May Day marches: A show of unity

May 2017 May banner MartyBy MICHAEL SCHREIBER

Millions of people around the world took part in demonstrations on May Day. Actions included a general strike and mass march, backed by the major unions, to protest government austerity measures in Puerto Rico. This followed a huge general strike in Brazil two days earlier. The May 1 international day of working-class protest is rooted in U.S. workers’ actions in the 1880s to demand better working conditions, including the eight-hour day.

For the last decade, the date has been reclaimed in the United States by organizations standing up for the rights of immigrants and low-wage workers. This May Day, in a broad show of solidarity, they were joined by marchers with signs highlighting scores of burning issues—such as affordable health care, racist police violence against Black people, the rights of women and LGBTQ people, and environmental justice.

Chants of “No ban! No wall!” and “No human being is illegal!” alternated with “Black lives matter!” and “Workers united will never be defeated!”

“If the Trump administration has done something very well, it has united lots of communities who otherwise would not be marching together,” Jorge-Mario Cabrera, spokesperson for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, said on National Public Radio from Los Angeles.

May 1 demonstrations took place in at least U.S. 40 cities. Significant numbers marched in the streets—as many as 30,000 in Los Angeles and 10,000 in Chicago—though the turnout in some cities was smaller than in previous years.

In many areas, workers observed a “Day Without Immigrants.” Grassroots activists affiliated with Movimiento Cosecha and other groups organized immigrant workers in over 50 cities, plus rural farmworkers, to demonstrate their power as a class by refusing to work or to shop for the day. Cosecha projected that hundreds of thousands of workers would observe their strike call. The actions were endorsed by “partners” in the labor movement such as SEIU, CWA, UNITE HERE, National Nurses United, and Fight for 15.

Some business owners closed their doors to enable workers to attend the protests. But without protection by the unions, some courageous workers who stayed away from work will likely be forced to endure hard personal consequences. Reportedly, over 100 workers were fired following the previous Day Without Immigrants, on Feb. 16. About 20 women, former employees of EZ Industrial Solutions in Michigan, are protesting their February dismissal in a case before the National Labor Review Board.

The May Day protests gained urgency this year due to Trump’s racist diatribes against Latino and Muslim immigrants, and the accelerated drive by his administration to ban, detain, and deport them. Reports have noted, however, that many immigrants—terrorized by the government roundups—were probably afraid to march openly in the streets.

Trump has pledged to deport at least 3 million immigrants— more than a quarter of the people living in the U.S. without valid documents. That would far surpass the already record-setting quantity of deportations under the Obama administration. Not only “criminals” are being deported; a quarter of the people swept up in ICE raids since Trump took office had never been charged with a crime.

CNN reported in late March that, according to senior immigration officials, ICE agents have focused on conducting raids in so-called sanctuary cities, in an attempt to compel the city governments to comply with Trump administration policy.

The largest May Day events appear to have taken place in Los Angeles, where several marches took place. One group followed a banner demanding, “Full Rights for Immigrants” in a march for “jobs, education, and peace in the world.” In the largest action, a show of “unity, resistance, and defiance,” over 120 organizations sponsored a downtown march, from MacArthur Park to City Hall, with rallies at both ends.

The turnout of 20,000 to 30,000 was much larger than on May Day 2016, although it was less than the 100,000 that had been widely predicted for this year. Some organizers had even expressed confidence that the size of the crowd would approach or exceed that of the historic May Day 2006 event, when close to half a million marched down Wilshire Blvd. as part of a vast national mobilization in response to the reactionary anti-immigrant bill that had been introduced by James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) in the U.S. Senate. But in 2017, the fact that the immigrant community in Los Angeles has been hard hit by raids (two months earlier, ICE detained about 160 people) probably contributed to the smaller than expected number of participants.

New York also saw several marches. Early in the day, 500 protesters marched through Midtown Manhattan and rallied in front of offices of Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase & Co. The Rise up New York! coalition targeted the two banks because of their dealings with companies that have built or manage immigrant detention centers. Thousands more took part in separate rallies in Washington Square and Union Square, and most of the marchers later converged in Foley Plaza, where Mayor Bill de Blasio and a series of Democratic Party politicians and union officials addressed them.

In San Francisco, over 5000 marched up Market Street behind a papier-maché Statue of Liberty. Oakland held several marches and rallies, including a spirited gathering of about 3000 in the heavily Latino Fruitvale Avenue neighborhood.

In Philadelphia, several labor and immigrant groups marched through different parts of the city, and then came together at City Hall. The combined demonstration grew to over 2000 participants. The marchers included members of UNITE HERE, who earlier in the day had staged a rally at Philadelphia International Airport to protest substandard wages and working conditions.

A number of teachers also joined the march. About 1000 teachers did not report for work that day, many of them taking part in a non-sanctioned protest action called by the Working Educators caucus of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT). They were calling attention to the fact that public school teachers have been working without a contract for nearly four years, and have not had a raise for five years. The PFT called its own rally later in the afternoon.

In Minneapolis, Workday Minnesota reports that the May 1 events began with a strike and rally by retail cleaners at a Home Depot store. The strikers are members of  Centro de Trabajadores de Lucha/Center of Workers United in Struggle.

“We’re fighting for fair wages, benefits, and the right to form a union without fear of retaliation,” said Elizabeth Mejia Campillo, a CTUL leader.

At noon, University of Minnesota workers held a rally to kick off their campaign for fair contracts covering 4000 clerical, technical, health care, food service, janitorial and other employees. Later in the afternoon, the “Resist From Day One Coalition” marched to Federal Plaza in downtown Minneapolis.

Photo: Marty Goodman / Socialist Action