Making May Day a Day for Solidarity
You can say one thing for sure about Donald Trump: He's making America protest again.
And again. And again.
The Women's Marches held the day after he took office were the largest single day of demonstrations in U.S. history. Thousands of people participated in a new form of protest—the airport occupation—in response to his Muslim ban. There are two major environmental justice mobilizations coming up in April.
And now, with the Trump regime ramping up deportations and raids across the country, immigrant rights activists and organizations are joining with labor and other forces to turn this year's May Day into a show of solidarity and struggle against Trump's agenda.
The urgency of making a stand is clear after the White House shifted the deportation machine into high gear. Across the country, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers have been arresting immigrants on the thinnest of pretexts, without regard to how long they've lived in the U.S., the families that depend on them, or their ties to their communities.
On March 27, ICE agents raided a Chicago home with guns drawn and shot a man who they claim pointed a weapon at them. Everyone in the house had documents—and family members claim the injured father was unarmed and doesn't even own a gun.
ICE has specifically targeted immigrant rights activists and sanctuary cities with the aim of inflicting terror on whole communities and sending a warning to those who would attempt to stand up against the crackdown: Stay in the shadows—or else.
But while these raids and arrests are sparking fear among immigrants, they are stoking anger and a determination to fight back—which is driving interest in the calls for marches and protests on May Day.
Immigrant rights groups, led by Movimiento Cosecha, are taking the lead in organizing "Un DÃa Sin Inmigrantes/A Day Without Immigrants" on May 1. Their pledge reads: "We will not go to work, we will not go to school and we will not buy. We are going to make it clear that this country cannot function without immigrants. This is only the beginning of our fight toward permanent protection, dignity and respect."
The call for "a day without immigrants" harkens back to the 2006 mega-marches for immigrant rights organized under the same slogan. Then, as now, with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress and the White House, opponents of scapegoating and fear mobilized to fight the wave of repression bearing down on their communities.
Over a million people turned out for the mega-marches in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and many others, in one of the largest work stoppages in U.S. history. The upsurge of opposition defeated federal anti-immigration legislation that would have criminalized all undocumented immigrants and everyone who assisted them in any way.
But as with the mass Women's Marches after Trump was sworn in, organizers building for May 1 are viewing the day as an opportunity to knit together various struggles and build solidarity between movements.
The choice of May Day—a workers' holiday in many countries around the globe, though not in the U.S., where it originated—is, as in 2006, a recognition of the social power of labor, and immigrant labor in particular.
It's heartening to see unions looking ahead to actions on May 1.
Last month, in Los Angeles, members of Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West (SEIU USWW) voted unanimously to strike on May 1. Labor Notes reported that 600 janitors streamed into the union hall for the vote, a much larger turnout than for regular membership meetings, chanting, "¡Huelga! ¡Huelga!" (Strike! Strike!)
"The president is attacking our community," shop steward Tomas Mejia told Labor Notes. "Immigrants have helped form this country, we've contributed to its beauty, but the president is attacking us as criminal."
Ricardo Flores, a food manufacturer member of Brandworkers—part of the Food Chain Workers Alliance, a network of more than 300,000 farmworkers, servers, cooks and food-manufacturers, that has also endorsed the May Day strike—told AlterNet's Sarah Lazare:
My co-workers and I had to make a choice: Wait around for Trump to disrupt our livelihoods and families or stand united to fight. We chose to struggle until the end because it's better to have a chance at justice than suffer guaranteed misery.
David Huerta, the president of SEIU United Service Workers West, told BuzzFeed News, "We understand that there's risk involved in [striking], 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."
Members of the Seattle Education Association (SEA) also are considering a strike on May 1. On March 13, the SEA's Representative Assembly voted to hold votes in every building about whether to walk out on May Day.
If the nearly 5,000 members of the SEA do strike, it will send an important message to immigrants in the city and across the country about the number of people who support them—while also being a show of defiance to the Trump administration's attacks on workers' rights overall and public education in particular.
In LA, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) has called on the superintendent to shut down public schools on May 1 in recognition that "[s]tudents on that day are going to be best with their families, with their communities and hopefully participating," as UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl explained at a press conference held by the May Day Coalition of Los Angeles.
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is also discussing potential actions, including the possibility of a strike, to show solidarity with the victims of Trump's crackdowns and to draw attention to the crisis facing public education.
In March, the union's House of Delegates approved a month-long discussion period before an April 5 vote on the possible strike. There are questions as to whether the CTU can legally approve such a strike under state law, but as President Karen Lewis told reporters, with school budget cuts and furloughs looming, action may be unavoidable.
"If the board goes ahead with the threat of canceling three weeks of school [which amounts to a huge pay cut for teachers], we would view their action as a massive violation of our contract," Lewis said. "And that could provoke a strike."
Whether or not there is a strike or if CTU members find another way to take action on May Day, solidarity with the immigrant community will feature prominently in a union that has made social justice issues key to its organizing.
Beyond the labor movement, activists on campuses are beginning to organize around the potential to bring together our issues on May Day—and link up to the larger fight for immigrant rights.
The rights of undocumented students are obviously a primary concern, with local organizing efforts focused on building rapid response networks and pushing administrators to declare "sanctuary campuses" and refuse cooperation with ICE.
There is also the potential for more coordinated action with the Movement for Black Lives, with a series of political education events and mobilizations running from April 4—the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "Beyond Vietnam" speech—until May Day that tie together issues of economic and racial justice.
According to Mic.com, in March, "More than 50 partners representing Black, Latino, the Indigenous, LGBTQ, refugees, immigrants, laborers and the poor will collaborate from April 4 through May 1, International Worker's Day, when they'll launch massive protests across the country."
"Even though the election results showed one thing, the reality is that the majority of us are under attack, and this is a moment for us to step into something together," Navina Khanna, director of the Health, Environment, Agriculture, and Labor Food Alliance, told Mic.com. "This is about really learning to see our issues as one, and our struggles as one."
Maurice Mitchell, an organizer with the Movement for Black Lives, explained to AlterNet: "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 stakes involved in opposing Trump's bigoted, anti-worker agenda have never been higher. May Day is shaping up to be an important day in that struggle, but it will be up to activists to begin building now—in our workplaces and communities and on our campuses—to make it a success and send a clear message that we all remember the old labor movement slogan: An injury to one is an injury to all.
As Maria Elena Hernandez of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles—herself an undocumented immigrant who plans to be marching on May Day with her family—explained at a press conference: "We have to fight, and if they don't want us in this country, then we are going to go fighting, and not down on our knees."
This article was originally published at socialistworker.org and was reprinted with permission.