NEW YORK—May 1 was a day of celebration, rage, and solidarity. Taking to the streets for International Worker’s Day were some 10,000 to 20,000 mostly working-class New Yorkers. Dozens of May Day actions culminated in a big rally and march from Union Square in lower Manhattan. The march went south on Broadway to Wall Street, the capital of the 1%.
May Day was organized by a new coalition of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, some 40 endorsing trade unions, the May First Coalition for Immigrant and Worker Rights, and other immigrant and community organizations. A national call by anarchist forces within and without OWS for a general strike failed to materialize.
In November, billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg and the New York Police Department evicted OWS from its Zuccotti Park home near Wall Street. But on May Day they found that they could not kill the spirit of Occupy Wall Street. Winter is over, “let freedom spring” was the message!
The NYPD, scandalized by revelations of illegal spying on peaceful antiwar and Muslim activists, arrested some 85 protesters on May Day. The charges were mostly misdemeanors, with a handful of more serious charges. There were several arrests at a “wildcat” march on the Lower East Side, where anarchists overturned garbage cans.
The May Day protesters were in large part an ethnically diverse outpouring of workers unaffiliated with unions that are tied to the Democratic Party. Workers, both immigrant and non-immigrant, and youth, many of whom face astronomical student loan debts, were turned on by the militant confrontational style of OWS.
The mile-long May Day parade was led by five taxis driven by members of the Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents thousands of drivers. Close behind was Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents 38,000 New York subway and bus workers. Local 100 was the first union to publicly defend OWS; it initiated two large rallies last October and November in defense of OWS that rivaled or exceeded May 1.
Local 100 helped prevent the first major cop attempt to dislodge OWS from Zuccotti Park by mobilizing its staff. In October, the TWU filed a court injunction to stop the NYPD from forcing union bus drivers to haul to jail on city buses 700 OWS protesters. The injunction failed. However, union contingents at the rally were modest. Local 100’s contingent of up to 100 was perhaps the largest. Other endorsing unions included 32 BJ, Communications Workers of America Local 1180, the Laborers Union, 1199 SEIU, the Professional Staff Congress, and the United Federation of Teachers. Activists on the ground saw the union leadership as giving May Day less than a full effort, despite pledges of money and resources.
The march ended with a short rally near Wall St. at an office of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). The MTA is threatening Local 100, Teamster commuter rail workers, and others with contract zeros, massive concessions, and possible layoffs. Last year, the MTA paid out over $2 billion in debt payments to Wall Street banks and wealthy owners of MTA Bonds, most of whom are paid in tax-free income by mostly working-class riders.
Many of the May Day marchers were immigrant workers who are fighting discrimination and for full legalization. The crucial role of immigrants’ labor was on full display in 2006, when one to two million workers, mostly immigrants, protested or simply walked off the job on May 1—the biggest strike-protest in U.S. history!
Under the Obama administration there have been more deportations than ever. The limited immigrant turnout on May Day was due in part to NYPD and media-hyped threats of violence, stoking fears of deportation. Moreover, immigrant leaders loyal to the Democratic Party refused to mobilize. Nevertheless, hundreds of immigrant rights activists from many countries gathered for a noon to 4 p.m. rally and cultural event in Union Square sponsored by the May 1 Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights.
Results fell short of the projected “99 Pickets” for May Day but there were dozens of militant actions. Protesters were dispatched from Bryant Park in Midtown, where OWS set up a home base for literature tables, food, and teach-ins. A morning picket at the Bank of America Tower, Chase Bank, and other symbols of the 1% drew hundreds. Rank-and-file postal workers, who face up to 200,000 layoffs nationally, held a modest rally in front of the General Post Office.
Roving picket lines were organized by the Restaurant Organizing Committee (ROC) in support of the mostly immigrant workers who face discrimination and low wages. Demonstrators picketed several Midtown restaurants and the Wells Fargo bank, which profits from low farm-worker wages. Chipote restaurant was targeted in solidarity with the campaign of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers for better pay and conditions for Florida farm workers who pick tomatoes. Organized by Break the Chains, about 250 demonstrators picketed outside the office of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), protesting attacks on immigrant workers. At Madison Square Park some 200 participated in a “Free University,” with classes from city colleges and universities.
A loose alliance of labor activists has been formed called the “OWS Labor Assembly,” which includes the Labor Outreach Committee, Occupy Your Workplace, Occupy the DOE (Department of Education), Immigrant Worker Justice, Arts and Labor, and the Rank and File Committee. The unity among the May Day forces is important but it’s clear that the official union movement’s ties to the Democratic Party will remain a serious break on struggle. The effort to include an antiwar plank in the May Day platform of demands, finally adopted at the end, is only one example.
The crisis of capitalism is far from over. Rebel youth in OWS, worker militants, and immigrants must continue to mobilize and organize. We say, “All day, all week, occupy Wall Street!”
> The article above was written by Marty Goodman, and first appeared in the May 2012 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.