The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 70/No. 19           May 15, 2006  
Immigrant workers revive May Day
Up to 1 million in L.A.
(lead article)
LOS ANGELES—Cheers and chants rang through this city from morning until well into the evening May 1, as up to a million people marched to oppose anti-immigrant legislation and demand legal status for undocumented workers.

Police estimated a midday downtown march to City Hall at 250,000, and said more than 400,000 marched four miles down Wilshire Boulevard, west of the city center, later in the day. Organizers said both actions were larger, up to a million. Smaller demonstrations also took place throughout the metropolitan area.

Across the country, more than 1.8 million people protested for immigrant rights in more than 120 cities in 40 states (see list in this issue) and many skipped school or work to honor the boycott.

The downtown march and rally here was called by the March 25 Coalition against HR 4437, as part of a national one-day boycott of work, school, and shopping. HR 4437 was passed by the House of Representatives in December, igniting the immigrant rights mobilizations. This bill would make it a felony to be in the United States without proper documents. The coalition, which organized an earlier mass demonstration here March 25, includes the Mexican-American Political Association and Hermandad Mexicana.

The later march was called by the We Are America Coalition, which did not support the boycott and work stoppage. The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, several trade unions, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles are among the prominent members of this coalition.

Thousands of workers, students, and others who marched downtown then headed over to the afternoon action.

The response to the call to skip work was substantial here, and in other parts of California and up the West Coast.

Many of the hundreds of garment factories in downtown Los Angeles were empty. Leading up to May 1, the Korean American Apparel Wholesaler Association asked its 1,000 members not to fire anyone for taking the day off.

Other workers, including at hotels and airports, were threatened with firings or other disciplinary measures if they missed work without permission. The evening rally swelled as many joined it after working all day.

Thousands of farm workers, from Oxnard to Salinas, California, stayed out of the fields. About 200,000 protested in the northern part of the state. The United Farm Workers helped coordinate actions from its offices in Salinas, Fresno, Santa Rosa, and other farm areas. TV coverage showed deserted fields of strawberries, grapes, and other farm products.

Along the central coast, many growers, packers, and shippers gave workers the day off. Many of these firms support “guest worker” programs to employ immigrants as temporaries while tying their status to the bosses in order to keep wages low. But at the May Day rallies in Santa Rosa and other rural areas thousands of farm workers and others demanded amnesty and immediate legalization.

In Yakima Valley, Washington, thousands of farm laborers and their supporters marched with similar demands. According to the U.S. Labor Department, some 53 percent of farm workers in the country are undocumented.

Poultry workers who are fighting for a union contract at the giant Foster Farms plant in Livingston, California, said that supervisors threatened them with disciplinary action if they missed work. But so many took the day off the company was forced to virtually shut down production in the afternoon. Employees who did show up for work sported white T-shirts in solidarity.

Truck traffic at the massive ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach was down 90 percent. The more than 10,000 port truck drivers here have fought battles over the years to unionize and win better conditions. About 150 of these troqueros rallied in Wilmington, near the port. Salvador Abrica, a driver and organizer for the Port Drivers Association, reported, “In the last month, port drivers and their vehicles have been detained and some have been deported. Ninety percent are Latinos, immigrants.”

At the Los Angeles City Hall rally, truck driver Victor Alonso said his employer, Fiesta Mexicana, closed its chain of stores and warehouses for the day, as it became clear many workers were planning to take the day off. “It’s important we’re not working today,” he said. “We’re not sleeping in; we’re sending a message.”

Maria Martínez said the small tortilla factory where she works was operating, but she and many co-workers did not go in after the boss agreed they could skip work. “We’re not losing with this boycott, we gain,” she said, by fighting for permanent residency. “Our pay is so low one day isn’t that much anyway!”

Despite pleas by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Cardinal Roger Mahony to stay in school, 27 percent of middle and high school students in the Los Angeles Unified School District didn’t show up. Stephanie Lopez, a senior at Belmont High School, spent the day marching with her friends in downtown Los Angeles. School officials said, “If we don’t come in we won’t be able to graduate on stage or go to the prom,” she pointed out. “But it doesn’t matter. We want equal rights for everyone.”

Many stores and other small businesses in South Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, and other majority Latino areas remained shuttered for the day.

While the big majority of marchers here were Latino or Chicano, at both demonstrations there was a noticeable increase in participation by Blacks and other non-immigrants, compared to the mobilization of comparable size on March 25. On April 28, several leaders in the Black community, including Rev. Lewis Logan of the Bethel AME Church and Tony Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, announced their support for the May 1 actions at a press conference with immigrant rights organizations. James Lawson, a leader in the civil rights movement, was among the speakers at the evening rally.

“Every person of color should be here,” said Gwen Maddox at the City Hall rally, where she came with several relatives. The wealthy “have been suppressing people of color all over the world. We had to come here and march for this to change.”

“A day without immigrants” and “Today we march, tomorrow we vote” were among the prominent official slogans of the day. Many marchers carried signs calling for amnesty for undocumented workers. “We want to legalize everyone,” said José Zayed, who works in the shipping department of the giant American Apparel clothing factory. The proposals under debate in the Senate that would allow some workers to get permanent residency after paying fines and meeting other requirements “are only half-way measures.”

Near Zayed, Julio Cesar Montoya got a warm response from the crowd as he chanted, “Queremos una verde!” (We want a green card!) Montoya took the day off from Woodland Farms, a duck slaughterhouse where last year workers won representation by the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

The mood in many factories the next day was upbeat. “It was good because they’re going to hear us in Congress,” said Margarita Fernandez, a sewer at Hollander Home Fashions. “Seeing all those people was beautiful.”

Arlene Rubinstein in Los Angeles, Lea Sherman and Betsey Stone in San Francisco, and Scott Breen in Seattle contributed to this article.
Related articles:
Immigrant workers revive May Day: 400,000 in Chicago
May Day Actions for Immigrant Rights by State and City
Boycott affects many businesses
May Day: a workers’ tradition reborn
Miami: 4,000 rally to back Haitian immigrants
U.S. gov’t interned Japanese from Latin America in WWII  
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