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May Day Legacy of Labor, Immigrant Rights Joined by New Generation of Occupy for Historic Protests

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Several major unions joined with immigrant rights activists and tens of thousands of Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York City for a massive rally that marched to Wall Street. “I’m here today to support the efforts of May Day in fighting as a coalition to protect working families, struggling families and individuals — quite frankly, known as the 99 percent — to make sure that our issues, our causes are not forgotten and that we are not demonized,” says Barbara Ingram-Edmonds of District Council 37 AFSCME. Throughout the day, teach-ins, pickets and wildcat protests took place across the city. We also speak with Baruch University professor Jackie DiSalvo about the history of May Day, dating back to the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago on May 1, 1886. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, in New York City, tens of thousands of protesters continued streaming into Union Square Park, then marched towards Wall Street in the evening for a General Assembly, among them, immigrants’ rights activists highlighting the plight of undocumented workers and students. Democracy Now! spoke with one of the protesters, named Guadalupe.

FANNY GUADALUPE: My name is Fanny Guadalupe. I am president for Sisa Pakari. [translated] The most important thing that we’re asking today is for a multicultural, multiethnic and multinational society. We want full amnesty and the fulfillment of Obama’s campaign promises. Today, we are asking once again for a leader who will make good on his word. These children have immigrant parents who are asking for the universal right to be free of borders, free of flags. We need to have work with dignity, not persecution, not deportations and not xenophobia.

AMY GOODMAN: Here in New York, Democracy Now!’s Mike Burke spoke with professor and Occupy organizer Jackie DiSalvo, who reflected on the history of May Day, dating back to the Haymarket Massacre, Chicago, May 1st, 1886.

JACKIE DISALVO: I’m Jackie DiSalvo. I work with Occupy Wall Street, and I’m a liaison to the coalition that Occupy Wall Street has formed with labor and immigrant organizations and the May 1st Coalition. So I work both in the Occupy Wall Street May Day committee and on the solidarity coalition May Day committee.

We’re coming together under a labor alliance in Occupy Wall Street, but labor is in so much struggle right now, and it is all blacked out in the press. We organize what we’re calling the “99 Pickets” campaign, and there are many going on today. In fact, right now, the National Association of Broadcast and Entertainment Technicians are picketing ABC-Disney. And they were going to pick up some supporters at—from Occupy at Bryant Square and march up to 67th Street. There’s—this morning, the New York Times reporters were out in front of the New York Times. The Newspaper Guild can’t get a contract. There are just—we have over 40 labor pickets, and then a lot of pickets that are going to the 1 percent, the banks, mainly.

MIKE BURKE: And can you talk about the significance of these protests taking place today on May Day—


MIKE BURKE: —and how this fits into the history of May Day?

JACKIE DISALVO: Yeah, it’s really great that May Day is being revived. I mean, May Day was at the heart of a different kind of labor movement and a different kind of labor tradition. In fact, a general strike had been called, and in Chicago 60,000 workers went out, and the police shot them. And there was a demonstration to protest the police violence. And in that demonstration, what was probably a police provocateur threw a bomb, and the police shot more people, and then they tried and hung four anarchists that they’d probably been wanting to go after for years. And it was called the Haymarket Massacre.

A few years later, in Europe, the—I think it was the first or second international—I’m not sure. It was the 100-year anniversary of the French Revolution, that European unions proclaimed May 1st International Workers’ Day. And it’s been celebrated around the world ever since, particularly in Europe and Latin America.

What happened here was that the 1 percent, already early in the century, were very threatened by workers celebrating a holiday that was about class struggle. And so, Grover Cleveland changed the labor holiday to September. So that’s when labor gets a day off, not in—they used to just take off, in strike, on May Day. And then, in the period of the Cold War and McCarthyism, just shortly after the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, which has crippled the labor movement ever since—you know, the Taft-Hartley Act prohibits a union going out in strike, if supporting another union, or even a boycott. And it’s illegal to go on a general strike. In that period, Eisenhower changed the name of May Day to Loyalty Day, so it was supposed to be a celebration of patriotism, not of class unity, but of unity with the 1 percent. And the unions stopped celebrating it. They had continued to celebrate somewhat during the ’30s, when they were in intense struggle, but when the unions got purged through the McCarthyist purge, where a lot of the militants were kicked out of the unions, labor started backing off on a lot of things, and they did not celebrate May Day anymore.

In 2006, Mexicans in Los Angeles, for whom May Day was a holiday, resented the fact that May Day was no longer a holiday for them, and they were in an intense struggle over threatened—I think at that point the laws were going to declare it a felony to be illegal. And so, they called for a day without immigrants. And in order to have this day, they had to leave their jobs. And so, a million Mexicans—not just Mexicans, but a million immigrants left their jobs and went into the streets, shut down Los Angeles. Two hundred thousand marched in New York City, many in Chicago. And Labor Day was back on the calendar.

AMY GOODMAN: Baruch College English professor and Occupy organizer, Jackie DiSalvo. In Union Square, we bumped into an entire baseball team: the Dodgers. Well, the Tax Dodgers, that is.

TAX DODGER: We’re a baseball team, and we go to bat for the 1 percent, not the 99 percent. We’re the Tax Dodgers, the best team that corporate money can buy.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you describe what you’ve got here?

