Out of the Kitchens and into the Streets: an Uplifting May Day Rally in NYC
by Jennifer Fasulo
May 1, 2006
The May Day Immigrant and Workers’ Rights Demonstration in NYC was a beautiful sight to behold. Thousands of protesters were jam packed into every inch of Union Square, happily jostling about under the brilliant May Day sun. There was a palpable feeling of pride and excitement in the air that I haven’t felt at a protest in a long time. Perhaps this was due to the fact that this was not your usual protest crowd.
Unlike the anti-war demos, which are usually predominantly white and more reflective of the liberal wing of middle-class America, this demonstration was mostly people of color, and decidedly working-class. And while traditional labor events are often male-dominated, this march was full of women, as well as many youth and children. The large presence of young people also contributed to the high energy and radical spirit of the crowd, with young women and men leading spirited chants in Spanish, “Buuuush, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!” (Bush listen! We are in the struggle!)
Some of the most profound sentiments were expressed by children who embody the dire situation of undocumented immigrants. One young girl held her hand made sign high above her head, “I born here. I’m US Citizen. I need my Parents here. They work so hard to have be Born here.” You knew that people were out in the streets because their lives depended on it. As I marched alongside immigrant workers, I had the sense that these are precisely the people you do not see during most political events because they are the ones slaving away in the kitchens of restaurants across NYC, in construction sites, or in private homes as domestics. This feeling was reinforced by one banner carried by two men in chef clothes which read, “ We Break Our Back For You… And We Get Paid A Kick In The Butt!”
It was thrilling to see so many workers in the streets, and the inescapable radicalism which comes from such a gathering, despite efforts to dilute it. For example, the Catholic church, many politicians, even some in the labor establishment, discouraged people from boycotting work and school in order to attend mass protests. But people ignored the admonitions and did it anyway. Sympathetic politicians talk in muted terms about “a path toward citizenship” while march placards loudly proclaimed, “Amnesty for all Immigrants” “Equal Rights for All Workers!” and “Ningun Ser Humano Es Ilegal!” (No Human Being is Illegal!)
Latinos made up a clear majority of the protesters, although there were also Filipinos, Korean, Haitian, and African immigrants present. The fact that it was mostly Latinos indicates that there is still much work to be done in bridging immigrant communities as well as the divide between Blacks and Latinos in NYC. Nonetheless, the spirited march went a long way toward reviving the radical tradition of May Day, the true Labor Day, long celebrated by workers around the world, yet neglected here in the US.
With parallel demonstrations in cities throughout the country, and millions staying out of work and school to attend, it was the closest thing we’ve had to a general strike in the US. This begs the question: where were the unions? By my estimation, there were hardly any official union banners or representatives to be counted among the crowd. This is a sad statement about the labor establishment in this country, but it shouldn’t come as any surprise. Rather it should make perfectly clear that if we are going to have a upsurge of labor it will come the from workers themselves, and new forms of labor organizations, not the status quo bureaucratic unions and their establishment leaders.
View the pictures here.