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May Day Rallies for Workers, Immigrants' Rights

May Day Rallies for Workers, Immigrants' Rights

Published: May 4, 2012

May Day parades and marches once celebrated the International Labor Day. Today it has become a stage to demand full protection of workers and immigrants, and an economy that works for everyone, not just the elite. AFSC staff around the country took part in many of this year’s events, partnering with immigrant communities and members of the Occupy movement. 


May Day in New Hampshire

May Day march in New Hampshire
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Rainy weather kept the numbers down in Dover, NH, but still about 100 people rallied at City Hall to urge humane immigration reform and equal treatment for all workers, the first such action in the city. The diverse group included leaders of several immigrant and refugee groups, including the New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees led by organizer Eva Castillo. Support also came from the AFSC’s Maggie Fogarty, a Dover resident.

The connections between workers and immigrants were clear in remarks of several speakers concerning a February incident in which reports of wage theft at a nearby construction site prompted community protests – those protests helped the workers collect the pay they were owed.  Others voiced support for members of the local Indonesian community, some of whom have sought asylum in the U.S. but who face the threat of deportation.

“We want the Dover community to be one that holds out a welcome mat, not one known for denial of civil rights,” Maggie said.

The rally featured spirited renditions of the songs “This Land is Your Land,” “We Shall Not Be Moved,” and “We Shall Overcome,” and included the chorus to “Solidarity Forever” sung in English, Spanish and Indonesian.  View slideshow.


May Day in Des Moines

Occupy Des Moines rallies for worker
and immigrant rights at the State
Capitol. View slideshow

In Des Moines, 75 Occupy Des Moines supporters rallied at the State Capitol for economic justice. They lifted up a number of related concerns, including the oppression of prisoners, the crushing burden of student and medical debt, and the ways in which exorbitant war spending detracts from human needs.

Maria introduced herself as an immigrant and read from the AFSC-created sign which declares, “No Human Being is Illegal.” She added that this is true in the U.S. and in every country of the world. Students Beyond War and Grinnell College students added their voices, with one person lifting up the need to view affordable, quality child care as an important issue for all of us.

A labor panel followed the rally. Sheldon Stromquist, a Quaker from West Branch, Iowa and a labor historian, emphasized the importance of working together nonviolently for the advancement of worker rights. The panel included an immigrant who is successfully organizing for back pay for herself and others, and a senior citizen who is working with others to protect retirement programs from attack.  View slideshow.


May Day in Providence

On the steps of the public libray.
Marchers rallied for good contracts and
benefits for all.

About 300 people marched in Providence RI  in a lively May Day parade to highlight the struggles of the working class and underscore issues ranging from a continued foreclosure crisis, cuts to schools and social programs, immigrant rights, and the increasing challenges faced by labor unions.

Some 30 advocacy groups representing students, labor unions, faith-based organizations, and other community gourps participated. Its organizers, which include the AFSC’s Martha Yager, noted the event was part of the national "Day Without the 99 Percent," harking to the Occupy movement's message that one percent of the population controls the country's wealth.

“May Day is a day for workers, a day to remind the banks and corporations that they are nothing without their workers. It is time for them to stop enriching themselves and their shareholders at the expense of workers,” Martha said. 



May Day Boston rally

Gladys Vega, Chelsea Collaborative at
May Day rally in Boston.
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Despite the rain in Boston, the annual May 1st Coalition march turned out to be a big success – with hundreds braving the weather to march through the streets of Chelsea, East Boston, and Everett in support of workers' rights. The AFSC’s Gabriel Camacho helped organize the event.

The community created a true display of unity in the fight for allworkers' rights. Speaking about those in the crowd who might be undocumented, Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steve Tolman said, “What I see are a lot of people with a lot of spirit – who are standing up against injustice in the workplace. I see a lot of people who work hard trying to put food on the table and educate their children. All they want is a fair chance. I see Americans and young Americans – the future of our nation.”

And Gladys Vega, executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative, said, “Make no mistake about it, American workers are under attack – whether public sector or private, immigrant or natural-born. Today, labor unions and immigrant groups marched hand-in-hand to show that we are united in the fight to protect our rights.”