May Day in the U.S.: Marching in solidarity & militancy

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May Day, International Workers’ Day, was commemorated widely across the United States on May 1. Some of these actions by militant workers, including youth and immigrants of many nationalities, are described here by activists in almost two dozen cities. Workers World Party members and friends participated in all these events.

NORTHEAST

New York City

After a militant noon rally at Union Square, thousands in New York City took to the streets on May Day in a show of multinational, multigenerational and multigender strength. The rally and march were organized by the Union Square May Day Coalition, with more than 50 groups.

Workers and students from across the tristate area (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) marched, while chanting “¡La Migra! ¡La Policía! ¡La misma porquería!” and “Black lives, they matter here! Migrant lives, they matter here!” Dozens of red flags waved in the air, joined by Puerto Rican, Venezuelan, Syrian, Filipino, Palestinian, Honduran and flags from other nations fighting against U.S. imperialism.

A host of speakers took to the mic before the march. They represented BAYAN, the International League of People’s Struggle, Sparc, the Laundry Workers Center, the People’s Power Assembly, NYC Shut it Down and Workers World Party, among others.

The police commanders and borough chiefs must have received orders to crack down on the march. As activists attempted to leave Union Square, a quick barrage of arrests and a tense standoff with the police ensued. Swift action and tactical response by the coalition’s security team, including quickly changing the route, allowed the march to proceed.

At the end of the march, police once again attempted to destroy the militant action by pushing contingents into Foley Square, where de Blasio had just finished speaking.

Yet Union Square demonstrators continued the march, and some joined with NYC Shut It Down for People’s Monday, which honored the life of Berta Cáceres, an Indigenous and environmentalist leader killed by death squads in Honduras. Other marchers joined to greet the freed arrestees as they left 1 Police Plaza.

Syracuse, N.Y.

The call by the Workers’ Center of Central New York for Huelga! (Strike!) on May Day in Syracuse, N.Y., was answered by members of Black Lives Matter, the Palestine Solidarity Collective, CNY Solidarity Coalition and other groups as hundreds marched against the detentions and deportations of immigrants and migrants. WCCNY is fighting for passage of the Liberty Act to make New York a sanctuary state, the Green Light Act to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver licenses, and the Dream Act to provide state financial aid for college for  undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

Rochester, N.Y.

About 75 people withstood a torrential downpour and a tornado watch during the May 1 event sponsored by Metro Justice, 1199SEIU, Local 200 United SEIU, Rochester Regional Joint Board, the Rochester Workers Center and the Worker Justice Center of New York. Workers World Party and a number of other local community and political organizations also supported the action.

Multinational workers and activists from a wide variety of struggles spoke about their efforts to resist the U.S. capitalist machine. Included were activists from Sudan, Ecuador and Palestine, as well as those from the local immigrant struggle hard hit lately by Immigration, Customs and Enforcement arrests and detentions. There were also representatives of the local Fight for $15 struggle and activists trying to organize unions for the first time. Several hip hop artists contributed very moving raps in solidarity with the spirited anti-capitalist gathering.

Downtown Boston and Harvard

Workers World Party joined forces with the Boston May Day Coalition to organize a march and rally of 1,000 people in solidarity with the city’s immigrant and worker communities. All ages and many demographics took to the streets.

Mahtowin Munro, of United American Indians of New England, began the rally with a powerful call to honor the land. Speakers and artists represented Cosecha, COMBAT (Coalition to Organize and Mobilize Boston Against Trump), the Massachusetts Art Institute and more.

Andre Francois, president of the Boston School Bus Drivers Union, United Steelworkers Local 8751, expressed the union’s commitment to fight Trump’s attacks on migrants and defend communities when needed.

Harvard University union members, students and staff went from a rally at Harvard Yard to the one in downtown Boston. Jonathan Roberts, a leader of Student/Labor Action Movement, and Ed Childs, chief shop steward of UNITE HERE Local 26 at Harvard, gave a powerful joint speech, emphasizing that Trump will not succeed in dividing workers or dismantling unions.

