May Day marches and rallies celebrate workers’ struggles

May Day — International Workers Day — commemorates the 1886 struggle in Chicago for the eight-hour day. Despite its radical origins in U.S. labor history, May Day has to a large extent been supplanted by moderate events on Labor Day in September, a holiday designed to dampen class struggle and remove international solidarity from the workers’ holiday. New York’s Union Square, May 1, 2023.

New York’s Union Square, May 1, 2023 (Photo: Brenda Ryan)

Nevertheless, May Day events took place across the country. Here are a few reports from actions Workers World Party participated in.

Boston Starbucks workers strike, lead march 

In Boston, International Workers’ Day began when Boston Starbucks Workers United woke up the city with a surprise, early morning “May Day Slay Day” strike at the 874 Commonwealth Avenue store to protest ongoing union busting. Last summer, union baristas and shift managers shut down that store for a record 64 days, getting an offensive store manager replaced and inspiring young workers in the local labor movement, who had enthusiastically bolstered the 24/7 occupation and mass pickets.

Taylor Dickerson, a leader at the strike line, explained to Workers World that Starbucks’ illegal anti-union tactics intensified at Boston area stores following former CEO Howard Schultz’s Senate testimony March 29. New management has targeted the store’s shift manager and union advocate, Spencer Costigan, with unfair discipline. 

Workers at the closed Cleveland Circle union store, who had protested hazardous working conditions there, have been scattered to other stores with precarious schedules; workers’ hours have been cut to unlivable short hours throughout the region. And over a year since the region’s now-17 unionized stores requested contract negotiations, management refuses to meet.

The Workers United May Day strike line was fortified by leaders of the neighborhood’s Boston University graduate and resident-life workers, thousands of student workers who won historic landslide union elections in recent months. Hundreds of regular BU area customers honored the strike, many enthusiastically raising fists and joining in the musically militant May Day scene, leaving the line-crossers inside with an empty store and wasted mobile orders on the counter.

Spirited baristas in the forefront 

After shutting down Starbucks, a spirited contingent of baristas rushed downtown to join the Boston May Day Coalition’s annual rally and march, this year chaired by leaders of Boston Starbucks Workers United and the Boston South Asian Coalition.

Several hundred people representing nearly 50 progressive organizations united for a six-hour rally and march through downtown, targeting the State House, military recruiters, Starbucks stores, landmarks named for settler colonial enslavers and the federal building.

Among the speakers were representatives of the African Peoples Socialist Party, whose leaders were recently arrested by the FBI for speaking out against the U.S. proxy war against Russia in Ukraine and Mass Action Against Police Brutality, which spotlights families shattered by racist police murders. Others were from the Palestinian Youth Movement, which demands an end to U.S. support for genocidal Zionist occupation; and the North American Indian Council of Boston, which leads the struggle to confront Massachusetts’ settler-colonial history of genocide. 

Additionally, representatives of the following groups addressed the rally:  the Massachusetts Nurses Association, on the frontlines taking on corporate union busting and defending patients during the ongoing pandemic; and “No Cop City” activists recently charged with “terrorism” for protesting the Atlanta police murder by firing squad of Manuel (Tortuguita) Terán.

Others who spoke were Cuba solidarity activists demanding an end to the illegal, decades-long U.S. blockade; Extinction Rebellion climate warriors; and leaders of recent Trans Resistance marches, confronting in the streets and statehouses the fascist attacks against their communities nationwide.

WWP speakers condemn U.S. wars at home and abroad

Will Hodgkinson and Mairead Skehan Gillis jointly presented a speech from Workers World Party-Boston, which summarized the increasing, deadly class war being waged by the capitalists globally. 

Skehan Gillis denounced the Biden administration’s declaration of an end to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, likening it to the U.S. blockade of medical supplies and food to socialist Cuba. She pointed to evidence that “the pandemic is still ongoing, infecting and killing thousands of people every week, while access to vaccines, testing and antiviral medicine will become expensive and more difficult to access. Many will no longer be protected in health care settings, when mask mandates are discarded, especially our loved ones from the disabled community and elders.”

She explained: “The feds are already slashing Medicaid and food benefits, criminalizing reproductive and gender-affirming health care, cutting housing assistance and eliminating the eviction moratorium. . . . The ruling class is making desperate attempts to salvage this dying system, as pandemic resources become something they can sell for profit, the banks collapse one by one and massive corporations like Microsoft, Facebook, Disney and Amazon lay off tens of thousands of employees struggling to survive.”

