News, commentary and analysis by leaders of the Communist Party USA in New York State. We discuss State politics and issues in New York City, covering developments in labor, civil rights education, housing and more.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Why were there separate May Day rallies

By Pat Fry

Though the New York Times did not print a word of it, there were two May Day rallies and marches in New York City last Saturday, one estimated at 15,000 – 20,000 in front of downtown Manhattan’s Federal Building at Foley Square, and the other estimated to be a third less in size assembling a couple miles away in Union Square.

For the first time since the anti-communist derailment of May Day in the Cold War days of the late 1940s, labor unions officially sponsored a May Day March and Rally – a celebration that began with the Chicago general strike of workers for the 8 hour day May 1, 1886. Under the banner of “Labor and Immigrant Rights and Jobs for All,” the Foley Square rally represented the mobilization efforts of numerous unions – AFSCME District Councils, AFT/United Federation of Teachers, Professional Staff Congress, CWA District 1 and CWA Local 1180, IBT Joint Council 16 as well as 5 Teamster locals, NY State United Teachers, two locals of the RWDSU/UFCW, SEIU 32BJ and SEIU 1199 UHE, Committee of Interns and Residents/SEIU, SEIU Workers United, the Laborers LIUNA Local 10, 78 and 79, LIUNA Mason Tenders District Council, UAW Region 9A, the UAW National Writers Union, and the NYC Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (NY LCLAA).

The keynote at the rally was given by Arlene Holt Baker, Executive Vice President of the AFL CIO, and the highest ranking labor leader of color in the country. In her remarks, which have been widely circulated by the AFL-CIO, she called upon the U.S. Department of Justice to take immediate legal action to stop the Arizona law from implementing its “ill-guided and unconstitutional law.” She urged Present Obama to publicly oppose and terminate all programs – including collaborations between state and local law enforcement and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that result in racial profiling.

In addition, numerous organizations of immigrants rights, and workers centers were sponsors, including the NY Immigration Coalition, the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, NY Civic Participation Project, Sociedad Hondurena Activa de Nueva York, Cabrini Immigrant Services, NY Taxi Workers Alliance, the Domestic Workers Union, the NAACP, and religious organizations including the Bronx Muslim Center Mass, Council on American-Islamic Relations New York, Islamic Center of Jackson Heights, Labor Religion Coalition of Greater NY, American Friends Service Committee. It was an impressive center-left coalition and represented some of most critical sectors of the social justice movement today. The immigrant workers that rallied at Foley Square were organized either through their unions or through immigrant organizations.

The history making May Day effort was first discussed informally among a an ad-hoc group of left labor activists of the Labor Left Project, and then taken up by labor leaders and activists associated with NY LACLAA, an organization that embodies the core leadership of labor and immigrant workers that have historically played the leading role in the organization of the U.S. working class.

The other May Day event that took place at Union Square – the May Day March and Rally for Worker and Immigrant Rights – was organized by the May 1st Coalition, an initiative of the International Action Center and activists of the Million Workers March. Union Square has become known as the location for May Day rallies in the years following the massive 2006 immigrant rights march in NYC as elsewhere and the IAC, never missing an opportunity, has sponsored May Day rallies in the years since at Union Square.

Many lamented the confusing mobilization of two separate rallies. Some organizations had to decide which to support. There were efforts made in the months preceding the rallies to work toward a coordinated effort that would merge the two rallies and marches, but to no avail.

Instead of cooperation, what resulted were anti-union smears and denunciations toward the unions and immigrants rights organizations that spearheaded the Foley Square mobilization. Some responses heard went like this: “we are marching with the little people, not the fat cat union bosses.” Verbal assaults were also common attacking President Obama and the Democratic Party.

It is hard to imagine how anyone would not welcome an historic departure for the organized labor movement from one of the longest lasting holdovers of the cold war – going from opposition to participation in May Day. It is also perplexing why some forces would not openly welcome the organized labor movement embracing justice for immigrants and calling for a boycott of Arizona and calling upon the U.S. government to demand the law be overturned. The emergence of labor and its most organized expression – the trade unions – assuming its historic role in advancing political demands for jobs and immigrant rights is a day many have long awaited.

But rather than embrace this new development, the IAC sponsored rally consistently narrowed the basis of participation with slogans and issues that were not singularly focused on the political demands that could unite the widest possible support from broad forces – justice for immigrants, labor rights and jobs for all. It should be noted that many of the immigrants who participated in the Union Square IAC sponsored rally did not necessarily support the sectarian content of the rally. Clearly, had not the Foley Square May Day been organized, the powerful voices of unions and organizations that assembled in Foley Square would have been absent on May Day.

Nor would there have been a platform for the many elected officials who spoke passionately on the need to unite to defeat the Arizona anti-immigrant bill – Cong. Charles Rangel, Cong. Nydia Velázquez and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Also speaking was Cong. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas who is the sponsor of the most progressive immigration legislation in Congress. Several other legislators spoke who had just passed city council and state legislative measures in NY to denounce the Arizona law. These progressive leaders are the core of legislators that the movement can now count on to sponsor legislation to pressure Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Fundamental to these two widely divergent approaches are important ideological differences. The unions, organizations and elected officials that were represented on May Day aim to not only defeat the Arizona law and others like it, but to win a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Only efforts that are inclusive and broad based, uniting left and center, organized to bring pressure on the levers of government – is the way to win for all working people.

Pat Fry is a labor union activist in New York City and a National Co-Chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism

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