US May Day protests: Immigrant workers demand rights and dignity

Hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers, mostly from Latin America, protested for their rights on May Day in cities and towns across the United States. For the second year in a row, the immigrant rights movement chose May 1, International Workers' Day, to raise their demands.

Almost all the protests demanded full legalisation and a halt to raids and deportations. They also denounced the repressive "STRIVE Act" and US President George W. Bush's proposed immigration "reforms."

Many demonstrators who were undocumented came out despite the climate of terror generated by anti-immigrant raids and forcible separation and detention of family members by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). From New Bedford, Massachusetts, to the San Fernando Valley in California, 125,405 people — a record number — were deported in the first six months of the 2007 fiscal year.

Immigrants defied these dangers to build what was the second-largest May Day demonstration in the United States in at least half a century — exceeded only by last year's turnout of millions. This happened even though there was no central unifying theme, like last year's revulsion toward the hated Sensenbrenner bill.

In many of the marches, speakers from African-American organisations expressed solidarity with the immigrants, and so did some labour unionists.

In Chicago, some 150,000 people marched, far surpassing expectations of the broad March 10 Movement coalition that organised it. Two feeder marches from the Latino communities of West Town and Pilsen met for a rally at Union Park that filled its 10 acres.

A military-style ICE raid in the heart of Chicago's Mexican community on April 24 added impetus to community outrage. More than 60 immigration police armed with high-powered rifles descended on the Little Village Discount Mall, kicked open bathroom doors with guns drawn, forced everybody "who looked Latino" to sit on the floor, and detained at least 150 customers and workers inside. In response, a spontaneous protest quickly erupted. Protesters with signs and megaphones closed the intersection of 26th and Albany for hours.

"This is our Sensenbrenner this year", a May 1 protest organiser told media. Radio host Rafael Pulido stated, "I think this showed us that this is exactly what will happen if we don't go out there and march".

In nearby Milwaukee, more than 80,000 immigrants and their allies marched and then rallied at Veterans Park. According to the event's sponsor, Voces de la Frontera — a leading member of the Wisconsin Legalization Coalition — this is the largest progressive march in Wisconsin history. Other actions took place in Madison and Racine.

"The people are sending a strong message that we need and want a law passed this year that will address an outdated and discriminatory immigration system that is hurting and terrorising working-class families through raids and the politics of hate", said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Voces director.

More than 120 businesses in Wisconsin, most in the metropolitan Milwaukee area, either shut their doors for the day or acceded to the right of workers to take the day off to march and rally.

Nearly 10,000 marched in Detroit — more than last May Day. Many restaurants and stores in the Latino business district closed for the day. Supportive shop owners and community organisations donated water and sweet coffee spiced with cinnamon to refresh those who marched the three-mile route. The city council held a hearing after the rally to declare Detroit a sanctuary city.

A contingent of children and youth were at the front of the march. Many people came with small children and babies in strollers. Radio station La Explosiva reported that 200 businesses closed so the workers could attend the march. The Michigan Emergency Committee Against the War in Iraq provided organisational support.

In Raleigh, North Carolina — the state with arguably the fastest-growing Latino immigrant population and the lowest unionisation rate — several hundred immigrant workers and supporters gathered at the state capitol after work to add their energy to the hundreds who had earlier walked out of work and school to participate in a day of political action at the state l

Several immigrant rights organisations and unions took part in the rally, including United Food and Commercial Workers — which has been engaged in a long battle for a union and justice at the giant Smithfield hog-processing plant. Members of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee flew their black flags to seek support for their on-going efforts to organise migrant field workers.

This event took place within the context of an intense anti-immigrant atmosphere in which ICE raids are constantly threatened at work places and organising centres and where police checkpoints are now frequently set up in immigrant neighbourhoods.

North Carolina rallies also took place in Asheville, Burlington, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, Greensboro, Hickory, Lumberton, Siler City, Wilmington and Charlotte, where 500 people, mostly Latino, rallied for "fair immigration laws". Charlotte's streets stayed noticeably empty.

In Washington, DC, two actions drew hundreds of people. A rally in Malcolm X Park drew support from the progressive movement. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) organised a march.

May Day demonstrators in Houston gathered at the Federal Building demanding an end to repression against immigrants. For several hours hundreds of people chanted "Stop the raids!" and "Free the detainees!" Despite a heavy police presence, protesters remained militant and spirited.

Also on May 1, the Coalition in Defense of the Community began a May 1 "Justice for Immigrants Fast" to demand respect for the dignity and rights of immigrants.

On April 28, more than 500 people — including those separated from their family because of raids and deportations — marched in Houston's East Side despite information that ICE would have uniformed and undercover agents at the rally.

In downtown Tucson, Arizona, 10,000 people marched demanding an immediate end to the raids and deportations, and to say "No!" to the 2007 STRIVE Act. The marchers descended on the federal courthouse, where every day countless undocumented workers are prosecuted and deported. Demonstrators demanded an end to the militarisation of the border and an end to La Migra (ICE) terror in the community. Many students walked out of school to participate.

Jobs With Justice, representing Tucson's labour unions, had a large contingent.

Rally speakers from the Tucson May 1st Coalition reminded those gathered that the US stole sections of Mexico that are today Arizona and New Mexico.

