As the state legislative session in Florida begins, the working class is increasingly becoming a target by lawmakers. The anti-worker state session began quickly, starting on March 7 when a senate committee held a hearing on SB830, a bill that would prohibit unions from automatically collecting dues from paychecks (a voluntary deduction that workers decide to have) and would prohibit dues money from being used in political activity.
Workers, students, and activists stood outside the meeting with tape over their mouths to represent the silencing of workers’ voices that this bill represents. The following day saw statewide rallies called “Awake the State,” which took place in 32 cities to oppose the attacks on workers by the state’s Republican Party. The event drew out over 10 thousand people statewide, dwarfing the Tea Party rallies in Tallahassee and elsewhere in the state.
These rallies were also held in opposition to the renewed attack on teachers and public education in Florida. Last year, SB6 would have pegged teachers pay to student test scores, ignoring the various factors that go into test results. However, due to intensive grassroots activism, then governor Charlie Crist vetoed the bill. However, a version of the union-busting bill has been revived in the new legislative session and is likely to pass.
Attacks on unemployed workers
In addition to the legislative attacks on collective bargaining and on teachers, hundreds of unemployed workers and their supporters protested in Tallahassee to oppose House Bill 7005, which cuts unemployment benefits. HB 7005 reduces the number of weeks of unemployment compensation from 26 weeks to 20 weeks, and also cuts the taxes imposed on business which are used to pay for unemployment. The bill passed the full house March 10.
It is estimated that 400,000 Floridians currently receive unemployment benefits: the state’s unemployment rate is about 12 percent. About 1 million people in Florida are without jobs.
The South is home to nine of the 10 states in the United States that have no collective bargaining rights for public workers, and Rick Scott recently made it known that he would like to see Florida become the 11th state (after having previously said that he did not want to go after those rights).
This shows the importance of organizing in the South, where workers are disproportionately denied a voice. Southern workers are now organizing in spite of these unfavorable conditions. While public sector workers in Wisconsin and Ohio fight to keep their collective bargaining rights, public workers in the South should begin fighting for those rights in the first place!
These anti-worker attacks follow attacks by governors across the country, as does the effort to fight back by workers. Only a fight back movement that advocates worker power can stop these attacks and move the workers movement forward. In Florida, workers are beginning to build a movement that will fight back!