Noel Sanders, a WWP member coordinating rally security and logistics, said, “We’re letting Boston know: We say NO to imperialist wars, NO to ICE raids, NO to border walls and YES to immigrants’ and workers’ rights!”

Chelsea, Everett and East Boston, Mass.

Organized by the May 1st Coalition, this march combined forces from three Boston neighborhoods. Key to the coalition was Movimiento Cosecha, an organization working on behalf of undocumented immigrants.

The majority working-class Latinx residents of Chelsea and East Boston are regularly subjected to harassment and seizure by immigration officials. Repression has intensified; Chelsea has fought against Trump’s announced withholding of federal funding for sanctuary cities. All three areas, which are located in one of the five most expensive regions for U.S. real estate, are also undergoing racist gentrification.

Early in the day, the Boston WWP Branch joined Cosecha and leaders of Team Solidarity affiliated with the Boston School Bus Union. Organizers on the union’s sound truck mobilized in Spanish, Haitian Kreol and English for over three hours throughout the three communities.

In the early afternoon, crowds gathered at Lopresti Park in East Boston and nearby churches. As community members provided food, child care, games and family activities, solidarity replaced oppression and exploitation.

Chanting slogans in Spanish, English and other languages, hundreds of marchers walked through the neighborhoods to cheers and honks, with new people joining in. The crowd gathered more steam as it approached Chelsea, where contingents from East Boston and Everett met before joining a rally at City Hall. There speakers advocated a sanctuary city, a $15 minimum wage and other issues important to immigrants and the multinational working class.

Philadelphia

An estimated 3,000 immigrants and teachers, including Black, Brown and LGBTQ+ people, joined the fight to make Philadelphia a true sanctuary city. Several marches converged on City Hall for a multinational, multigender rally where socialists, anarchists, unionists, Black Lives Matter organizers, immigrant rights activists and others participated.

Juntos, an immigrant rights organization, and the Black and Brown Workers Collective led the major march, starting in the early morning in South Philadelphia. Declaring “A Day without immigrant, Black and Brown bodies,” immigrant workers stood up to fear and intimidation and actively forged an alliance with Black and Brown communities, once again showing they are a strong and militant force fighting capitalist exploitation.

About 1,000 teachers held another morning protest about their lack of a contract for more than four years. Organized by the Working Educators caucus of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, they stayed out of work, demonstrated outside their respective schools and rallied at the School Reform Commission headquarters. Then they marched to City Hall to join the Juntos march.

Present also were a contingent from Service Workers Local 32BJ, representing janitors in Center City office buildings, and members of UNITE HERE, who held an earlier rally at the Philadelphia airport against poor wages and working conditions for food service workers.

WWP organized a militant and diverse feeder march, which started near police headquarters, stopped at a Wells Fargo bank, where speakers denounced its financing of for-profit prisons, and paused at the Federal Building to indict the Trump administration in its push for wars against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Venezuela, Syria and other countries. At Jefferson Hospital, speakers addressed the health care crisis.

Marchers called for a Peoples Defense Network to support anyone targeted or punished for participating in the May Day strike. Morgan Robinson, a PDN organizer, said, “After people signed our pledge, many joined us to march and carry signs in support of immigrants, refugees and against ICE and police.”

Members of the Comité Boricua Filadelfia-Camden spoke out against the capitalist fiscal control board imposed on Puerto Rico and the role of Santander Bank there. Other speakers exposed the role of the banks in gentrifying Philly’s Black communities and the attacks on South Asian immigrants.

At City Hall, marchers started the chant “Out of the sidewalks! Into the streets!” Several hundred demonstrators from other feeder marches joined together in militantly circling City Hall to greet and join the arriving Juntos march.

