Reclaiming International Workers’ Day—a day for all workers

On May 1, tens of thousands of immigrants and working families of all backgrounds, community organizations, labor unions and many others took to the streets across the country to demand legalization for all immigrants and to stop deportations and the attacks on workers. The ANSWER Coalition supported and helped organize May 1 demonstrations that took place across the country. Below are reports from some of the actions that took place on May 1.

Milwaukee, Wisc.

Milwaukee, Wisc.

Nearly 100,000 students, unionists and supporters of immigrant rights took to the streets of Milwaukee on May 1. A march stretched several blocks, with participants chanting “Si, se puede” (“Yes, we can”) and “People power,” and demanded that President Obama listen to the issues of workers' and immigrants rights.

Richard Trumka, the national president of the AFL-CIO, attended the march and spoke at the conclusion of the rally about the need for solidarity and unity in struggle between working people of all nationalities. Christine Neumann-Ortiz, founding executive director of the immigrant rights coalition Voces de la Frontera, spoke about the agenda of transnational corporations to exploit low wage Latino workers on one hand while also fighting to undermine collective bargaining rights for public sector employees. She also spoke about the need to oppose a proposed Arizona-style legislation to racially profile Latino people.

The highlight of the day was the youthful composition of the event, with many youth attending their first May 1 rally. The energy of this event has great potential to carry over into united struggle against Gov. Scott Walker and his aggressive attacks on workers and the poor.

Los Angeles, Calif.

Los Angeles, Calif.
Photo: Raymond White

Tens of thousands of people joined a spirited mass march and rally in Los Angeles to commemorate International Workers’ Day, a day that belongs to all workers.

While students chanted for the power of the people, retail and office workers, teachers, janitors--all sorts of workers and even children--chanted against racist immigration deportations, saying “Money for jobs and education, not for racist deportations!”

Different contingents from immigrant rights groups, organized labor and progressive organizations joined the march, but all had one thing in common--the will to struggle.

The main themes of the march were: Legalization now! Stop deportations and attacks on workers! Jobs, peace and justice for all!

May Day 2011 was unique because of the unity constructed between many different sectors of the workers' movement. The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights-Los Angeles, ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism), Multi-ethnic Immigrant Workers Organizing Network , SEIU, LIUNA and others all worked together for weeks to build the demonstration and make it a success. It was an equal partnership among all sponsoring organizations.

The ANSWER Coalition, along with member groups including the Party for Socialism and Liberation and Students Fight Back, brought a large contingent of workers and students. Organizers chanted and agitated in Spanish and English for legalization of all immigrants, chanting "Legalizacion, no deportacion" (Legalization, not deportation).

ANSWER Coalition members Marcial Guerra, Peta Lindsay and Ian Thompson spoke at march. March Forward! member Ryan Endicott and Students Fight Back organizer Yvonne Bonilla also spoke to the crowd.

All made the connections between the war on immigrants and workers' at home with the wars on working people abroad. Thompson said, "We demand peace and justice for everyone. ... The government spends $700 million each day to wage war on workers abroad, at the same time they say there is no money for education, that we must accept layoffs and cuts, and they blame immigrants for taking jobs."

He continued, "But these are lies. The California budget crisis would vanish in one month if the wars stopped tomorrow. Immigrants aren't to blame for unemployment--it's Wall Street and Washington."

Bonilla said, "Let's keep marching, organizing and fighting back. Latino, Asian, Arab, African American and white--we are united in struggle, and together we will win!"

Other speakers included Juan Jose Gutierrez of Vamos Unidos USA and the Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition, Angelica Salas of CHIRLA, Humberto Gomez of LIUNA, Congresswoman Judy Cheng (D-Calif.) and many others.

Other people who made this march possible included multinational groups of immigrant workers--from Mexico to El Salvador to Sri Lanka, LGBT rights organizations, unions and people of all different backgrounds. The protesters did not plead, but demanded an end to the attacks on workers, including the racist deportations of immigrants that have increased massively under the Obama administration.

