Workers, immigrants march on May Day

By LISA LUINENBURG

 Dozens of protesters were injured in Istanbul, Turkey, this year on May 1 as they tried to reach Taksim Square. A week earlier, the Turkish Prime Minister had announced a ban on demonstrations in Taksim Square on the internationally recognized workers’ holiday. Police in Istanbul used tear gas and water cannons against thousands of protesters who attempted to defy the ban.

The Turkish government’s willingness to use violence to break up the demonstration is just another sign of the times—as workers around the world continue to protest against unending austerity and war, the capitalist class is more willing to use violence to keep them in their place.

In the United States, May Day demonstrations of a more peaceful nature took place around the country. One of the largest was in Seattle, where over 7000 people marched in support of immigrants’ and workers’ rights. Recently elected Socialist Alternative city council member Kshama Sawant spoke at the rally, addressing the need for a living wage for workers. Other speakers addressed the ongoing campaign for better conditions in the Northwest Detention Center, where a hunger strike took place in February to protest the deplorable conditions for immigrants who are held there.

May 1 demonstrations in other parts of the country also focused on workers’ rights and justice for immigrants. Rallies of about 2000 people took place in New York City’s Union Square, in Salem, Ore., and in Minneapolis. Workers in those states rallied for immigration reform, an end to deportations, and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. In Portland, Ore., and Madison, Wis., protesters rallied for a $15 minimum wage, and people in Madison also supported ongoing fights against mining and tar sands pipelines in the state.

Demonstrators in the United States have many good reasons to rally around the cause for immigrants’ rights on May 1. While politicians in Congress debate immigration reform and argue over how many fines to charge people seeking green cards and how many Border Patrol agents to send to the border, hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants are being deported by the Obama administration every year. At the same time, undocumented immigrants are being criminalized for working, as E-verify and I-9 audits have replaced Bush’s military-style raids as the weapon of choice.

A good example of these circumstances can be seen in several fights currently taking place in Philadelphia. In April of this year, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed an executive order stating that city police will no longer hold undocumented immigrants under ICE detainers unless they have been convicted of a felony and ICE issues a warrant.

Usually, police forces cooperate with ICE by holding immigrants who are arrested until ICE can pick them up, even if they have been accused of no crime. This has led to cases such as that of Ernesto Galarza, a U.S-born citizen of Puerto Rican descent, who was arrested and illegally held for three days in 2010 under ICE’s mistaken belief that he was an undocumented immigrant from the Dominican Republic. According to the ACLU, cases like Ernesto’s, along with the fact that ICE’s detainer policy promotes a high rate of deportations of people who are innocent of any crime, has had a big impact on many city officials around the country.

Philadelphia has joined the ranks of a growing list of municipalities, including Washington, D.C., New Orleans, and New York City, which have stopped complying with ICE holds.

In another recent case, nearly 100 workers from the La Brea Bakery in Swedesboro, N.J., outside Philadelphia, were recently fired after the company conducted an I-9 audit and the workers were unable to produce documents proving their immigration status. Many of these workers had put in over 10 years on the job, but were offered no advance notice or severance pay.

Under the Obama administration, the use of I-9 audits has largely replaced the military-style immigration raids of the Bush era. With this tactic, undocumented workers are quietly fired from their jobs, essentially criminalizing their right to work and provide for their families, while avoiding much of the public outcry that accompanied large-scale raids in the past.

CATA, El Comite de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas (the Farmworkers Support Committee), has taken on the case of the workers fired from La Brea. On March 17, the workers delivered a letter to the company, seeking dialogue and asking for their jobs back, or at least for compensation. The company has yet to respond.

On May 1, a small delegation of CATA workers joined the May Day march in Philadelphia, stopping for a short rally outside of Starbucks, which sells La Brea goods. The workers delivered a petition and letter to the manager. You can support the La Brea workers by signing the petition at the following link: https://www.change.org/petitions/john-yamin-call-on-la-brea-bakery-to-treat-workers-with-justice.

The recent struggles around immigration in Philadelphia are just one example of a myriad of injustices that take place against immigrants and workers every day, not just in the United States, but around the world. Despite the low level of social struggle currently taking place on a global level, thousands of workers in many countries marched in the streets on May 1, showing that the struggle of the working class is far from dormant. It is this struggle that we must help to grow in the coming years, as the austerity and attacks against the working class continue.

Socialist Action photo by Tony Savino: May Day in New York City.