U.S. May Day actions call for ‘Nothing less than legalization’

“Jobs, not jails or deportation; nothing less than legalization!” was a popular chant among the tens of thousands of workers, including undocumented immigrants, who turned out for May Day protests across the U.S. From coast to coast, they also demanded an end to racist and anti-union campaigns pushed by profit-hungry bosses at workers’ expense.

Several thousand in Los Angeles reacted to the misnamed “Common Sense Immigration Reform” bill before Congress. “We deserve more!” they chanted. The march was organized by the Southern California Immigration Coalition. Speakers included representatives from Union del Barrio, BAYAN-USA, Roofers Union Local 36, United Teachers of Los Angeles, Occupy LA and Garment Workers Center. The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, Sandinista National Liberation Front, Frente de Resistencia por Mexico and student organizations MEChA and RISE all participated. Their signs called for full legalization now, no guest worker programs, no criminalization or militarization at the borders, and money for jobs, not wars.

Speaking for the International Action Center, Jefferson Azevedo touched on the diverse character of the event, noting, “There are three things the powers that be fear most from the working class — solidarity, organization and action.” Ethnic and multinational diversity was reflected in flags representing Black Liberation, Cuba, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and all the Americas. Special tribute was paid to Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez.

In San Diego several thousand workers, students and youth, overwhelmingly people of color, gathered mid-afternoon at the Civic Center to march through the downtown area and nearby Barrio Logan. Chanting loudly, they streamed into the city’s historic Chicano Park for a rally that included Mexican and Indigenous folk dancers. Many progressive organizations, UNITE HERE locals, United Domestic Workers, Service Workers, Janitors for Justice and others had contingents in the march.

Rally speakers targeted the capitalist system for the continuing crises of unemployment, housing foreclosures, high medical costs, attacks on education and the government’s militaristic and racist policies. Carl Muhammad spoke representing Workers World Party and the San Diego Committee against Police Brutality. The assemblage was strongly united in the call for legalization for all immigrant workers now.

Marches for immigrant rights took place in San Francisco and Oakland. Around 1,200 people marched from Oakland’s Fruitvale BART (subway) station to a Mi Pueblo grocery store where workers have been fired due to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) I-9 raids. Chanting “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido,” they surrounded and shut down the store. Banners demanded “Papeles para todos” (Papers for all). A contingent of 30 Dobake bakery workers, also fired after I-9 raids, carried a banner proclaiming, “No mas redadas silenciosas!” (No more silent raids!).

Also in downtown Oakland, 250 people marched to kick off the Fight for $15 campaign, modeled after walkouts by fast food workers in Chicago and New York. They stopped in front of several fast food and other low-wage chains, chanting, “Hold the burger, hold the fries, we want wages supersized” and “What’s outrageous, fast food wages.”

In Seattle, more than 5,000 immigrants and supporters from more than 35 sponsoring organizations mobilized as the May 1st Action Coalition to protest mass deportation and detention programs. Speakers included workers from many labor struggles. Later that evening an anti-capitalist march of youth and anarchists was attacked by the police. The bosses’ media labeled the march “violent” because a few windows were broken, while ignoring the everyday violence of Homeland Security, which has deported over 1.5 million immigrants, breaking up families and promoting the super-exploitation of immigrant labor.

Birthplace of May Day

In Chicago — the birthplace of May Day— over 1,000 people rallied at Union Park to demand rights for immigrant workers. Speakers included Service Employees and Teachers unions; the latter is facing a battle to save public schools. The crowd was about half Latino/a, reflecting the Mexican and Puerto Rican communities that make up a third of Chicago’s population. Demonstrators marched into the downtown Loop area to the Federal Building with chants including “Obama, escucha, el pueblo está en lucha” (Obama, listen, we are in the struggle). In a powerful demonstration of workers’ solidarity, hundreds of low-wage, fast food and retail workers walked off their jobs that morning to demand the right to unionize and be paid a living wage of $15 per hour.

In Buffalo, downtown lunchtime crowds saw a speak-out called by Workers World Party and the International Action Center. Hundreds of leaflets were distributed calling for a massive jobs program and an end to cutbacks and attacks on workers’ rights. Neighborhood activists announced a fightback against their complete exclusion from University of Buffalo plans to demolish and replace their homes with a “medical corridor.” A march to the office of Sen. Charles Schumer denounced the anti-immigrant “reform” bill and demanded full legalization for all undocumented families.

The Detroit-Metro AFL-CIO called a May Day rally in southwest Detroit, the heart of the Latino/a community. Chris Michalakis, president of the area AFL-CIO, chaired the event. Al Garrett, president of American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 25, called for “immigration reform that makes sense.” But none of the speakers addressed Senate Bill 744, now in Congress, which proposes heightened militarization of the southern border and eliminates programs that have allowed more equitable entry visas.

