Fight Back Florida is a network of progressive students, labor activists, and workers throughout Florida that fight for accessible education and the rights of working families.
In the spring of 2011, the governor of Florida, Rick Scott, unleashed his assault against Floridians with a host of laws ranging from tuition increases for college students to pay decreases for teachers. An affordable college education would be a thing of the past: Florida students would be saddled with increasingly high student loans as they pay 15 percent more per year in Scott’s tuition increases, while at the same time slashing Bright Futures scholarships. Governor Scott went after all state employees next, proposing that they pay 3 percent of their current salary into the Florida Retirement System as a forced “contribution,” while also weakening their labor unions through bills designed to cripple their ability to function and negotiate with employers.
The people of Wisconsin were facing similar legislation affecting teachers, students and the rights of union members. In Madison, Wisconsin, over 100,000 protesters occupied the capital building opposing laws very similar to the ones brought to Florida.
It was the ongoing sit-ins and protests in Wisconsin that really jolted several organizers in Florida to “bring Wisconsin to Florida.” The very night that much of the de-unionizing and budget cut legislation was passed in Wisconsin, five student and labor organizers from Tampa, Tallahassee and Gainesville decided to build a network to connect people from all over Florida willing to fight back against the right-wing assault. Fight Back Florida was born that night, in early March.
In order to be an effective resistance, we needed to unite all the labor and student groups around the state. Within a week, groups such as Students for a Democratic Society, the Florida AFL-CIO, and central labor councils all over Florida signed on to the call for a statewide demonstration. Floridians statewide planned and networked for the big event. There was an excitement in the air that had not been felt in some time. It seemed as though people felt they were finally a part of something that would give the people of Florida their state back from those who refrain from taxing the rich while asking the average citizen to sacrifice.
Finally, on March 25, Floridians from all walks of life rallied in over 10 cities around the state of Florida to say no to union busting, no to anti-worker bills, and no to attacks on affordable education. They demanded that tuition stay low so that education could be accessible for all and that unions continue to be allowed to fight and negotiate for their members.
One of the largest rallies in the state was held here in Gainesville. Hundreds took to the streets and marched to city hall, proclaiming Gainesville a “Labor Sanctuary.”
These rallies, alongside an unprecedented unity among all the labor unions of Florida, led to the defeat of most of the proposed legislation. From this success, we realized the need to maintain the network we created not only to fight back against future bills, but also to create an organization that could create a sense of activism both within the student and labor movements.
We set up permanent groups in many cities around Florida to continue to meet and plan. This came to a head during the state wide Fight Back Florida Conference in Orlando on Nov. 5. Over 50 student and labor activists from over seven cities came together to develop a plan for the upcoming year. The strategy was to expose the budget cuts, tuition hikes, and anti-worker legislation for what they really were – attacks on the working majority of Floridians by powerful right-wing politicians.
This Jan. 21, Fight Back Florida is gearing up to lead the struggle against the government’s plans to place the burden of the state economic crisis onto the backs of the people with a multi-city, coordinated rally. Then, uniting activists from all over the state, Fight Back Florida will continue to give average Floridians a voice against Rick Scott and the corporate interests he represents by mobilizing to Tallahassee for a day of action on Feb. 25. Fight Back Florida plans to host another statewide conference at the end of May to plan for the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa on Dec. 6.
Fight Back Florida was created less then a year ago to confront anti-worker and anti-student legislation. We have already helped gain meaningful wins, but the fight back continues.
For more information, check out Fight Back Florida’s website.
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