5 million in Homeland Security money that was part of the Iraq war rebuilding funds approved by Congress.

Some 20,000 union members and activists marched peacefully through downtown Miami on Nov. 20, but union members and AFL-CIO staff say they were attacked with pepper spray and shot with rubber bullets after the march wound down.

Oregon AFL-CIO research director Lynn-Marie Crider had just spent several days on a bus tour of several Southern states educating local union groups about the FTAA. Crider said that even days before the main event, police barricades prevented her from getting to union workshops in Miami.

The big event was to be a Nov. 20 rally at Miami’s Bayfront Amphitheater, followed by a march toward the area where the talks were being held by trade ministers from throughout the hemisphere.

The national AFL-CIO had negotiated for months with Miami police, going over plans in minute detail.

All that was thrown out on the day of the event.

The national AFL-CIO reported that on the day of the rally, as union members, retirees, and others tried to gather, Miami police deployed tanks and scores of officers in riot gear in front of the amphitheater entrance. Police intercepted buses full of union members and prevented them from reaching the event.

Union parade marshals, who had submitted to background checks and were issued credentials by the police, were prevented from doing their jobs.

Twenty-five clearly marked busloads of union retirees — despite the fact that the AFL-CIO had given the police the names of each individual on each bus — were prevented from reaching the amphitheater. To get to the rally, seniors were made to walk single file for several miles, and at the amphitheater, police prevented AFL-CIO marshals from directing seniors to the arena’s elevators.

Police pointed guns at and verbally abused those seeking direction from the police. The Steelworkers reported that the wife of a local financial secretary and two members from another local were slammed to the ground face down by police with guns aimed point blank at the back of their heads.

Thea Lee, the national AFL-CIO’s foremost trade policy expert, was shot at with rubber bullets when she stepped out of her hotel, and Marilyn Sneiderman, head of the national AFL-CIO Field Mobilization Department that had organized the mobilization, was hit with a rubber bullet.

Videotapes collected by the AFL-CIO show police knocking down a protester kneeling in prayer, and show one police officer stealing a bicycle from a disabled veteran.

Over the three days, trade ministers from North and South America came together for talks aimed at extending NAFTA to the entire Western Hemisphere in the planned FTAA. The talks stalled, but unionists are still fuming at the viciousness of the Miami police.

“We are furious at how our rights were abridged and how our people were treated,” said Thea Lee. “We’re definitely not done with this.”

Home | About

© Oregon Labor Press Publishing Co. Inc.