All photos by Allison Kilkenny.
This year’s May Day events featured the familiar tableau of union members marching in matching T-shirts and carrying their banners, while an insane number of police officers crept along the perimeters of Broadway, monitoring the peaceful procession. But this year also included an especially reenergized contingent of youth supporters and immigrant rights activists.
Of course, that’s not to say young people and advocates of immigration reform haven’t turned out in prior May Days. Certainly, Occupy Wall Street injected the worker-led event with a ton of youthful energy, but this year definitely possessed a different, more serious note. For many immigrant rights activists, they feel they’ve reached a critical moment, and if real reform is ever going to come, it will be now or never under President Obama’s leadership.
For youth, they have never lived in a world in which workers have held the upper hand. All they have known is the decline and bottoming out of unions, and the young people I spoke to cited non-unionized workers’ actions as sources of inspiration, particularly the fast food workers’ organizing recently seen in New York City.
Gregory, a student at Rutgers and delegate of the Young Workers Committee, a project of the Transit Workers Union formed to get youth more involved in the union, said he joined the protest because it’s important youth become engaged in workers’ struggles.
“Youth are the future. If they’re not involved now, then they’re not going to be involved later, and then they’ll get steamrolled when it comes time to the companies making decisions. If they haven’t been involved from the beginning, it’s going to be easy for companies to take advantage of them,” he said.
“The entire service industry isn’t unionized—banking isn’t unionized—but in a lot of other countries, they are. Bankers in Korea are unionized,” he added.
Angela Cassie, a member of TWU, said she was attending the event to support young activists.
“Youth do care about workers’ rights,” she said, emphasizing TWU’s commitment to supporting and training youth who may have no prior experience with, or exposure to, organizing the workplace.
“There’s always strength in numbers. We need to build that because people deserve a voice in the work place.”
And if any union knows the struggles of workplace negotiation, it’s TWU.