Almost every shop along the march route closed for the day and many provided food and water for the marchers. Although the temperature in Tucson was hot, it was nothing compared to the desert temperatures that immigrants in search of work in the US are forced to endure. Last year there were more than 200 migrant deaths in the Arizona desert.

Following a march of tens of thousands in Los Angeles during the day, police aggressively attacked a peaceful gathering at MacArthur Park in the evening. A crowd of thousands, including many children and elders, was trapped inside the park, while police yelled at everyone to disperse. Without provocation, according to eyewitnesses who included a KPFK reporter, police started using tear gas on the crowd. At Alvarado and 6th Street cops fired rubber bullets into the crowd.

Hundreds of Los Angeles Police Department officers and Los Angeles County Sheriffs arrived on the scene on bike and car. Driving recklessly, two LAPD patrol cars almost hit each other. Another cop on bike patrol chased down and grabbed an individual who would not follow his command, only to discover the man was deaf. Cops in full riot gear blocked off the entire park and adjacent city blocks, needlessly creating a serious transportation nightmare.

The corporate media tried to downplay the march. But Javier Rodriguez, political and media strategist of the March 25th Coalition and member of the National May 1 Movement for Worker and Immigrant Rights, said he was "motivated by the turnout of ten of thousands of people who were able to shut down droves of downtown businesses and other parts of the economy".

John Parker, program co-coordinator of the Los Angeles event and member of the national committee of the May 1 Movement, said, "This was the largest demonstration in LA since last year's May Day marches, in spite of immigrant communities being threatened on a daily basis with deportations and terror raids. It bodes very well for the future of this movement. There was also broader representation from the anti-war movement, with a statement from author and Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic. And keynote speakers included former Congressmember Cynthia McKinney and the national assistant minister to Honourable Minister Louis Farrakhan."

In San Francisco, up to 10,000 people marched for "Unconditional amnesty". The event was grassroots organised. Demonstrators gathered at noon at Dolores Park, in the mostly Latino Mission neighborhood. Whole families took part. Students came to march instead of attending school. Many workers came in solidarity. Labour unionists stayed away from work to march, including workers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), the SEIU, United Farm Workers, Sign Display, United Educators of SF, Teamsters and Building Trades.

Many, many community organisations took part, representing immigrants, Latinos, day labourers, Filipinos, Chinese, Native American/Indigenous, African-American, Arab, Palestinian and lesbian/gay/bi/trans groups, and other progressive groups and revolutionary parties.

A worker from Oakland told how workers disrupted the ICE raid on the paper products factory where she worked by quickly warning those who were still at home. Unsatisfied with the 18 people rounded up during their "audit" at the factory, ICE raided some 34 homes looking for workers and swept up other family members, too.

Clarence Thomas, speaking from ILWU Local 10, told the May Day rally that the longshore workers' own founder, Harry Bridges was an immigrant who was prosecuted four times in deportation attempts.

Some 25,000 people, from every inhabited continent on the globe and every country in Latin America, gathered in New York's historic Union Square at 4 pm for a two-hour rally and then marched downtown to Foley Square along Broadway.

Teresa Gutierrez, one of the coordinators of the May 1 Coalition that called the action and a co-chair of the rally, told Workers World: "It was a successful day. There were lots of young people there. New York continues to show the unique character of our coalition. We represent a completely multi-national group: Latino, Caribbean, East and South Asian and Pacific Islander, European, African American, African. The crowd cheered every time someone mentioned Africa or when speakers denounced the war in Iraq. When attorney Lynne Stewart spoke, the crowd cheered to see a white woman activist supporting them. It was wonderful that the Filipino representative spoke in Spanish."

Union participation included President Chris Silvera of Teamsters Local 808 and contingents from the Restaurant Workers Association, the Professional Staff Congress and Laborers Local 78 — predominantly Polish asbestos workers.

In Buffalo, New York, high school students in revolt against their repressive school administration led a militant May Day march and a raucous rally. They chanted for their right to organise, their opposition to military recruiters and their support for immigrant rights. They drew the support of students and teachers from other high schools, as well as anti-war activist groups—including a student contingent from the University at Buffalo (SUNY). After the rally, students followed a car caravan to city hall and to the ICE office to protest the criminalisation of students and immigrants.

On Long Island, New York, 1000 people rallied in Hempstead.

In Western Massachusetts, more than 100 people attended a noon rally on the Amherst Commons to demand: "Stop the raids and deportations!" Over 50 students from Amherst High School walked out of their classes to attend. Many students from UMASS-Amherst also walked out to voice opposition to the brutal ICE raids, and to support New Bedford families torn apart in March raids.

Despite the recent high-profile ICE raid in nearby New Bedford, 2000 immigrants — predominantly Latinos — rallied in Central Square East Boston after marching two miles from downtown Everett and Chelsea, two relatively small communities. Chelsea Collaborative, a coalition of grassroots community groups, organised the loud, militant rally.

The Everett/Chelsea march was led by a United Steelworkers of America 8751 sound truck carrying President Franz Mendes and the union's chief stewards. An SEIU 615 delegation also marched. Speakers included Boston City Councilor Felix Arroyo and Minister Vladimir X from Rhode Island, who electrified the crowd when he charged, in Spanish, that the real criminals are in Washington, DC.

Another 500 people rallied on Boston Common in a demonstration organized by the Boston May Day Coalition.

[From Workers World. Visit <>.]