From science and climate to May Day — mass actions challenge Trump

May 6, 2017
A March for Science was held in Washington, DC on April 22.

The United States was the scene of three large national mass mobilisations from April 22 to May 1 challenging President Donald Trump’s agenda.  

The first, on April 22, was called by scientists and their supporters following Trump’s election to counter his attacks on scientific facts and on science itself. Scientists as a group are not known for organising protests, and their entry into the fray is another example of Trump’s “success” in provoking mobilisations from many different sectors against him.

In addition to hundreds of scientific, professional and environmental groups, there were some trade unions and non-profit organisations endorsing what organisers hope will be a start to scientists’ own resistance. 

April 22 is Earth Day, which was begun in 1970 to fight against pollution and has been observed yearly since, although in recent years these actions were small. The organisers of the March for Science chose this day for their demonstration, which turned it into a massive event.

Marching for science

About 100,000 joined the March in Washington, DC and tens of thousands more took part in solidarity marches in cities and towns across the country.

Two key aspects motivating the marchers were the Trump administration’s climate change denial and its drastic cuts to scientific research.

There is consensus among 97% of climate scientists that global warming is caused by greenhouse gases. The other 3% are stooges for oil, gas and coal corporations.

The administration is making large cuts, of billions of dollars, to the budgets of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institutes for Health (NIH). NASA’s budget is to be slashed and its research into climate change abandoned.

Trump has appointed a climate denier to head the EPA, whose new policy is to stop all research into climate change and has expunged all references to it on its webpage. The EPA has become the EDA — the Environmental Destruction Agency.

The NIH does basic research on health in relation to new treatments. One area of NIH research involves developing new drugs. If they are costly enough to be profitable, such discoveries are then patented by drug companies and sold. The NIH is also on the front line in developing vaccines in epidemic emergencies like Ebola, Zika and others.

In one of his debates during the primaries, Trump linked vaccines to autism, a claim that has been roundly disproven. Trump proposed a travel ban to and from areas that were affected by Ebola, which public health experts said would make the epidemic worse by hampering relief efforts. He also denied that aerosol sprays affect the ozone layer.

Meanwhile, Vice-President Mike Pence is a right-wing evangelical Christian who does not believe in evolution.

At the rallies, scientists and supporters condemned the administration’s science denial and cuts.

People’s Climate March

The issue of climate change, important in the March for Science, was the explicit target of the People’s Climate March on April 29, which involved more than 370 actions across the country. 

This march had been called before Trump’s election, following similar climate actions in previous years. But Trump’s election transformed the event, with organisers choosing to hold the marches to coincide with Trump’s 100th day in office.

In Washington, DC on what turned out to be the hottest day for April 29 on record for the nation’s capital, 200,000 people joined the monster march.

As with the March for Science, there were also marches in solidarity around the world. Up to 1 million people took part, including in Japan, Uganda, Sweden, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Kenya, Zambia, Germany, Greece, Brazil, Australia, Mexico, Costa Rica and many more.

One of the main groups organising the actions in the US was, named after the 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere upper limit to prevent an average temperature rise of more than 1.5oC. This was the target set by last year’s Paris Agreements, which Trump has threaten to withdraw from or just ignore.

Trump’s cancelling of most restrictions on fossil fuel drilling, fracking and mining and withdrawing the EPA and NASA from monitoring climate change portend a dangerous rise in greenhouse gasses.

The target of 350 parts per million was set by a consensus of climate scientists as a limit beyond which severe climate damage could occur. Already, an observatory in Hawaii has recorded levels of more than 400 parts per million.

May Boeve, from, spoke to Democracy Now! at the march. She said that in Trump’s first 100 days, “we have seen nothing but bad news for people and the planet.

“What’s wonderful about today is that this is truly a coming together of labour, health groups, faith groups, environmentalists, community groups. Over 900 groups are making this happen.”

International Workers’ Day

In the US, the theme of this year’s May Day, the International Workers’ Day held each May 1, was to defend immigrant workers, above all Latinos, from Trump’s huge deportation campaign.

At marches across the country, speakers linked this struggle to the struggle of all workers. For the first time I can remember, the mainstream media in the US actually referred to May Day as the International Workers’ Day.

Trump has given the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency carte blanche to drastically increase raids and deportations of undocumented workers. His stated aim is to intensify this campaign so most, if not all, migrants without papers are eventually deported. To this end, ICE has only gotten started.

May Day originated in the US in the mid-19th century. It grew out of state repression of labour activists in Chicago in 1886, with four anarchists executed after being framed for a bombing at a workers’ rally demanding the eight-hour work day. It should be noted the fight for an eight-hour day is one that must be taken up again.

International Workers’ Day became a worldwide celebration of workers and workers’ struggles.

In the US, with pressure from capitalists and authorities and the complicity of the labour bureaucracy amid a context of Cold War anti-communist hysteria, May Day was largely forgotten. It was eclipsed by a tamed Labor Day marked in the US each September.

This changed in 2006 when huge demonstrations and strikes by undocumented immigrants protesting a new anti-migrant law took place on May 1. Many undocumented immigrants came from Mexico and Central American countries, where May Day remains a powerful tradition associated with workers’ struggles. More than 1 million migrants and supporters took part — and the proposed law was dropped.

As Alan Maass wrote in the US Socialist Worker on May 2: “Given this history — and the urgency of confronting the Trump onslaught — hopes were high earlier this year for large turnouts at the May Day protests and a similar wave of strikes and workplace actions.

“These didn’t materialise. The biggest protests in any US city numbered in the tens of thousands at most — a significant mobilisation, but far smaller than 2006 — and the numbers of people who stayed away from work, while impossible to calculate exactly, were not nearly as large…

“One major factor is the raw fear of the Trump offensive. ‘A lot of people are afraid of the deportations — and the fact that home raids are happening,’ said Antonio Gutierrez of [the Chicago] Organized Communities Against Deportations.”

Millions of people are terrified that their family, friends, circles and communities could be ripped apart at any moment.

One example was the mushroom farms in Pennsylvania, where most of the nation’s crop are grown and the work force is largely undocumented. Only 40 came out to the rally in a context where one of the farms had been recently raided by ICE.

Socialist Worker reported that Elsa Lopez, an activist with the Casa Michoacan community organisation, said this fear “sets a challenge for supporters of immigrant rights. The most important thing is to be able to convince people not to fear coming out so things can change.”

The May Day marches and rallies also mobilised other sectors targeted by Trump’s anti-immigrant campaign, including Arabs and Muslims.

The rallies and marches were spirited and defiant, with chants of “No borders, no nations! Stop deportations!” Many other struggles were raised, such as for a US$15 minimum wage and the struggle for union rights — both of which disproportionately affect immigrants.

The Los Angeles Times, reporting on the 20,000-strong march in that city, said the gathering “looked like a mash-up of recent protests across the country”. There were T-shirts from the January 21 Women’s March, pink signs defending Planned Parenthood and others about climate change.

Taken together, the three mass mobilisations reflect the ongoing and growing mass resistance against Trump’s agenda.

To strengthen this resistance, unions must play a larger role. This includes bringing the majority of unorganised workers into these struggles, not only against Trump’s attacks on workers and unions, but on all his targets.

The working class is a mighty power, but only when it is organised to struggle.

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