May Day Passes, Students Still Fierce to Defend Workers

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On May 1, 100,000 students, workers and social justice activists across the country celebrated May Day, the international workers’ holiday. The Trump administration’s war on immigrants was front and center. “No borders, no nations! Stop deportations!” was a recurring chant. The largest mobilizations were in Milwaukee, Chicago and Los Angeles. And in Philadelphia 1,000 teachers called-in sick.

In NYC, a couple thousand participated in smaller protests. Students at Lehman College, NYU and Columbia, staged walk-outs or speak-outs and 500 NYU students participated. Columbia students joined a picket line with local striking construction workers.

The evening rally at Foley Square featured union officials and politicians, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, who declared, “we are going to stand up for immigrants.” However, the mayor’s policies of increasing police forces, supporting Broken Windows policing and his reluctance to close Rikers Island all contribute to the deportation of immigrants.

Brooklyn College students and teachers also participated. Shayan, a junior majoring in sociology, who organizes the Brooklyn College Against Trump (BCAT) workshops every Thursday, was one of them: “I came because I wanted to see who’s organizing, how can I get involved…We’re being attacked from so many angles [Trump] wants to deport people, he wants to cut funding to our schools…we have to speak up and say we’re not going to take this…[and we need to] fight for more funding and respect for our professors and students.”

Nicholas Rynearson, adjunct professor in the Classics Department, connected the protests to the school. “Brooklyn College has a large population of immigrant students, muslim students, working class students…and it is under attack. CUNY is under attack. CUNY’s funding has been cut…Cuomo’s so called ‘free college’ is a sham. There are so many conditions on it…it’s absurd when you think about the kinds of giveaways given to corporations and to the rich with no strings attached. What we really need is to go back to the days when CUNY was just free.”

May Day dates back to 1886 and the movement for the eight-hour day. Hundreds of thousands struck around the country, others won their eight-hour demand simply by threatening to strike. Some of the most prominent leaders of that movement were framed and executed for bombing Chicago’s Haymarket Square. They became known as the Haymarket Martyrs, and their legacy, May Day, has been celebrated internationally ever since.

Today, the labor movement’s rank-and-file and immigrant leaders have been displaced by union bureaucrats and Democratic Party politicians. And May Day’s roots in mass mobilization have been forgotten. Despite the urgency many feel to confront record inequality and Trump’s attacks, the turnout was modest. No doubt, fear in immigrant communities played a role. But fear cannot keep people at bay forever. Ultimately, it was resistance despite repression that won a right that today seems like a coveted privilege to many, an eight-hour shift. Gains such as this are not offered by the de Blasios or Cuomos of the world. They are won through collective struggle.

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