TAX DODGER: Well, we’ve got our full baseball team out here, and we’ve got all the best heavy hitters in corporate America who are part of our team: Verizon, GE, Citibank, ExxonMobil, Pfizer, Bank of America, Time Warner. You know them all. We’re practically household names at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: Then the Tax Dodgers broke into song.

TAX DODGERS: [singing] Take me out to the tax game
Bail me out with the banks
Buy me a bonus and tax rebate
Never pay nothing, not federal or state
So just shoot, shoot, shoot for the loopholes
It’s law, so you can’t complain
Where the one, two, three trillion you’re out
Since we rigged the game.

Take me out to the tax game
Flip the bird to the crowd
Losers pay taxes, we take rebates
Cause we make the rules for the corporate state
And it’s wham, bam, slam through the loopholes
We always win, what a game!
We’re the one, yes, the 1 percent
And we have no shame!

TAX DODGER: Go back to work, everyone! Strike’s over!

AMY GOODMAN: Those were the Tax Dodgers on Democracy Now!, here on Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Several major unions also participated in New York’s May Day march. Democracy Now! spoke to members of CWA, Communications Workers of America, TWU, Transport Workers Union, the AFL-CIO and more.

NEW YORK LABOR CHORUS: [singing] Solidarity forever
For it’s the union, yes
The union makes us strong

DOMINIC RENDA: Yeah, my name is Dominic Renda. I’m with the Communication Workers of America, also known as CWA. And I’m out here because workers need to take a stand against corporate greed and against the wars that only benefit the wealthy. May Day means dignity for working people. And May Day started here in the United States, and it’s important for us to recognize that. There’s a lot of people who are unemployed, and they deserve jobs, and a lot of people that deserve, you know, healthcare, and they’re not getting health insurance from their employer. Pensions are becoming a thing of the past. Unions are becoming a thing of the past. And the thing is, is that working people, we really need to organize, because without the unions, there would just be the very rich and the very poor.

PROTESTERS: May Day! Whose day? Our day! What day? May Day! Whose day? Our day!

BARBARA INGRAM-EDMONDS: I’m Barbara Edmonds, and I’m with District Council 37 AFSCME. And I’m here today to support the efforts of May Day in fighting as a coalition to protect working families, struggling families and individuals—quite frankly, known as the 99 percent—to make sure that our issues, our causes are not forgotten and that we are not demonized, because we need to make sure that we protect the rights and the important value of the common good, which has been lost, quite frankly, over this last year or so, whether it’s fights in the labor community, fights in our communities around the city and around the country, fights to protect those most vulnerable in our populations. So this is a day that I’m very happy to be here with my union family, AFSCME District Council 37, and many of the labor unions, faith- and community-based organizations across the city represented here.

MARVIN HOLLAND: I’m Marvin Holland, Transport Workers Union. I’m the political director. TWU has always participated in May Day since we’ve restarted it back in 2006. And we’re happy to say that this is probably the biggest one we’ve had so far. We just want to get a decent contract, with perhaps some cost-of-living wages. We think it’s time to turn the tide on the constant concessionary contracts that have been happening to state workers throughout the country.

BERESFORD SIMMONS: Hi. My name is Beresmond Simmons. I’m with the Taxi Workers Alliance. I’ve been driving a cab in New York City for over 40 years. And I’m here today to support the workers, because taxi drivers are some of the most exploited workers in New York City, and we need some attention from the authorities who are abusing us.

LINDA HARRISON: My name is Linda Harrison. I’m with TWU Local 100. I’m here today for workers’ rights. I was one of the laid-off workers. And I just came back to work the end of March, the last week in March. It was almost two years that we were off. And, I mean, we found money that the MTA had, that they could have kept us on, that services that they cut was unnecessary. And this day—so this day is a day for us to come out and unite as one. All the unions are here. Everyone’s being represented.

And we just want rights. We just want equality. We don’t want them to give us anything. We work for whatever, you know, for our [inaudible]. They don’t give us stuff. We work hard. We have, you know, sometimes dangers on the trains. We have different situations where our lives are in danger. And we still have to deal with it. We have to come back to work, and we have to, you know, go through different things and trauma and all these things like that. And we just want them to just pay us for what we give back, what we give to them: our experiences, our—you know, the skills that we have, and things like that. Like, we’re not dumb. We’ve got—all of us have college. They got skills. They have classes for us, so we know that they know that we have these skills. And we’re just asking them to just give us what we deserve.

FITZ REID: Hi. My name is Fitz Reid. We are part of DC 37 Local 768, healthcare workers. We are here to support all the oppressed and the workers, students. We just want to get a movement going so we can redeem the dream, to get back the wealth that we produce and provide for the capitalists, so we can get our fair share, at minimum. The struggle should not just to maintain what we have, but we should have—we should have full healthcare, universal healthcare. And that would take the burden off the union, so we will not have to negotiate that, because all of us would get the standard care. We are all human beings. And if we cannot provide healthcare for the workers and for the masses, what else becomes primary? That’s a priority.

AMY GOODMAN: Some of the voices of organized labor at the May Day rally in New York.

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