Southern workers mobilize

In Houston, tribute was paid to 129 people who died in Brooks County, Texas, last year trying to enter the U.S. To avoid an ICE checkpoint, migrants must walk for days in the desert. Many perish. People placed flowers by photos or the remains of more than 30 people. Relatives spoke of loved ones who have never been found.

On May 4, thousands rallied in Houston to demand that Obama and Congress grant legal status to immigrants immediately, stop the militarization of the border and stop separating families. They chanted, “Obama, escucha, estamos en la lucha.” A highlight was the talk of Claudia Munoz, an undocumented activist working with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, who turned herself in to ICE in Michigan to fact-check the Obama administration’s assertion that it isn’t deporting low-level offenders. The rally was chaired by youth who have become leaders in the immigrant struggle: Jannell Robles, Dayana Gomez, Jose Eduardo Sanchez and Marianela Acuña.

In Raleigh, N.C., the North Carolina Student Power Union mobilized more than 350 students from 10 colleges to protest regressive policies advanced by state legislators. Students rallied at North Carolina State University and then marched to the Civitas Institute, a far-right think tank funded by multimillionaire Art Pope, who is also deputy state budget director. A coalition of workers, immigrant rights groups and other community organizations joined them for a march to the North Carolina Legislature, where the young people took over the street.
For nearly an hour, leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus, the North Carolina NAACP, the AFL-CIO and the Southern Workers Assembly, among others, delivered messages of support and solidarity as students spoke out against the attacks. Five protesters were arrested after sitting down with a banner that read, “We demand a future! Stop budget cuts! Stop racist voter laws! Stop attacks on workers!”

East Coast rallies

Workers’ unity and pride, international solidarity and a passion to win legalization for undocumented immigrants marked May Day in New York City. An early morning march through midtown Manhattan, organized by young Transport Union workers, was joined by other unions and puppeteers from Occupy Wall Street. They marched into Metropolitan Transit Authority offices, chanting and demanding a decent contract with no concessions, and then into offices and buildings of anti-labor law firms. Avoiding arrests, they put these bosses and their lackeys on notice that workers know who they are and what they do.

At noon, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) group Occu-Evolve and post office workers marched from the “Law Day” program at New York University to a post office in the East Village that is scheduled to close. There, they mailed 3-by-5-foot postcards to top officials, demanding they stop cutting post office services and jobs.

The May 1st Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights rally began at 12 noon at Union Square. A wide range of artists and speakers focused on immediate legalization for the undocumented, an end to mass incarcerations and deportations, union jobs, education and healthcare for all, and no cutbacks.

A late afternoon march from Union Square to City Hall had contingents from the Laborers, Transport Workers, UNITE HERE, Service Employees, AFSCME District Council 37, United Federation of Teachers, United Auto Workers and the Professional Staff Congress of City University. The Laundry Workers Center, which has been very successful in organizing fast food workers in New York, had signs reading, “End wage slavery,” a demand raised by Chicago workers in 1886 at the first May Day march.

Immigrant and community groups, largely from Asia and Central America, participated. Many are part of a coalition to defend the rights of street vendors and domestic workers.

Following a rally at City Hall, Occu-Evolve and the Labor Outreach Committee, another OWS group, led a march of several hundred people to Zuccotti Park, where they held an assembly honoring Kimani Gray, a young African American killed by the cops in March. The assembly raised the issues of police violence, mass incarceration and stop-and-frisk.

In Philadelphia, the 6th annual celebration of May Day at the Elmwood Park Labor Monument drew 200 workers, community activists and union leaders who heard music and speakers representing Teachers, Postal Workers and AFSCME. A common theme was the need to fight corporate attacks on labor, end privatization, and link workers’ and community struggles. The Restaurant Opportunities Center staged a strike earlier in the day, immediately winning several demands. Postal Workers Local 89 President Gwen Ivey joined other postal workers in giving out fliers for the May 11-13 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative March from Baltimore to Washington, D.C.

In Providence, R.I., 500 people marched, with the largest turnout ever from the African-American community. Latino/a and Black protesters gathered together on the steps of the Rhode Island Statehouse for a rally organized by Inmigrantes en Accion and the Rhode Island People’s Assembly.

John Parker, Eric Struch, Joe Piette, Gloria Verdieu, Terri Kay, James McMahan, Ellie Dorritie, Gloria Rubac, G. Dunkel, Abayomi Azikiwe and Bill Bateman contributed to this article.