Big Strike Brewing Against Trump: Coalition of More Than 300,000 Food Workers to Join May Day Showdown
A network of more than 300,000 farmworkers, servers, cooks and food-manufacturers, including a large local chain of the Service Employees International Union, is joining a May 1 nationwide strike “to stop the relentless attacks of the Trump administration and its allies in corporate America.”
Issued by the Food Chain Workers Alliance and the California-based Service Workers West (SEIU-USWW), the announcement is the latest sign that momentum is growing for the day of “no work, school, or shopping,” timed for International Workers’ Day, also known as May Day.
“My coworkers and I had to make a choice: wait around for Trump to disrupt our livelihoods and families or stand united to fight,” said Ricardo Flores, a food manufacturer member of Brandworkers, a Long Island City, New York, workers’ center for food manufacturing laborers. “We chose to struggle until the end because it’s better to have a chance at justice than suffer guaranteed misery.”
Movimiento Cosecha, or Harvest Movement, has spent months organizing for Un Dia Sin Inmigrantes (A Day Without Immigrants) on May Day. The organization ultimately hopes to build toward a one-week strike of five to eight million undocumented workers to win the “permanent protection, dignity, and respect of immigrants.”
“We’ve been talking to a lot of unions and members of the immigrant rights movement, and it's clear that there's a lot of alignment over a May Day strike,” Carlos Rojas Rodriguez, an organizer with Movimiento Cosecha, said in an interview with AlterNet. “The organizations are responding to the energy they are hearing from their bases. This is an opportunity to move to the left.”
Cosecha will be joined by the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Campaign director Andrea Cristina Mercado told AlterNet, "The National Domestic Workers Alliance is mobilizing domestic workers across the country for a general strike and consumer boycott on May first. For all of us who can participate, it's imperative to show that movements across the country are united against raids, against racism, and in support of decent work."
Maurice Mitchell, an organizer with the Movement for Black Lives, explained, “It's our assessment that now, more than ever, it's critical that movements from different communities find ways to collaborate. We think that May Day presents a particular opportunity for people across different sectors and communities to find common cause.”
The Movement for Black Lives is planning to escalate political education and mobilizations from April 4 until May Day, pivoting off of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Riverside Church speech, in which he condemned the three evils of poverty, racism and militarism. Mitchell underscored to AlterNet, “my hope is that May Day will build on the momentum of the past few months and continue the momentum past May Day.”
‘Striking for a World Where Human Rights and Equality Are Respected’
AlterNet spoke with Efren Diego Epifanio, a mushroom harvester in Avondale, Pennsylvania, who originally hails from Toluca, Mexico. A member of the Kaolin Workers Union and El Comite de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas (CATA), Epifanio said, “CATA is promoting the national strike of all workers because there have been so many uncertainties among our community—those documented and undocumented immigrants alike. We wanted to be part of the movement to create a big impact on the president in response to the ways that he has been threatening communities of workers.”
There are 4,000 workers in CATA’s network, and organizer Jessica Culley said she expects members in southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey to participate. According to Epifanio, “Right now we don’t have a clear idea of [the] exact number of members who will participate, but we hope we will add up to the majority.”
CATA is part of the 300,000-strong Food Chain Workers Alliance, whose co-director Jose Oliva told AlterNet, “The vast majority of our folks are going to be out. The idea is that on May 1, we will have an economic impact. We are asking our members not to shop and not to send their kids to school as well. We are striking for a world where human rights and equality are respected.”
David Huerta is president of SEIU-USWW, which represents more than 40,000 janitors, airport service workers and other service workers across California. He recently told Buzzfeed, “We understand that there’s risk involved in that, but we’re willing to take that risk in order to be able to move forward in this moment, while the most marginalized are in the crosshairs of this administration.”
‘Not Ordinary Times’
As some of the lowest-paid and most vulnerable workers in the United States prepare to walk out of work, Oliva acknowledged that his coalition is asking members to take risks. According to news reports, at least 100 people were fired from their jobs for participating in the February 16 nationwide immigrant strike to protest Donald Trump’s deportation policies.
“These are not ordinary times,” said Oliva. “This is superseding anything that any of us in social movements, or as individuals, have seen before. If we are going to be able to spark something that will ultimately lead to the society we want, without the discrimination and low wages and race to the bottom, we need to be able to take some risks.”
“The reality is that if folks don’t take the risk, we know what the consequences will be,” Oliva continued. “There will be more escalation of the policies this administration is already putting forward. We know that doing nothing is giving them a blank check. The only thing we can do is to demonstrate our power through the economic reality we live in.”
Oliva said that his network is already preparing for the “inevitable retaliation that will follow,” by starting a strike fund and coordinating legal support.
Epifanio noted that plans are in motion on the local level to “support workers who might be disciplined in some unfair way for participating in the strike.” He said that workers are hoping to negotiate with their employers ahead of the strike.
‘What Resistance Looks Like’
The May Day mobilization comes on the heels of numerous strikes and coordinated mobilizations. On February 13, thousands of Wisconsin residents stayed home from work or school and closed their businesses to take part in a state-wide Day Without Latinxs, Immigrants and Refugees.
Similar actions took place on February 16 for a nationwide immigrant strike to protest Donald Trump’s deportation policies. In addition to walkouts from school and work, and the shuttering of businesses, mass demonstrations swept cities and towns across the country, including San Francisco, Chicago, Raleigh, and Austin.
On January 28, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance called a one-hour strike on pickups from John F. Kennedy International Airport to protest Trump’s ban targeting travelers from Muslim-majority countries. "Drivers stand in solidarity with thousands protesting inhumane & unconstitutional #MuslimBan,” the alliance said on Twitter.
On March 8, people took to the streets, walked out of their workplaces and staged direct actions in towns and cities across the world to take part in an International Women’s Day protest against the gender-based violence inflicted by neoliberalism, war, and poverty. In the U.S., the coordinated mobilizations took aim at Trumpism, and at least three school districts shut down due to the work stoppages.
Meanwhile, there is a growing movement to boycott companies that do business with the Trump family.
Cosecha looks back further for precedent to the May 1, 2006 Day Without Immigrants to protest hardline anti-immigrant laws. Organizers say they expect the May Day strikes to be the largest yet in the post-Trump era.
“Today, there is alignment around the idea of a strike on May Day and we are seeing organizations listen to the call to action from their members,” said Rojas Rodriguez. “We have an opportunity to shape an opposition movement in the street that anchors the left and shows what resistance looks like."