SOUTH

Baltimore

After hundreds marched from downtown Baltimore, four activists — Rev. CD Witherspoon, Rasika Ruwanpathirana, Andrew Mayton and Alec Summerfield — were arrested at Baltimore’s ICE offices while demanding that it be shut down. Rev. Witherspoon is a noted Baltimore activist and former president of the local Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Ruwanpathirana is an immigrant, filmmaker and WWP member; Mayton is a union activist; and Summerfield is a Baltimore law student.

Right before his arrest, Rev. Witherspoon discussed the commonality that the Black community shares with the Latinx community. He stated, “We were brought here in chains against our will and understand the persecution that the Latinx community faces. We need to unite.”

The People’s Power Assembly unfurled a banner in the street in front of ICE that explained the group’s demands: a citywide jobs program, $15 minimum wage NOW, shutting ICE down,  permanent residency for immigrants, and ending racism and police terror.

Huntingdon, W.Va.

Workers World Party called for a May Day demonstration in front of City Hall. The action was endorsed by Students for a Democratic Society at Marshall University.

Raleigh, Durham and Greensboro, N.C.

Despite pouring rain, the Triangle People’s Assembly held a two-hour mass rally and then marched in downtown Raleigh. Several hundred people first marched to the Wake County Detention Center, which doubles as a jail and an immigrant detention center, and then on to the State Legislative building.

The TPA has been hosting mass assemblies every month since Trump was elected. The Durham Branch of WWP played a leading role in convening the People’s Assembly and coalition.

The rally brought together 35 organizations, including six grassroots immigrant rights groups. Latinx organizers secured the closing of several businesses in solidarity with the struggle.

The State Legislature is railroading through a series of bills against sanctuary cities, mandating local enforcement of anti-immigrant measures, adding many anti-union and anti-worker measures, and giving billions in tax breaks to corporations.

In front of the Legislative Building, the crowd chanted, “Shame on you!” led by Comite Accion Popular activist Martha Hernandez. A banner explaining the reactionary bills was thrown to the ground and stomped on by the protesters.

That evening, the TPA, in conjunction with Durham Beyond Policing, rallied and marched again, starting at the site of the new $71 million police office building in east Durham. Speakers demanded the construction project be halted, no extra funding for police and ending racist checkpoints, with the money to go to restorative justice programs, city worker wages, education, health care and youth recreation

The crowd marched to the Durham County Jail, in solidarity with inmates and demanding justice for 17-year-old Uniece Fennel, who died at the hands of prison guards while awaiting trial. Some in the crowd were almost run over by a white supremacist in a truck, who many believe was emboldened by House Bill 330 which would make such motorist actions protected activity.

Marching to City Hall, a few hundred people from the crowd streamed into the Council chambers, seven standing directly before City Council members, declaring them obsolete and appointing themselves the new people’s council. The group read demands to end checkpoints and defund the police, then marched out chanting, “If we don’t get it, shut it down!”

At May Day in Greensboro, several hundred gathered inside the Beloved Community Center to raise up demands from the recently formed Triad Unites coalition. The family of Jose Charles, a 15-year-old brutally assaulted by police last year, has demanded justice. Victor Vincent, a leader in the newly formed chapter of the Greensboro City Workers Union, United Electrical Workers Local 150, spoke in favor of living wages, safe staffing and a fair grievance procedure for workers.

Atlanta

Immigrants, union members, low-wage workers, students and community activists from Black Lives Matter and anti-gentrification struggles gathered on the steps of Atlanta’s City Hall on May Day. Organizations, including Atlanta Jobs with Justice and the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, mobilized those representing movements fighting for economic and social justice.

Marchers supported a range of issues, including a $15 minimum wage for city workers. Speakers urged that Atlanta become a true sanctuary for all, stopping the detention of immigrants in the city jail before deportation, and ending policies criminalizing poor people and displacing working-class and Black neighborhoods through gentrification.

From Asian Americans Advancing Justice to the Solutions Not Punishment Collaboration, speakers from activist, grassroots organizations took to the mic, delving into issues and struggles that require unity and solidarity to win. Then the crowd packed the City Council meeting, where more than 100 people confronted elected officials, testifying for five hours about their demands.

