May Day in Tucson: A tradition since 2006

May 2017 TucsonBy GEORGE SHRIVER

— TUCSON, Ariz. — Hopes & expectations were widespread on the eve of May 1, 2017, that the spirit of 2006 might be revived this year. In 2006, as many as 3 million or more undocumented immigrants and their allies poured into the streets on May Day, and the reactionary Sensenbrenner bill, which would have penalized immigrant supporters as well as immigrants themselves, was quickly dropped by the U.S. Congress.

For an example of the hopes aroused this year on the eve of May Day, see this article: http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/20071/the_upcoming_may_day_strike_could_be_the_biggest_in_over_a_decade. In many areas, unfortunately, the hopes and expectations did not become a reality on May Day 2017.

Despite hopes for a revival of the spirit of 2006, and despite a couple of months of extensive leafleting, a press conference, many PSAs (public service announcements) and interviews on radio and television, the turnout in Tucson was not as large, or was about the same, as in the past few years. According to AZ Media, nearly 300 took part in the spirited march led by Calpolli Teoxicalli after an introductory speech by Isabel García, chair of the Coalición de Derechos Humanos, and brief comments by representatives of the South Side Workers Center, local Dreamers, and Jobs with Justice.

A similar reduced turnout was noted in many other parts of the United States—probably due to the failure to mobilize on the part of the official labor movement and other forces that have mobilized for May Day in previous years. Another factor may have been exhaustion on the part of many allies who went out into the streets in large numbers just two days earlier, on April 29, for the People’s Climate Justice actions.

Not to be disregarded also were the intimidation and threats from the Trump administration and its repressive agencies built up by previous administrations, such as the “Department of Homeland Security,” Border Patrol, & ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

The march went from El Casino Ballroom parking lot in South Tucson, north on Sixth Avenue, the main drag in the mostly Chicano South Side of Tucson, to Armory Park on the edge of the downtown area. A contingent of Veterans for Peace and Brown Berets served as peacekeepers for the march.

The local police, stung by bad press after getting caught on video knocking down and pepper-spraying peaceful demonstrators on Feb. 16, escorted the marchers and handled traffic on one lane in the street for the mile-long march.

Emceeing the rally, both at El Casino and at Armory Park, were Eduardo Quintana, former president of Machinists Local 933 in Tucson, Najima Rainey of Tucson Black Lives Matter, and Sandy Ochoa, formerly of SEIU and currently with “Mi Familia Vota,” a voter registration group that concentrates on signing up Spanish-speaking voters.

Fred Yamashita, president of the Pima Area Labor Federation—the local AFL-CIO equivalent of a central labor council—greeted all the labor forces present, including SEIU, Teachers, Steelworkers, Machinists, IBEW (electrical workers), IATSE (theater and stage workers), UFCW (food & commercial workers), Teamsters, & others.

Yamashita explained, “The attacks on labor are growing, and labor too must fight back. We need a gut check. We need to straighten up our own house. You see, it has been reported that 36-40% of union members voted for Donald Trump.”

The program went smoothly, with speakers from half a dozen endorsing and sponsoring organizations, and a poetry reading by a member of MEChA, a Mechista named Genesis. MEChA stands for Movimiento Estudiantil de Chicanos de Aztlan.

One of the speakers whose message was particularly moving and disturbing and aroused strong expressions of sympathy and solidarity was Linda Robles of the Environmental Justice Working Group, an organization of mainly South Side mothers whose children & families have been poisoned by chemicals in the South Tucson groundwater, toxic chemicals that came from the aircraft and weapons-making industry, primarily Raytheon, the infamous manufacturer of missiles and drones. The poisoned chemicals also came from the Tucson Airport Authority and the U.S. Air Force at Davis-Monthan air base. Linda Robles called for the government to buy out the homes of families whose water has been poisoned and to pay for their relocation to a safer place.

No platform for double-talking politicians

In the process of building the 2017 May Day March and Rally, a partial gain was won for those who are fed up with capitalism’s two-party Demo-publican shell game. A majority at the May Day planning meetings voted not to have any politicians on the stage at this year’s rally. That decision held firm despite attempts to have Democrat Rep. Raul Grijalva appear on stage.

Grijalva voted for the Congressional bill that, under Obama, set up a colonial board, misnamed PROMESA (an unpromising “promise,” which is now ruling with arbitrary authority over Puerto Rico, trying to impose austerity on that island for the benefit of hedge-fund creditors—an attempt being resisted now especially by the youth of Puerto Rico, most prominently at the University in San Juan.

Grijalva supposedly represents the Mexican-American community in southern Arizona. What is needed is solidarity between two communities being victimized by U.S. imperialism: the Puerto Rican community and the Mexican-American.

Central to the successful organizing of this year’s May Day event was the Tucson Socialists, who played a similar role in organizing the march and rallies on Jan. 30 under the name of Tucson Occupy Inauguration Coalition.

A factor contributing to the lower turnout in 2017 may have been the failure of the organizing group to coalesce from the beginning around the call for “No work, No School, No Buy, No Shop,” not making it clear that this was a “huelga,” a strike. It was not uncommon to hear people say, “Sorry, I couldn’t make the march; I had to work today.”

But then, for the past many decades in this country we have not had strong social support for strikers. Our working-class organizations have only sporadically supported striking workers. Along with Fight For 15 (whose supporters were striking coast to coast), there were a few union and non-union workers’ organizations who went full throttle to organize walkouts. But in general, this year’s May Day showed that immigrant workers and their allies are not yet where they were in 2006 and that they feel their situation is more precarious.

Photo: Tucson News Now