NO BUSINESS AS USUAL: Millions demand immigrant rights, Super-exploited workers revive May Day in U.S.

By LeiLani Dowell

On May 1, a “day without immigrants,” May Day—International Workers Day—was revived in the United States.

In every state, businesses closed, workers took the day off, students walked out of schools, and a multinational sea of humanity marched and rallied to demand full rights for all.

The impact of the boycott was felt in the streets as well as in the pocketbooks of businesses that profit from super-exploited immigrant labor.

The demonstration in Chicago was the biggest protest in the city’s history. Organizers estimated the turnout at 700,000.

Tens of thousands marched from schools. One high school organized transportation to the march as a “field trip.”

There were two feeder marches, one from Benito Juarez High School, and another organized by the Coalition of African, Arab, Asian, European and Latino Immigrants of Illinois, and others. Colorful T-shirts distinguished union members from UNITE-HERE and the Service Employees.

New York

Organizers estimated that between half a million and a million people throughout New York City overfilled Union Square in Manhattan and then marched down to Federal Plaza. New York’s diverse immigrant communities were reflected, with contingents from virtually every Latin American and Caribbean country; from China, Korea and the Philippines; from Senegal and other African countries; from Pakistan—whose shopkeepers based in NYC closed their doors for an hour—and other South Asian countries; from Poland and Ireland. Celebrities like Susan Sarandon joined speakers representing Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands.

The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and New York City Councilmember Charles Barron made clear that the Black struggle is in solidarity with immigrants, and would have no part of the attempt to “divide and rule” Blacks and Latin@s. “It’s the big corporations that take jobs away,” said Jackson, “not the immigrants.”

Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Roger Toussaint, who is from Trinidad—released from jail on April 28 after serving five days of a 10-day sentence for leading the December transit strike—and Teamsters Black National Caucus leader Chris Silvera, who offered his union’s office as the New York May Day Coalition headquarters, both applauded the immigrant struggle. Community and anti-war organizers like Larry Holmes of the Troops Out Now Coalition, Brenda Stokely of the Million Worker March, Berna Ellorin of Bayan USA, Nellie Bailey of the Harlem Tenants Council and International Action Center’s Teresa Gutierrez also spoke.

Before imposing court buildings, thousands gathered to listen to the closing rally at Federal Plaza. Along with demanding legalization of immigrants, speakers explained how neoliberalism had driven so many from their homelands to seek work at the center of world imperialism.

A sea of protesters, tens of thousands, continued marching in well after the rally ended. Traffic was forced to a standstill on the Brooklyn Bridge until police violently attacked the crowd.

Lauren Giaccone reports: “The cops then started pushing. We pushed back. A cop then punched a girl, she went down and that started a huge fight between the cops and the people. The people fought back against the brutality. The cops threw people to the ground, so hard that a metal post fastened to the ground outside of the subway station went flying. As people were on the ground, cops still beat them. ...

“We continued to march ... when scooter cops hooked around us and jumped on the sidewalk, cornering us. We had no choice but to run across the street into oncoming traffic, to avoid the brutality we just witnessed. We were at the other side ... when the[y] drove across the street and rode up onto the sidewalk yet again. This time, however, they revved their engines and pinned several of us against the wall.” (nyc.indymedia.org)

When Workplace Project organizer Carlos Canales asked the mayor of Hempstead, on Long Island, for a rally permit for 800 people, he never expected that 5,000 would show. “Labor and immigrants on Long Island changed history today,” he said. “Immigrants have brought back May Day.”

Organizers convinced more than 60 Long Island businesses to close. And they sent five busloads of people to the New York City rally. Participants cheered when organizers called for “Primero de Mayo 2007.”

The West

In the San Francisco Bay area, despite last-minute attempts by the big-business media to downplay May 1, businesses stood idle as more than 1 million people took to the streets.

The day began with an East Oakland march to the Federal Building. Later, contingents of community organizations, unions, churches and student groups gathered for a “grand march” through San Francisco’s financial district.

More than a thousand people rallied at the University of California, Berkeley. Demonstrators blocked the on-ramp to Route 80, a major thoroughfare. In San Jose, tens of thousands marched.

In Los Angeles the May 1 boycott and march was initiated by the Mexican American Political Association and Hermandad Mexicana Latino American. Organizers estimate the City Hall demonstration at up to one million marchers. Reportedly 72,000 students missed school. Ninety percent of Los Angeles and Long Beach port truckers did not work. Boycott participants bolstered the numbers at a later demonstration in downtown McArthur Park.

The City Hall march showed more unity than ever. The Nation of Islam provided security. Speakers included Minister Tony Muhammad of the NOI, and Pastor Louis Logan of the large AME Bethel Baptist church, as well as leaders of the Southern California District Council of Laborers, Grupo Parlamentario PRI and other Mexican-American organizations.