In the crowd, it was easy to find disappointment with the Obama administration and its false promises of "immigration reform within one year of taking office." Mario Gutierrez, a worker who traveled from Oxnard, Calif., to support what he referred to as “La lucha del pueblo” (the people's struggle), said, “The people elected him as president, now it’s time for him to do his job for the people.”

Unfortunately, it is clear that the people have no place in the agendas of the Democratic or Republican parties. President Obama has only paid lip service to immigration reform, and now the masses of immigrant workers are realizing that something needs to be done. 

Sandy Mejia, another participant at the march, said, "May Day has been a success. Our voices were heard trough every corner of Broadway street thanks to the working-class families that dedicated this day to speak up about their struggle."

New York City, N.Y.

New York City, N.Y.
Photo: Nathalie Serrano

At least 10,000 workers, immigrant and non-immigrants alike participated in International Workers’ Day activities in downtown Manhattan this year. For the second consecutive year, New York City's labor unions organized a rally at Foley Square with the main demands of "Labor and Immigrant Rights! Jobs for All!" At least 5,000 immigrants, workers and activist organizations rallied in Union Square for an hour before a spirited march down to the unions' Foley Square rally.

That the labor unions are back involved in May Day, using it as a day to promote unity between foreign-born and U.S.-born workers, is historically significant in and of itself. It had special importance this year given the present full-scale assault on unions. Public-sector employees rallied to denounce the attacks on their brothers and sisters in Wisconsin, and the concessions demanded by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. A large contingent of construction workers from LiUNA was also present at the rally, connecting the struggles of public-sector and private-sector workers.

In Foley Square, ANSWER was joined by allies from Ugnayan and Damayan Migrant Workers Association, who marched in a militant contingent behind the banner, "Assert immigrant and workers rights! End imperialist globalization!" Volunteers with the ANSWER Coalition also distributed a flyer for May 12, a day on which the labor unions are planning another march on Wall Street, which promises to be quite large. It will demand that the state bring back the millionaire's tax, and that working people not be made to pay for Wall Street's crisis through cutbacks and layoffs.

Seattle, Wash.

Seattle, Wash.
Photo: Jane Cutter

At least 5,000 workers turned out to say “We are all workers/Todos somos trabajadores: Washington, Arizona and Wisconsin!” Demonstrators gathered outside St. Mary's Church in the Central District and marched to a rally at Seattle's Memorial Stadium. The demonstration called for an end to attacks on immigrants and an end to anti-union repression.

Immigrant workers were well-represented, primarily from the Latino community, but also African and Asian workers let their voices be heard. In addition, organized labor had a visible presence, with contingents from King County Labor Council, United Food and Commercial Workers, Teamsters, UNITE HERE and Seattle Education Association, among others.

The demonstration was also supported by the broad progressive movement of the Seattle area, including contingents from numerous churches, anti-war organizations, student groups and a contingent raising the issue of LGBT immigrant families who are unable to reunite due to lack of federal recognition of their relationships. A popular chant was “Obama, escucha, estamos en la lucha!”

San Francisco, Calif.

San Francisco, Calif.
Photo: Meghann Adams

At least 1,500 activists and community members marched from the Mission District's 24th Street BART to the downtown Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco. Participants carried signs addressing issues such as Arizona's SB 1070, deportations, and the ongoing attacks on immigrants’ and workers' rights.

While speakers at the initial rally site spoke out against the attacks on the immigrant community and the false propaganda of immigrants, the community made their voice heard on the streets. All along Mission and Valencia Streets, the energetic crowd chanted: "Aqui, alla, la lucha sequira," "Obama, escuchar, estamos en la lucha" and "Money for jobs and education, not for racist deportations!" When the march reached the interstate overpass, their voices echoed while shouting "Si, se puede!"

