In light of efforts to strip public employees of collective bargaining in Wisconsin and the anti-union bills introduced in at least twelve states, planned May Day protests have taken on a new, more significant meaning this year. Events will focus on the customary issues of workers’ and immigrants’ rights, but also collective bargaining, and budget and pension cuts that affect not just the working class but their families and communities, as well.
Downtown Los Angeles will be filled with protesters this Sunday in what has become an annual pro-immigration reform march. California is known for its legendary May Day protests. In 2006, a quarter of a million people poured into the streets of San Jose in what is known as the largest political demonstration in Northern California history. That year, the protest was centered on the Illegal Immigration Control Act, which would have criminalized undocumented immigrants. The protest effectively stopped the bill in is tracks, according to Mercury News.
This year, activists will be calling on President Obama to stop deportations and provide “legalization or no re-election,” says Celina Benitez of Southern California Immigration Coalition. SCIC is also protesting in solidarity of all workers’ rights to organize.
Wisconsin’s May Day march will of course be focused on union busting, but also keeping in-state tuition for immigrant students, opposing Arizona-type legislation that targets immigrants, and preventing budget cuts.
The event is sponsored by the immigrant rights organization Voces de la Frontera with support and mobilization efforts coming from a variety of unions, including: Wisconsin’s AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Teachers Local 212, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in Wisconsin, the Painters and Allied Trades Local 781, Service Employees Local 1, and more unions.
In other Wisconsin news, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee entered their eighth week of an occupation at their school’s theatre department, which faces virtual elimination under Walker’s 2011–13 budget proposal.
“We are here to get the message out to the students and the faculty that what Scott Walker wants to do to the university as far as privatization will raise our tuition and we can’t afford that,” says [Aaron] Luther, [a member of SDS]. “We are also here to get information out about what Walker wants to do to the city of Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin in general. We demand that UW-Milwaukee maintain a public status as a university, and that tuition and fees be frozen so that tuition no longer goes up. We’re going to use this space as long as we feel it’s necessary. We’re constantly rethinking, re-planning and reorganizing.”
Luther adds that Wisconsin unions have been showing enormous support for their protest.
“We’ve gotten quite a bit of incredibly positive responses. The unions take care of all the maintenance and all the cleaning. If it wasn’t for them, the university wouldn’t run.… And the Teaching Assistants union [members] are giving us their support and we’ve gotten support from other groups on campus such as SDS and Act Everywhere.
“Several of us have gone to Madison. We protested at Walmart the last two Sundays because Walmart gave money to Scott Walker’s campaign, and Walmart has a bad workers’ rights record. We are also setting up more protests for other companies that happen to be on the boycott list or are grossly anti-union,” concluded Luther.
In the past, labor and immigrant workers have experienced a tenuous relationship since immigrants are oftentimes blamed for “stealing jobs,” as opposed to, say, the corporations that outsource labor overseas to save money. Now, labor is extending a hand to immigrants, which it views as an ally against larger anti-union forces.
"Workers' rights and immigrant rights are connected," said James Parks, a spokesperson for the AFL-CIO. "CEO-backed politicians are targeting all working people—including immigrants—with their corporate-sponsored political agenda and continuing power grab."