MIDWEST

Detroit

Progressive forces gathered downtown for the annual May Day action called by the Moratorium NOW! Coalition, the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice, the Michigan Peoples Defense Network, the Detroit Active and Retired Employees Association and WWP. These organizations have been on the frontlines of the struggle to win adequate housing, water services, education and pensions, and to end state repression and the renewed Pentagon war drive.

A rally at Grand Circus Park featured speakers from these groups and others who called for a broad united front among workers and the nationally oppressed in the U.S. and around the world. Detroit Food Not Bombs provided a meal during the dinner-time rally.

The multinational gathering then marched down Woodward Avenue. Demonstrators, including Black Youth Project 100 Detroit members, took the streets leading to the Federal Building where the crowd rallied again before proceeding past the Federal Court building and through Campus Martius Park.

Chicago

About 10,000 people participated on a rainy Chicago May Day in several rallies and a march from the Near West side to the Loop, with a majority of the multinational marchers from the Latinx community. There were significant delegations from the Service Employees and other unions.

Workers World Party participated in an anti-imperialist contingent, along with organizations representing national liberation movements in Palestine and the Philippines. Erica Anna spoke for WWP at one of the preliminary rallies, urging the crowd “to make the link between all of our struggles, to find the common thread that flows through the oppression of us all, because once we find that, we can work to dismantle it and replace it with something better, something that truly serves the people.”

WEST

Los Angeles

Crowd estimates ranged as high as 30,000 for the May Day march in Los Angeles, which was festive as well as angry and assertive. People voiced that they would not stand by while racist policies threatened to rip their communities apart. They refused to accept ICE raids and deportations and called for an end to police violence at home and U.S. imperialist wars abroad.

The May Day Coalition, which included the County Federation of Labor and nonprofit immigrant rights organizations, joined forces with the May Day General Strike Coalition, which included Workers World Party as well as the Congreso Latino, Unión del Barrio, Hermandad Mexicana, the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Atzlan’s CA for Progress, the League of United Latin American Citizens, BAYAN-USA, the National Lawyers Guild, LA for Palestine and the Freedom Socialist Party. The MDGSC  joined the labor federation by City Hall after a march. The two coalitions shared speakers at start and end rallies.

The MDGSC’s march and rally, with emcees Ron Gochez of Unión del Barrio and Rebecka Jackson of WWP, featured colorful flags of Latin American countries, the Black Liberation flag, and flags of other oppressed nations.

At the front of the joint rally, speakers addressed the crowd passionately, with English and Spanish translations. Speakers included one of the founders of the 2006 “Great American Boycott,” Gloria Saucedo of Hermandad Mexicana, as well as WWP members Timothy Bluitt and John Parker, who also represented the International League of Peoples’ Struggle. Angélica Salas of CHIRLA (Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights in Los Angeles) spoke for the County Federation of Labor coalition.

Dancers and drummers relentlessly performed in the scorching sun. Thousands of protesters lined up for many blocks behind large banners and chanted slogans primarily in Spanish. Most of those who gathered are struggling with on-the-ground realities of a flawed capitalist system.

San Diego

A coalition of organizations and individuals met monthly to organize the May Day rally and march in San Diego, uniting in solidarity the many groups initially planning separate actions.

Over 40 organizations endorsed International Workers’ Day 2017 here, supporting all workers with the theme “Workers and Community Resist.”  Hundreds gathered at the downtown Federal Building for the opening rally and marched over two miles to Chicano Park for the closing rally.

Bay Area

Over 10,000 people in the Bay Area took to the streets on May Day. From Santa Rosa, San Jose, Oakland, Berkeley, Concord, Richmond and San Francisco, they demanded “Sanctuary for all, no ban, no wall” and an end to attacks on health care, education and workers’ right to organize. People stayed home from work and school. Many businesses, especially in immigrant communities, voluntarily shut down.

