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   Vol. 70/No. 19           May 15, 2006  
May Day: a workers’ tradition reborn
On May Day 2006, millions of workers stayed off the job in cities and towns across the United States. They poured into the streets and demanded the right to legal residency for 12 million undocumented immigrants. They set an example for all working people, showing the potential power of labor. Thus May Day, a working-class tradition celebrated across the globe, is being reborn in the United States.

The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles—the largest U.S. seaport complex—went quiet. Packinghouses throughout the Midwest were shut down. Vegetables and fruits were left unpicked in California’s fields. Construction sites in South Florida were paralyzed.

What happened on May Day gives the lie to opponents of amnesty for the undocumented who argue, “They broke the law to enter the country!”

The employers depend on the labor of undocumented workers. They make sure immigrants keep flowing across the border, often through coyote operations the bosses organize. And they have institutionalized the superexploitation of these workers. That’s what existing immigration laws, and all the bills under debate in Congress, are designed to do: not to keep out immigrants without papers, but to allow bosses to divide the working class by keeping millions deprived of basic rights.

The fight for immediate and unconditional permanent residency for all immigrants is in the interests of all workers, farmers, and other exploited producers.

The millions who are standing up and speaking out today are helping break down prejudices the bosses promote to weaken the working class and bring down everyone’s wages. This creates more favorable conditions to organize all working people, U.S.- and foreign-born, into trade unions and to fight together for jobs and improved pay and conditions for all.

Big-business voices have warned: don’t use tactics that antagonize “Americans.” Don’t raise your voices. Don’t display your flags. Speak English. Be patriotic. Leave things to the legislators. And don’t go on strike. These cynical admonitions recall arguments used in the 1950s and ’60s—to no avail—to try to stop millions of Blacks from marching, and from waging sit-ins and boycotts, that eventually overthrew Jim Crow segregation in the South.

The real reason for these complaints? The U.S. rulers are afraid today’s mass demonstrations for immigrant rights will win greater support among working people. They might inspire ideas about how to resist the employers’ assaults and win. Many U.S.-born workers have watched the protests. They have seen that by collectively withholding our labor and mobilizing in the streets we can prove stronger than the bosses. In the political arena, more working people may also see the need to act independent of—and against—the twin parties of capitalism, Democrats and Republicans.

May Day was born exactly 120 years ago in the United States. On May 1, 1886, a nationwide strike wave started for the eight-hour day. Since then the international working-class movement has celebrated that date and honored the Haymarket martyrs, the revolutionary workers framed up and hanged by the U.S. capitalists in Chicago for their role in that struggle.

May Day rallies drew tens of thousands in New York and other U.S. cities right up to the eve of World War II. During the war, however, the Stalinist and Social Democratic misleaders of the labor movement turned May Day actions into patriotic, pro-imperialist affairs and then canceled them in the name of wartime “national unity” with the American bosses. That class collaboration killed May Day in the United States.

Today, for the first time in nearly seven decades, International Workers Day became a mass celebration by working people in the citadel of capitalism. In Chicago, the major unions backed the march and rally. It is testimony to how the entire U.S. labor movement has been strengthened by foreign-born workers who bring their experiences and traditions of struggle.

That is truly cause for celebration—and a gain to build on.
Related articles:
Immigrant workers revive May Day: Up to 1 million in L.A.
Immigrant workers revive May Day: 400,000 in Chicago
May Day Actions for Immigrant Rights by State and City
Boycott affects many businesses
Miami: 4,000 rally to back Haitian immigrants
U.S. gov’t interned Japanese from Latin America in WWII  
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