Monday, May 2, 2011

New Orleans Workers Take to the Streets on Mayday

For the fifth year in a row, workers from the Congress of Day Laborers, STAND with Dignity, and the Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity organized a Mayday march through downtown New Orleans, starting at historic Congo Square, marching up Canal Street and down Poydras, and ending at City Hall. Among other organizations represented were ROC New Orleans and the Teamsters union. The march began and ended with speeches by workers and their supporters (including activist and former political prisoner Mwalimu Johnson), and more than a hundred workers - and a brass band - marched proudly through the streets,
Mayday is an international holiday dedicated to workers rights, and every year around the world millions of people participate in Mayday marches. Ironically, the holiday was started in the US, but because of its origins among anarchist activists and later adoption by socialist and communist movements, it is not widely recognized in this country. On May 1, 1886, tens of thousands of people marched in Chicago on a protest called by anarchist organizers in support of striking workers and the 8-hour-workday. Four of these organizers were later killed by the state in what was widely seen as revenge for their organizing. The struggle for an 8-hour workday was ultimately successful (though many of those and other achievements in the area of workers rights have since been undermined) but the radical organizers that died in that struggle rarely receive recognition.

In recent years, immigrant workers in the US - many of whom come from countries where Mayday is a much more widely celebrated occasion - have reclaimed the holiday. In 2006, hundreds of thousands of workers across the US, mostly Latino immigrants, marched on May 1 for immigration reform. In New Orleans, thousands of workers who had come to the city to work in reconstruction and been demonized and exploited marched on May 1 2006. This was the first large public expression of what would become a movement in this city. Today, these workers have built principled coalitions with other workers, and won real victories at City Hall.

While this year's march was not as large as the 2006 protests, it provided an important opportunity for immigrant workers in New Orleans and their allies to publicly demand their rights.

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