The march culminated in a rally in front of City Hall featuring local musicians and speakers focusing on the attacks affecting all workers and the need for solidarity between all working class communities.

The event was organized by the May Day Coalition, of which the ANSWER Coalition is a member.

Chicago, Ill.

Chicago, Ill.
Photo: John Beacham

In Chicago, over 500 people came out in support of immigrants’ and workers’ rights. A vibrant rally was held at Union Park with speakers and music leading the way. The protesters then marched to the immigrant community of Pilsen. The main demands were an end to the mass deportations, full rights for immigrants and jobs for all now.

The march was very energetic and was led by the youth and immigrants. Members of the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), including member organizers such as the Party for Socialism and Liberation, had a strong presence with loud sound, placards and banners. Some of the chants included, “Stop, stop the deportations! Tax, tax the rich!” and "Inmigrantes, Si! La Migra, No! Sindicatos, Si! La Migra, No!"

The march was followed by a closing rally in Pilsen that allowed everyone to regroup for the final speakers and chants of the day. “Up, up with education! Down, down with deportations” was the main chant of the closing rally.

Daisy Ventura, an unemployed recent college graduate who joined the demonstration, said: "May Day means fighting for a cause, fighting for my people who everyday work hard and all those who work in the fields. ... Today is a day of struggle for immigrants and workers."

Francisco Rojas, a student at Harold Washington College who also participated in the march, said: "Today is the day that we tell the government that we need immigration reform and we demand education rights."

Santa Fe, N.M.

Santa Fe, N.M.
Photo: Preston Wood

In response to the reactionary Gov. Martinez's assault on immigrant workers' rights and to celebrate international solidarity with workers around the world, demonstrators from throughout New Mexico converged on the state capitol to demand full equality for undocumented workers. Marching through the streets of Santa Fe, hundreds of passers-by honked in solidarity as workers from local businesses came out to salute the demonstrators.

ANSWER Coalition - N.M. organizer Chris DeBonis called for a resurgence of the movement for full equality for immigrants. "Now is the time," he said, "to get into the streets to let the Governor know that we will not step down in this struggle for full rights for immigrants. We will continue to take to the streets to let the Obama administration know that it's time for action for immigration reform, that it's time for President Obama to make good on his promises." 

The May Day demonstration was initiated by Somos Un Pueblo Unidos.

Baltimore, Md.

Baltimore, Md.
Photo: Roger Scott

People gathered in downtown Baltimore to commemorate International Workers’ Day and the continuing workers' struggle around the world. Different organizations came from across the city, including young and old alike. People gathered at Pratt and Light Streets holding placards and posters around the intersection. Many commuters coming through the area were very receptive and supportive. 

After making a lively presence, organizations and activists took some time to say a few words to remember the historic day. The resounding call from those speaking was “Jobs instead of War!” Nnamdi Lumumba of the Ujima People’s Progress Party mentioned that the true criminals were not those on the streets trying to survive daily, but instead the corporate elite who commit crimes against humanity every day--while pointing to the Bank of America building down the street. Andrew Castro, speaking on behalf of the ANSWER Coalition, reminded everyone of the importance of May Day and said that we should not forget the immigrants who continue to suffer from poor conditions.

Boston, Mass.

Boston, Mass.

Activists, families and Greater Boston residents came together in celebration of International Workers’ Day. An initial rally was held at the Rose Kennedy Greenway near Haymarket Station in downtown Boston, hosted by the Boston May Day Committee, of which the ANSWER Coalition is a member group. The rally consisted of speeches, chants and a theatrical performance by the Bread and Puppets theater group. Speakers included Tito Meza of Proyecto Hondureño, City Councilor Charles Yancey, Sergio Reyes of the Boston May Day Committee and Jennifer Zaldana of the ANSWER Coalition.