The streets of south San Diego overflowed. There was no business as usual. Events were held in downtown San Diego as well as San Ysidro, Escondido and Vista.

In a never-before-seen show of solidarity, protesters in Tijuana shut down the U.S./Mexico border on the Mexican side. After a 500-person march in San Ysidro, youths were able to shut down the border again—this time on the U.S. side.

By evening, crowds had more than doubled as people gathered in Balboa Park, where a candlelight vigil and rally was scheduled. However, instead of standing still, folks broke police barriers and took to the streets in an impromptu march that shut down main streets, surrounded the mall and flabbergasted tourists.

In Denver, over 75,000 began their march across the street from Escuela Tlatelolco, the school founded by the great Chicano activist Corky Gonzales.

The Latin@ working class shut down the agriculture and service industries across Washington state. Sixty-five thousand workers poured into downtown Seattle. Marchers carried flags of countries from Somalia to Honduras. In the agricultural town of Yakima, Wash., 15,000 marchers paraded. Thou sands more demonstrated in Wenatchee, which is apple country.

The country’s biggest beef processor was forced to give workers the day off in seven plants in Colorado, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Texas and Nebraska.

The South

Tens of thousands honored the boycott in Georgia. Not one worker showed up at the Vidalia onion farms in southern Georgia.

Thousands, including whole families with small children and babies, rallied in Atlanta. A common theme of speeches was that immigrants are workers struggling for their children to have education, health care and opportunity.

In Athens, Ga., some 2,000 grade-school and high-school students, young workers and a number of white supporters assembled near the University of Georgia campus. One activist said it “was the biggest protest Athens had ever seen.”

During the rally, the emcee, Pedro, discussed the origin of May Day and how immigrant workers struggled for the eight-hour day in Chicago. He said it was historic that immigrants are again taking to the streets for justice in the United States.

Some 10,000 people marched in uptown Charlotte, N.C., and over 800 students were absent from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. Student Amanda Medina said, “It made me feel proud of who I am and where I come from, and there are so many people out here to support us.” (wcnc.com)

African-American high school student Nigel Hood said, “I just couldn’t help thinking back to my ancestors and predecessors who were in the civil-rights movement. It made me feel very special.” (wcnc.com)

Protesters also marched though downtown Lumberton, N.C. They were joined by workers from Smithfield Foods Inc.’s plant in Tar Heel. Gene Bruskin, with the Food and Commercial Workers union, said, “We’re in the middle of absolutely nowhere, pig farms, and you’ve got 5,000 workers marching.” (wbt.com)

In Raleigh, N.C., some 3,000 people surrounded the State Capitol. (wbt.com)

The North and East

Thousands rallied in Washington, D.C. They demanded an end to government attacks on undocumented workers, and carried signs saying, “There are no borders in the workers’ struggle.”

More than half of the 1,147 construction workers at Dulles International Airport boycotted work. (AP) Businesses from downtown D.C. to the affluent Georgetown shopping area closed because of absent workers.

Hundreds of residents, workers, students and professors rallied at the Uni versity at Buffalo, N.Y. They demanded an end to anti-immigrant racism and U.S.-sponsored apartheid. Police attacked and beat two students, one a Bolivian, while protesters shouted, “Let them go!” and “Shame on you!” The community continued the march despite the police presence.

Across Massachusetts, tens of thousands demonstrated in over 30 cities. In Boston, a delegation from Steel Workers Local 8751, the Boston school bus drivers’ union, followed a banner hoisted by mostly youths of color.

Service Employees union leaders led chants with Local 8571 members, including all of the local’s chief stewards, its newly elected Haitian President Frantz Mendes, and Vice President Steve Gillis, as well as rank-and-file members.

The militant protesters filed past the Federal Building to the statehouse for a mostly anti-imperialist speak-out and to support a pro-immigrant news conference taking place inside, where Rosa Parks Human Rights Day Committee member Bishop Filipe Teixeira was speaking. They then marched on Boston Common for a mass rally.

Speaking from the Common stage, Cassandra Clark Mazariegos of the Young Revolutionaries, the youth contingent of the RPHRDC, said: “The young people are here to support our parents. They left their countries because of economic hardships due to the things this country did.”

Fight Imperialism Stand Together—FIST—organizer Ruth Vela summed up the historic May Day activities: “Today showed that the so-called ‘sleeping giant’ was not asleep, but rather busy working. If workers are not given the respect, dignity and justice demanded, then they will take it.”

Bill Bowers, John Catalinotto, Heather Cottin, David Dixon, Judy Greenspan, Larry Hales, Imani Henry, David Hoskins, Jim M., Dianne Mathiowetz, John Parker, Lou Paulsen, Bryan G. Pfeifer, Matthew L. Schwartz, Eric Struch, and Ruth Vela contributed to this report.


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