Occupy Tampa marches in solidarity with labor unions

11/18/11 Josh Holton
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For the first time, organized labor and the Occupy movement joined forces yesterday for a demonstration in downtown Tampa. Their central demand was that Congress pass the President’s Jobs Act. They used the construction at the Platt Street Bridge as a backdrop and an example of the kind of federal spending that will put people back to work.

About 40 union members and advocates stood near the 13.8 million dollar bridge project, which is partially federally funded. Executive director of the West Central Florida Central Labor Council Cheryl Schroeder praised the federal government for funding part of the bridge construction.

“This particular site is important to use because the bridge is under construction. It’s partially funded by federal dollars and those federal dollars are bringing good, competitive wages into Tampa.”

An iron worker with the local 397 named Guy Chase said he was fortunate enough to get a job on the bridge project, but he’s concerned that unless the company works on other local projects in the future, he may have to leave town.

“Hopefully that American bridge gets more work here in Tampa and Orlando and I can stay here. But if not I have to boom out and go on the road to make a living and be away from my family.”

About 4:00 p.m Thursday 40 members of Occupy Tampa marched from their sidewalk encampment near Curtis Hixon Park to join the 40 union members across the river. Occupy Tampa’s Owen Gaither protested the idea that corporations are treated as people under the law, as well as the supreme court ruling that money is a form of free speech.

“Money is profanity! People, practice free speech!”

The Platt Street Bridge Connects South Tampa to Downtown. Awake the State organizer Tim Heberline said the location that unions had selected for protest represents a pivotal point in the history of the City of Tampa.

“Bayshore Boulevard where we’re actually at right now, to my understanding this was the product of the Works Progress Administration which was a part of the new deal back when we had some rough economic times. I think the symbolism shouldn’t be lost that it it’s leading up to a bridge paid for my federal funds putting laborers back to work, construction workers and engineers putting this bridge together. Beyond that it into the plight of downtown where Occupy is, I don’t think that should be lost in anybody.”

Gaither feels that all forms free speech aren’t treated equally.

“Last night! We had real people! Practicing free speech! Get arrested! Night after night! This has been happening to us! How many bankers have been arrested? How many politicians have been arrested? They ask us why we occupy! I don’t speak for the general assembly! But to me, we occupy! To set a place! That’s secure to address these issues!”

But while the Occupy Movement came out to support organized labor’s message, Gaither also sent out a plea on behalf of Occupy Tampa.

“Thank you for giving us the opportunity! To help support the union! This December! Staring on the 1st! We need your help too! We’ll be liberating a place! To have free speech! And practice direct democracy! Thank you!”

Occupy Tampa regularly insists that no one speaks for the general assembly, but Gaither had a hand in developing a 30 day occupation strategy that the GA approved.

Tom Johnson works on the legal team for Occupy Tampa. He noticed that across the street from their protest the iconic Jose Gasparilla ship remains docked in the bay. Tampa’s annual tradition is to close off Bayshore for parades and revelry to celebrate a time when pirates invaded, looted, and occupied this city.

“They’ll shut down the whole town to celebrate this occupation but they’ll arrest us if we try an occupation that’s just getting messages like this out. America wants work, people need jobs. People come by everyday and say why don’t you get a job? Most of these people do have jobs but there out protesting because other people don’t! Anybody in America can become a millionaire but everybody can’t! What a lot of these people are concerned about is that if you work for a living, if you work 40 hours a week you ought to make a living! A roof over your head, healthcare, education, pension, that’s not asking too much!”

He hopes to prove that some of the city codes that Tampa Police have been enforcing when arresting protesters are unconstitutional. At Curtis Hixon Park earlier that afternoon, an armored police vehicle visited their encampment. Officers behind the wheel of the armored vehicle actually offered to let some protesters view the interior. Johnson thinks this is not a good sign of things to come.

“It has water cannon on top of it and it’s used by the same swat people that have been coming out and rousting our people at 6-8 in the morning."

There have been 29 arrests at Occupy Tampa, and Johnson hopes that their group can get an injunction against further arrests as Occupy Fort Myers did on Tuesday. They hope labor will show up when the occupy movement plans to occupy a yet unnamed park for the entire month of December.

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