Hodgkinson stressed: “And where is that money going instead? The U.S. is sending hundreds of billions of dollars overseas to keep its rotting empire together. The Pentagon budget is at a record high, almost $900 billion this year, and it’s only growing. Hundreds of billions are going to weapons contractors for new deals with Raytheon and Lockheed. 

“Hundreds of billions more are going to prop up the Zionist state of Israel and its occupation of Palestine, to the imperialist proxy war in Ukraine, to build new military bases in the Pacific and to warmonger against China. . .  Austerity at home, endless war abroad: that’s what the ruling class wants.”

In response, the crowd joined them in demanding: “Money for health care, not for war! Money for jobs, not for war! Money for housing, not war!”

Philadelphia May Day unites struggles

Philadelphia workers from diverse labor, housing and socialist organizations celebrated International Workers Day May 1. Participants rallied, chanted and marched through West Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania campus in recognition of several organizing campaigns in the area.

Philadelphia, May 1, 2023. (Credit: Joe Piette)

Among the speakers were UC Townhomes housing activist Darlene Foreman; Palestinian novelist/activist Susie Abulhawa; Mari Britt, of Anakbayan-Philly; and Mike Africa, self-described as “a second-generation native son of The MOVE Organization and newly anointed “Minister of Education and Inspiration.” 

At the Law School stop, while holding a “Wanted” poster of David Skeel, Fermin Morales from Philly Boricuas spoke. Morales criticized Skeel, the corporate law professor there, who also chairs the Fiscal Control Board that dictates policy in Puerto Rico. 

“The Fiscal Control Board,” said Morales, “began its operation in 2016 to dictate to the Puerto Rican government what must be prioritized, cut, reduced and even dismantled and privatized, in order to pay Wall Street vultures and satisfy them, even if this means cutting peoples’ pensions that they worked for, closing schools, destroying collective bargaining agreements with unions with the intention to weaken them or destroy them.” She called for Skeel’s firing.

Speakers from a wide assortment of workers’ struggles included postal workers and United Parcel Service Teamster members, a Starbucks worker organizer and Juliet Vinegra from the Philadelphia Museum of Art Union, which won a 19-day strike last fall. 

Four different worker groups at the University of Pennsylvania had speakers: American Association of University Professors; Resident and Graduate Resident Assistants (OPEIU Local 153); graduate student workers in GET-UP UAW (Graduate Employees Together-University of Pennsylvania, United Auto Workers); and UPenn resident physicians organized by the Committee of Interns and Residents, a local of Service Employees International Union.

The event was organized by the Philadelphia May 1 Coalition, which included Workers World Party, Anakbayan-Philly, Workers’ Voice, Philly Boricuas, Jewish Voice for Peace, Party for Socialism and Liberation-Philly, Black Alliance for Peace-Philly, Industrial Workers of the World-Philly and Mobilization 4 Mumia.

Seattle rally draws many movements together

A broad representation of labor rallied in Seattle on May Day, projecting struggle and joining an upsurge of workers worldwide.  Opening the rally, Duwamish elder Ken Workman, a descendant of Chief Seattle, centered the struggle for Native sovereignty along with the rights of labor.

Seattle, May 1, 2023. (WW Photo: Jim McMahan)

Newly organized Homegrown sandwich workers, working in 10 different stores, affirmed their right to strike for a good contract, having won union recognition with UNITE-HERE Local 8. Celia Gonzalez, of Casa Latina and a 16-year domestic worker, spoke for the rights of domestic workers to have paid time off to provide care for their own children.

Peter Kuel, an immigrant from South Sudan and president of the Drivers Union for Uber, Lyft and other app-based drivers, spoke of the advanced benefits these drivers have gained after a 10-year campaign and the help of the Teamsters Union. Jill Mangaliman of Bayan USA condemned Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., “who is right now in the White House with Joe Biden discussing how to extend U.S. bases and neoliberal policies” to her country.

The demonstrators then marched through downtown Seattle, targeting many bosses in their corporate suites for their attacks on workers. 

Steve Gillis, Jim McMahan and Joe Piette contributed to this article.

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