On May Day U.S. workers on the rise
The year leading up to May Day 2019 in the U.S. saw increasing numbers of successful strikes and workers’ actions from coast to coast, involving retail, restaurant, tech industries, education workers and the gig economy.
In the Carolinas on May Day, thousands of teachers, wearing red shirts, walked out and shut down schools, converging on state capitals in Columbia, S.C., and Raleigh, N.C. They demanded an end to years of stagnant wages and lack of investment in schools. The convergence of red-clad protesters led both right-wing and big business publications to ponder “Advocating for ‘our children’ or a ‘Marxist’ event”?
Workers World welcomes these teachers’ protests, which are not isolated events. Workers struggles are gaining momentum around the country.
In Boston, a vibrant march organized by the May1st Coalition wound through the working-class, mainly Latinx, communities of Everett, Chelsea and East Boston, with drumming and chants of “Si se puede” and “Whose streets? Our streets!” Community groups included Comite TPS Massachusetts, Chelsea Collaborative, La Comunidad and many others.
Workers fixing a roof held up their tools in solidarity as marchers passed by with placards “No Walls in the Workers Struggle” and “Build Global Solidarity.” A woman in a Stop & Shop shirt said proudly, “I work at Stop & Shop; we just went on strike and won!” Garage mechanics, spattered with oil, held up their fists and smiled. School students stopped to take literature.
The banner of the United Steelworkers Local 8751, representing Boston school bus drivers, defended the Bolivarian Revolution and former bus driver Venezuelan President Maduro. The New England Carpenters Union banner read, “Workers of the World Unite.” Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), fresh from their victorious Stop & Shop strike, were there, along with UNITE/HERE Local 26 representing victorious Harvard University and Marriott workers.
The Boston Independent Drivers Guild, representing Uber/Lyft workers, marched alongside Fight for Im/migrants and Refugees Everywhere (FIRE) and the International Workers Solidarity Network. After rallying at Harvard University, the Harvard TPS Coalition joined the march at East Boston where strong chants of “Hands off Venezuela” finished the day.
In New York City, demonstrators at the Trump Building, 40 Wall Street, denounced capitalist exploitation of immigrant workers. “No walls in the workers struggle/No hay muros en la lucha obrera!” was a common theme and “From Palestine to Mexico, border walls have got to go” was a popular chant. Ralliers emphasized continued solidarity with Venezuela after another failed U.S.-backed coup attempt on April 30.
Speakers tackled issues including women-hating as a workers’ issue, dignity for sex workers and the crime of wage theft. They called for solidarity internationally with Venezuela, Palestine and Haiti and expressed continued opposition to ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids and deportations.
Kicking off at City Hall in Philadelphia, marchers demanded Gov. Tom Wolf close the Berks Family Detention Center, a concentration camp with refugees and asylum-seekers outside Philadelphia. Abolish ICE and Juntos, an immigrant-led Latinx community organization, were rally organizers. Speakers called on District Attorney Larry Krasner to free Mumia Abu-Jamal and for an end to mass incarceration and police brutality.
Mike Wilson, of Workers World Party and Philly REAL Justice, spoke at the statue of racist, fascist former Police Commissioner and Mayor Frank Rizzo, who targeted the city’s Black communities. Wilson contrasted the unified struggle to tear down Rizzo’s statue with the divide-and-conquer tactics of Trump’s war on migrants.
At media-monopoly Comcast’s building, Fermin Morales from Comite Boricua Filadelfia-Camden highlighted the U.S. assault on Venezuela, declaring the need for a workers’ world, free from capitalism. Marchers then went to the site of prison contractor Aramark, demanding it end multiple contracts with ICE.
In Cleveland marchers followed the route of the city’s historic, strongly socialist 1919 May Day protest. Chanting “No war on Venezuela, stop all attacks against immigrants,” participants called for a resurgence in the struggle for socialism. Hosted by the Committee of 100 Years, endorsements came from many left and socialist groups, including Cleveland State University’s Student Socialist Society, Democratic Socialists of America-Cleveland and Workers World Party.
The Durham (N.C.) Workers Assembly initiated a march with short protests at the new police headquarters, City Hall and McDonald’s. Primary demands included no ICE raids, mass incarceration and police brutality. Speakers called for a $15/hour minimum wage and union rights for all, no restructuring of city worker jobs, no to racism and U.S. hands off Venezuela. There was support for Black, migrant, trans, queer and Indigenous people; and solidarity with women workers, especially in low-wage jobs and those facing sexual harassment. The day’s theme was: “No Walls in the Workers Struggle. As the Durham working class, we reclaim our city!”
Endorsers included Raise Up-Fight for $15; United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 150, N.C. Public Service Workers Union; A. Philip Randolph Institute; Duke Grad Student Union; and Workers World Party.
