TAMPA, Fla. -- In keeping with the small but spirited demonstrations from the left here this week, unionized workers led a march against GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney through downtown Tampa Wednesday afternoon, hoping to show onlookers what they said "Romney's America" would look like.
Hosted by a local labor council and escorted by Tampa police, the march included a series of stops in which labor activists put on shows of street theater, acting out various injustices that they assured would come with a Romney administration, including voter suppression, rising student debt and a decline in working conditions.
"We're like Virgil in Dante's 'Inferno,' taking people through Romney's America," said Josh Anijar, communications director for the Florida AFL-CIO. "We may have some SAG [Screen Actor Guild] members here, but it's mostly rank-and-file workers, so don't judge them on their acting abilities."
Like much of the South, Florida has a low unionization rate when compared with states in the Midwest and Northeast, but the march managed to draw what appeared to be a few hundred union workers, most holding up union signs, as well as a smattering of other progressive activists.
Workers from unions that include the Communications Workers of America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Association of Letter Carriers told HuffPost they came out because they viewed Romney as hostile to organized labor and detrimental to the working class.
"I'm so passionate, I can't stand it -- my stomach's in a knot," Peter Busto, a retired plumber with the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 123 in Tampa, said of the upcoming election. "If [Romney] wins, the working class is going to deplete."
Busto was sweating beneath a blue shirt and black blazer that he was sporting for the sake of the "Romney's America" theater tour. He'd been tapped to play the role of a "one percenter," with a fake $100 bill sticking out of his pocket, who would "squeeze" the middle class -- in this case, by wrapping a bunch of people in tape. "I guess I'm going to be choking them down, the working people," Busto said with a shrug.
Romney has taken jabs at organized labor throughout the campaign, accusing Obama of catering to "union bosses," blaming unions for bankrupting American companies and suggesting unions had outlasted their use to workers. He's vowed on "day one" of his presidency to try to repeal the federal law establishing prevailing wages, something hallowed to trade unions.
Al Friedman, a retired letter carrier, said he came to the march because he believed Romney and other Republicans wanted to privatize the troubled U.S. Postal Service. Declaring the federal workforce "bloated, antiquated and unresponsive to taxpayers," the GOP platform Tuesday night ratified a suggestion to hand off some mail processing duties to the private sector and adjust the agency to "the downsizing made inevitable by the advance of Internet communication." Friedman was wearing a sandwich-board that read "Save America's Postal Service."
"I think this is the line in the sand. All we're asking is to give us a fair shake," Friedman said. "Why are they going after the postal service? They're imploding this from the inside."
Headed toward the convention zone, marchers chanted "We built it!" and "We are the workers!" and "Fight back, stand up!"
As Busto's skit unfolded amid a throng of demonstrators blocking the view, Anijar shouted through his bullhorn, "For those who can't see it, Romney is giving the squeeze -- thoroughly and figuratively -- to the middle class." After another bit of streetside theater wrapped up, Anijar said, "We're going further and deeper into Romney's America!"
Despite a few favorable words toward President Barack Obama from marchers, most of the demonstration focused on what a disaster the workers promised a Romney administration would usher in -- perhaps indicative of Obama's complicated relationship with organized labor. Many labor leaders said privately that they wish the president showed more support for unions.
Some union members at the march, including Louis Smith, spokesman for CWA Local 3108, voiced their independence from the Democratic establishment, saying they would only back candidates who supported organized labor, regardless of party.
"We're not backing Democrats anymore -- we're backing labor-friendly Democrats," Smith said. "This is a rally against corporate America." If he were at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., next week, rather than here at the RNC this week, Smith said his message to Obama's party would be to "have balls. Stick with the working class. Go left. Be a workers' party."
As for his support for the president? Smith said that ObamaCare was a great move forward. And besides, he added, "the alternative is death."
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