United States of America

Immigrants Bring Back May Day to the U.S.!

Daniel Vila

The massive wave of spontaneous demonstrations and work stoppages that have shaken the United States recently, organised by immigrants workers, have been the biggest labour actions in this country since the 1930s. In that period, millions of workers participated in marches, strikes and occupied factories to organise unions and support programmes such as Social Security and unemployment insurance.

Although some consider the fight of the immigrant workers the re-emergence of the Civil Rights movement, actually these events are a deepening of the class struggle in the U.S.

Why the Work Stoppage?

The objective of the Great Work Stoppage of May 1 is to defeat the proposed bill HR 4437, which is trying to criminalise all undocumented immigrants and those who help them. We also oppose the Kennedy-McCain bill that calls for militarising the border and converting military bases into detention camps for immigrants and its proposal for a ‘guest worker’ programme. This would turn immigrants into indentured servants to the bosses because they could be fired and deported at any time. This would force immigrants to suffer increased humiliation and exploitation. Our demand is: Right to citizenship for all, now!


The call for a day without working, buying, selling or attending school began in California. But it has been supported by hundreds of immigrant organisations throughout the country. In New York, the May First Coalition was formed at Teamsters Local 808, with the participation of Latin American, South Asian, Asian, African, Haitian and other immigrant groups, unions and community organizations. This coalition recognises that not all workers can stay away from work on May 1, but that we should all participate in whatever actions we can.

Who is Opposed to the Work Stoppage?

Some groups have opposed the call to not work, buy, sell or go to school. This opposition comes from the more comfortable and well-off groups among the immigrant organisations and some union bureaucrats. These sectors are afraid that the immigrants will unite in a true powerful movement that no longer needs these powerful union bureaucrats and wealthy businessmen. The spokespersons for this conservative sector among the unions do not represent the rank and file and are afraid of calling for a consultation meeting. Therefore it is the duty of all workers in unions such as 32BJ and 1199 to demand union democracy and that the rank and file be consulted. The unions belong to those who pay their dues and not to those who earn huge salaries to control them for the benefit of the owners.

Are the Immigrants Being Politicised?

Immigrants want to work and lead a full life. But the anti-immigrant laws and racist government officials have led to the mobilisation of millions of immigrants. In the process of organising marches and proposing solutions the immigrant workers are discovering the real nature of this society and who are their allies and who are opportunists. Inevitably, hundreds of thousands of people have been politicised.

Javier Rodriguez, a Mexican journalist in Los Angeles and one of the organisers of the May 1 Work Stoppage, said that ‘these laws are designed to enslave the immigrant class living in this country and to hold them and their families back in the past, in the back of the bus.... With polls showing the rejection of the president and his manufactured war against Iraq, the Republicans are seeking refuge in their most conservative base, agitating against illegal immigration.’

As Javier states, one cannot separate the war, politics and racism from the fight of the immigrant workers. This country is ruled for a business elite and politics that have to be overturned to win true justice. We must fully join the fight for total change and forge the greatest unity with U.S.-born workers, the African-American community, unions and community groups to form the broadest possible front to win these goals.

A Halliburton subsidy recently won a $385 million contract to build detention centres for immigrants. According to the official Halliburton web-site, ‘the contract, which is effective immediately, provides for establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to augment existing ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] Detention and Removal Operations Programme facilities in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programmes.

From NYC Working People’s Voice newspaper

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