Zaldana said, “We stand here today to fight against the attacks on the poor and working class, and to fight against racist programs such as this so-called Secure Communities, which in reality it is not securing any communities, instead it is tearing down communities.”

Immediately following the rally, demonstrators took the train to East Boston to join up with a feeder march and rally that led to the main May Day rally at Chelsea's City Hall. On the train, demonstrators continued the momentum with chants and noise makers.

The main rally was organized by the May 1st Coalition of East Boston, Everett and Chelsea. Under the theme "From Cairo to Wisconsin to Massachusetts: Defend all workers' rights," dozens of organizations mobilized for the action. Immigrant rights groups such as the Chelsea Collaborative, Student Immigrant Movement and Centro Presente marched side by side with several major unions, including as SEIU and UNITE HERE. In addition to the feeder rally and march from East Boston, a second feeder march from Everett joined the Chelsea rally.  

New Haven and Hartford, Conn.

Photo: Deb Malatesta

Nearly 200 people rallied on the steps of the federal building in New Haven to demand jobs and justice in honor of International Worker’s Day. Among the speakers at the rally were two students from Wilbur Cross High School, Allan Williams and Jazlyn Ocasio, who recently led a march to City Hall after the mayor announced more cuts to teachers and education in the city.  Speakers also included school cafeteria workers, who are members of UNITE HERE Local 217, and custodial workers from AFSCME Local 287, who demanded an end to cut backs and attacks on unions.

The rally was followed by a powerful march through New Haven, with chants of “Money for jobs and education, not for war and incarceration,” “Obama, escucha, estamos en la lucha!” and “The people, united, will never be defeated.”  The march and rally were followed by an annual festival on the New Haven Green in honor of the Haymarket massacre and the nationwide strike for the 8-hour work day.

International Workers’ Day in New Haven also marked an important event for immigrants and allies, who helped organize and mobilize for the rally. Mariano Cardoso, a 23-year-old student who until recently was facing a deportation order, told the crowd that despite the fact that the order has been vacated, the struggle for justice is not over.

In Hartford, over 1,000 union workers and their families rallied at Bushnell Park in honor of International Workers’ Day and to demand an end to the attacks on unions and solidarity among workers. In recent months, unions have been targeted and attacked.

Valrey Johnson, one of the rally participants, said that her union has been on strike at Park Place Health Center, a nursing home in Hartford, for more than a year. A mother with three sons in college, she said, "We are standing strong, we are not giving up. We are here today at this event to stick together." 

Sacramento, Calif.

International Workers' and Immigrants' Rights Day was celebrated by at least 200 people in Sacramento on the west steps of the State Capitol building. The demonstration was called for by Union Civica Primero de Mayo and organizations supporting the event included: M.E.Ch.A, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (AFL-CIO), Peace and Freedom Party, United Native Americans INC, SEIU, ANSWER Coalition, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Sacramento County Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO), and more.

The event began with a series of speakers and shortly after, a march to the State Democratic Convention. Placards and flags were held high as workers, documented and undocumented immigrants, and students chanted "Si, se puede!" and "Obama, escucha, estamos en la lucha!" Immigrants’ rights organizations and labor unions were protesting the state Democrats for their failure to hold to their promises. There was an ongoing picket outside the convention as traffic drove by honking in solidarity, and was followed by a march back to the capitol building to wrap up the day's event.

The ANSWER Coalition,  including member organizations such as the Party for Socialism and Liberation, joined the events in solidarity. Jesse Thomson-Burns, an organizer with the ANSWER Coalition and member of the PSL, spoke to the demonstrators: "Regardless of nationality, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, whether you're in a union or not, whether you're documented or not, we must come together as a class and defeat our mutual enemy--the U.S. capitalist imperialists who exploit people across the world! Workers and oppressed peoples of all countries unite!"

Syracuse, N.Y.

