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Reclaiming May Day: A Movement Led by Immigrant Workers (even 133 years ago)

THE WORKERS CRY OUT FOR BREAD

The merchants cry out for markets.

The unemployed were hungry. The employed.

Are hungry now.

Bertolt Brecht, “From a German War Primer”

This excerpt from Brecht is more relevant than ever.  Right now, the majority of working people are facing an economic and social crisis in the United States.  We are witnessing a shrinking unionized workforce, anti-union state legislation, job instability, high unemployment, a widening wealth gap, and an attack on documented and undocumented immigrant workers.

But amidst these challenges, working people are rising up.  Yesterday, I participated in an inspiring May Day March led by the May 1st Coalition and Occupy Wall Street, made up of immigrant rights, social justice and workers groups. Thousands of immigrants from all over the world, mainly from Latin America, the Caribbean, China and the Philippines marched chanting in Spanish, “Obama, escucha, estamos en la luncha” which means “Obama, listen: we are in the fight”.  Immigrants and native-born workers came together to call for full citizenship, workers rights and comprehensive immigration reform.

Right now on the table there is an Obama backed bi-partisan Senate bill proposed by the “gang of eight” Senators that include Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham.  The legislation would still militarize borders, criminalize and deport immigrants, tear families apart, excludes same sex partners, and the pathway to citizenship can take anywhere from 10-15 years.  The 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States deserve real, comprehensive policies that grant them full protection of the law and equal rights.  Yesterday, across the country immigrants and working people raised their voices.

In New York, Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net) members like Families for Freedom and Domestic Workers United led the march with many of their members.  Our allies like Detention Watch Network, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, BAYAN USA, FIERCE and Community Voices Heard participated.  Occupy Wall Street showed their solidarity by organizing May Day events all over the city.  It was a powerful show of unity.

Same Struggle – 1886 to 2013

But if you watched the news last night, this was absent from the corporate mainstream media.  No big surprise here.  In recent years, we have seen how the corporate media has demonized unions, public sector workers, teachers and immigrants as greedy and undeserving of benefits and protections.  Immigrants and native-born workers are pit against one another.  This is NO different than how immigrant workers were depicted over 100 years ago.

Rewind.  Little is known about the origins of May Day.  133 years ago, it was also immigrant workers mainly from Germany who ignited the labor movement for the 8-hour day and marked what is now “May Day”, more popularly known and celebrated around the world as “International Workers’ Day”.  On May 1st, 1886, 40,000 workers in Chicago–and half a million across the United States–participated in a three-day general strike to fight for an eight-hour workday. The Chicago police responded by shooting and killing four strikers. In response, demonstrators organized a rally on May 4th at Haymarket Square.

The state and the media used the Haymarket Affair as an opportunity to repress the growing workers’ movement. Eight organizers–five of whom were immigrants–were arrested and charged with murder.  Their executions were widely recognized as political assassinations of the labor movement by the United States government.   May 1st was chosen in their honor as a day to celebrate internationally all workers’ resistance to capitalist domination known as “International Workers’ Day”

May 1st is a national holiday in more than 80 countries and celebrated unofficially in many other countries.  The U.S. government however doesn’t acknowledge this as a holiday and has tried to suppress the bloody repression of workers by the state and private businesses.  Many assume Labor Day (in September) is the day to celebrate workers.  The September date was originally chosen because of concerns that observance of the May Day would be associated with the communism, anarchism and syndicalism.

“Everywhere around the world celebrates International Workers Day except here in the U.S.  Today is the true labor day [not in September]. They want us to forget about what happened in Chicago on May 1st.”

-Union Representative at March on May 1st, 2013

The immigrant workers who fought and died for our right to be treated like human beings, for the 8-hour day over 100 years ago will not be forgotten.  What happened on May 1st, 1886 should not be marginalized as just labor history, just immigrant history, or leftist history, but it’s the people’s history.  And yesterday, people came together to carry on that legacy by demanding that all workers, undocumented, documented and native born be grant full equal rights.

See how MAG-Net and #MediaJustice community celebrated May Day around the country.

About the Author

Website by Radish Lab.

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