In Houston, members of Familias Inmigrantes y Estudientes en Lucha and the Central American Resource Center held huge banners on a bridge over the Southwest Freeway, the city’s busiest, on May Day. Slogans emphasized building bridges, not walls and solidarity with immigrants. The newly formed International Union of Painters and Allied brandished a large SOLIDARITY with a huge clenched fist. FIRE’s 6-foot sign, “HONK to support Refugees,” generated cacophony from drivers, lots of thumbs-up, pumped fists and peace signs.
An evening rally at historic Guadalupe Plaza, sponsored by the Houston Socialist Movement, urged defeating not only Trump, but also capitalism, with worker solidarity. John “Bunchy” Crear, regional leader of the Black Panther Party Alumni Association, spoke on labor movement history, including Chicanx farmworkers under the leadership of Cesar Chavez and Black sleeping car porters under A. Philip Randolph, founder of that predominantly African-American labor union. Crear praised young Black activists pledged to carry out the Panthers’ revolutionary ideals. Consuelo Ramirez gave a spirited talk on struggles supported by the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
On May 4, demonstrators took over one lane of the busiest street in the immigrant community for a militant action. Chanting in English and Spanish, they then marched to Burnett Bayland Park for a rally chaired by youth from FIRE and Alianza Latina Internacional. Tania Siddiqi with Workers World Party urged support and inclusivity for struggles here and around the world, including issues of gender identity.
Fittingly, speakers included a member of the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe, original inhabitants of Texas, who are still resisting attacks on their sovereignty such as the border wall, scheduled to cut through a sacred Indigenous and freed-slave cemetery at the U.S.-Mexico border.
About 60 people came together to celebrate International Workers Day on May 4 in Salt Lake City, Utah, with speakers reflecting the multinational, multigender, multigenerational working class. Children with Rose Park Brown Berets spoke out against the exploitation of their parents’ labor and their families’ need to survive. Organizers with Teamsters, United Mine Workers of America and National Association of Letter Carriers encouraged workers to join unions and to fight for militancy in unions, as wins for workers are possible through rank-and-file union struggle.
From the mic Workers World Party member Summer Smith called for revolutionary unity and support for migrant rights–with her daughter beside her in a red beret.
The day was organized through the efforts of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization: Fight Back and the Rose Park Brown Berets. Other groups participating included Workers World Party, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Students for a Democratic Society, Utah Against Police Brutality, Civil Riot, Democratic Socialists of America, Red Lotus Collective, and United for Street Solidarity.
At the Oakland, Calif., docks, the International Longshore Workers Union Local 10 and the Inland Boatmen’s Union shut down the port to begin a united May Day for worker and immigrant rights.
At the port offices, the dockworkers rallied for all workers, including teachers’ demands for more public education funding and for im/migrants to live without fear of deportations or family separation. Then they headed to Oscar Grant Plaza to rally with the ILWU May Day Committee and Oakland Sin Fronteras, a coalition of immigrant rights’ organizations and activists.
On the way, marchers stopped at Oakland’s Police Department, demanding an end to police terror against Black and Brown communities, and at the Oakland Unified School District, demanding justice for teachers and students. Finally, behind a powerful display of banners, hundreds marched to the Lake Merritt Amphitheater for a rally, closing this momentous day championing workers and immigrants.
Over 200 people joined in the Portland, Ore., Festival of Resistance at Holladay Park. High school senior Fowzia Ibrahim spoke on growing up as a Black Muslim woman. Mumbi of the All African People’s Revolutionary Party honored the African masses and those whose labor has been systematically exploited. Kimberly Sullivan spoke on the Clark College teachers’ strike in nearby Vancouver, Wash. Performers included the Aztec Dancers and Acchord, a transgender, nonbinary, gender-nonconforming a cappella group.
In a second May Day protest, organized by #OccupyICEpdx, about 100 people marched to the ICE facility, chanting “ICE out of Portland,” “Protect children,” and “No KKK, no fascist USA, no cops,” before joining the Holladay Park event.
Seattle’s March for Worker and Immigrant Rights was led by Aztec dancers, as 700 people from labor and activist groups rallied, many with “U.S. — Hands Off Venezuela” signs. First stop was the Chateau Apartments in the Black community to protest threatened eviction of the tenants. Next, marchers targeted Amazon-owned Whole Foods for low wages and anti-union policies. Demonstrators then went to Amazon’s enormous “campus” to expose the racist and anti-labor policies of its security contractor, Security Industry Specialists.
During the march, Anakbayan Seattle announced a campaign against Boeing, a major area corporation, because 34,000 immigrants were deported through Seattle in 2018 using Boeing planes.
Contributing to this article were WW Boston bureau, Judy Greenspan, Jim McMahan, Lyn Neeley, Nathaniel Peters, Gloria Rubac, Susan Schnur, Dave Welsh, Scott Williams, and WW Salt Lake Bureau.