Syracuse, N.Y.
Photo: Derek Ford

Members of the ANSWER Coalition joined workers in Syracuse for a celebration of International Workers’ Day at Plymouth Church. The event, hosted by the Workers’ Center of Central New York, was a step forward in reclaiming the day that has its origins in the United States but is not officially recognized here.

Throughout the evening workers shared stories of super-exploitation and discrimination. One Native American worker named Ramona told the crowd that she was fired from her job after questioning why she was earning less than her counterparts. Another worker and organizer, Emily, talked about the discrimination she faced for becoming pregnant. “I hadn’t even thought about it, that it could affect my job security,” she said.

The Workers’ Center of CNY is a leading organization promoting the rights of workers in the area, particularly the undocumented who suffer the highest rates of exploitation. Last fall, the organization helped to uncover a modern-day slavery ring operated by vendor Peter Karageorgis at the New York State Fair. Karageorgis is seeking a permit to vend at the fair again and it is currently under consideration, according to officials. The Workers’ Center of CNY, the ANSWER Coalition and other community groups are currently organizing to ensure that the permit is denied. The ANSWER Coalition is hosting a public forum on the issue at the Southwest Community Center on May 27.

Richmond, Va.

Richmond, Va.
Photo: Matt Murray

The third annual May Day celebration for Richmond, Va., drew hundreds of people to the city’s historic Monroe Park for a rally and march. Radicals and progressives of all stripes were present, including socialists, anarchists and union activists. The rally included speakers from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees the Southwood Alliance immigrant rights organization and the Industrial Workers of the World. Nicholas Powell spoke on behalf of the Party for Socialism and Liberation on the history of May Day and the need to defend unions and immigrant workers, while Nicholas DeFilippis spoke on the need for youth involvement in politics to end the exploitation of young workers.

Despite being told by the Richmond police and a federal court that activists could not march in the streets on May Day, at least 250 people marched in the streets and on the sidewalks. Participants wished onlookers a happy May Day and convinced a few of them to join in. Parade marshals blocked oncoming traffic and kept the marchers safe without help from the police. The parade went smoothly and safely from its beginning point in Monroe Park down Broad Street, Pine Street, and back to the park. Monroe Park is significant because it was made the target of racist gentrification last year.

People chanted “Whose streets? Our streets!” as a local brass band played at the front of the march. Signs in English and Spanish proclaiming working-class solidarity, as well as placards from the ANSWER Coalition and the PSL, were distributed and carried throughout the march. Anti-war activists also showed up with signs demanding an end to the imperialist wars in the Middle East.

San Diego, Calif.

San Diego, Calif.
Photo: Irvin Pachuca

May 1 was a day of solidarity and strength amongst the working class in the deeply segregated city of San Diego. Workers from all sectors of society came out in response to the call put out by a broad-based coalition of organizations formed only months before.

Through their commitment and solidarity, organizers showed what is possible when workers are mobilized. The energetic crowd gathered outside the historic Centro Cultural de la Raza to hear live music performance and speeches to rally their spirits before the march.

From there marchers took over the downtown streets as they marched to the Federal building. They were lead by two young students carrying a banner reading, “La Lucha Obrera no Tiene Fronteras” (“The Workers Struggle Has No Borders”). Spirits were lifted high by a radical marching band and militant chants.

At the Federal Building, solidarity speeches called for an end to the wars and occupation, freedom for Bradley Manning, an end to the U.S. supply of weapons to the Mexican government, an end to U.S. imperialism in the Philippines and end to imperialist exploitation.

Marchers then continued on to the San Diego Civic Center where another rally was being held by faith organizations and labor unions. There, marchers were joined by still another contingent of workers who had begun their march at Chicano Park.

Contributing reporters: Austin Thompson, Carolina Morales, Deb Malatesta, Derek Ford, Jane Cutter, Jennifer Zaldana, Jim Rudd, John Hershey, Khaled Awad, Meghan Adams, Nicholas DeFilippis, Preston Wood, Abel Macias

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