At 8:30 a.m., hundreds circled the ICE building in downtown San Francisco before marching to join thousands more at Chelsea Manning Plaza. At 9 a.m., the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 rallied at their hall near Fisherman’s Wharf. Speakers there included former ILWU Local 10 Secretary-Treasurer Clarence Thomas and Lara Kiswani, director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center. Hundreds then marched to join those at Manning Plaza.

In Oakland at 8:30 a.m., protesters arrived at the Alameda (County) Board of Supervisors office, demanding an end to the sheriff’s collaboration with ICE. They called for a halt to jail expansion and the militarization of policing. Clergy chained themselves to the office door for three hours; four people were arrested.

Back in San Francisco, the rally at Chelsea Manning Plaza, organized by the Un Día Sin Inmigrantes Coalition, led into a noon march of well over 3,000 that headed to the Civic Center, site of another rally.

At 3 p.m. in Oakland, at least 3,000 people gathered at Fruitvale Plaza, shutting down the entire street as the Oakland Sin Fronteras Coalition held a rally. Emcees Sagnicthe Salazar of the Chicano Moratorium, Lara Kiswani of AROC, and Cat Brooks of the Anti Police-Terror Project introduced anti-imperialist representatives from South Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Palestine and Haiti. Demonstrators then marched to San Antonio Park, where community know-your-rights workshops were held.

The SEIU Service Workers West had called for a statewide May Day strike. Their members played a large role in supporting and organizing the marches in San Francisco and Oakland, along with other unions such as UNITE HERE and Service Workers Local 1021. Both the Alameda and San Francisco labor councils had called on their members to support all May Day events.

In San Jose, thousands more demonstrated, with buses forced to reroute and many businesses closed. People marched from the Mexican Heritage Plaza on the East Side to the downtown SAP Center.

Portland, Ore.

After months of coalition-building work, thousands of May 1 demonstrators, with an explicitly anti-capitalist message, gathered in support of immigrants, calling for no work, no school, no shopping. Union representatives, artists, housing and racial justice activists spoke. A Gabriella Portland organizer delivered a fiery speech encouraging support for national self-determination and urging that “workers of the world unite.” The crowd began a permitted march led by children, families and folks with mobility issues.

When the march was well underway, the police, donning riot gear, announced they were revoking the march permit, ordering demonstrators to disperse. But the protesters refused! They persisted in marching with chants of “Keep Marching! Keep Marching!”

The police responded by attacking the rear of the march, then announced the avenue was closed. Employing flash bangs, tear gas and impact weapons, the cops attempted to kettle demonstrators. Some in the crowd retaliated against the state violence by smashing windows of businesses, lighting street fires and throwing cans of Pepsi into the ranks of the aggressors. Twenty-five workers were arrested in the crackdown, which deployed the full force of the city and county police.

Seattle

Strong protest against the anti-immigrant and anti-labor policies of the Trump regime was displayed at the Seattle May Day March for Worker and Immigrant Rights. Thousands of workers representing many labor unions, strong Latinx and Indigenous peoples’ participation, and many grass-roots community, labor and political groups stretched for three miles. Nikkita Oliver, a Black Lives Matter candidate for mayor, used spoken word poetry to compare the day’s call for a national general strike to the Seattle general strike of 1919 and pointed to the path forward.

A veterans’ working-class, anti-war feeder march led into the May Day rally after starting from the Garden of Remembrance war memorial. Some groups represented were Veterans for Peace and Veterans Respond, which provided logistical support last fall for Indigenous resistance at Standing Rock, N.D. Andy Ribaudo, of Washington Veterans Action Network, proclaimed to the crowd, “When I was at Standing Rock, it was the first time I ever felt that I was defending the people.”

Abayomi Azikiwe, Gene Clancy, Sage Antonia Collins, Taryn Fivek, Terri Kay, Alex Major, Dianne Mathiowetz, Nathan Carlos Norris, Betsey Piette, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Jeff Sorel, Gloria Verdieu, WW Baltimore Bureau, WW Boston Bureau and WW Huntington, W.Va., Bureau contributed to this article.

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