On Saturday hundreds of people, representing different unions, organizations, and labor campaigns, gathered at Union Square to celebrate May Day and later marched on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s Midtown mansion.
May 1st, also known as International Workers Day, is an official holiday in much of the world outside the United States. The holiday’s origins date back to the May 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago that saw police violently suppress the movement for an eight-hour work day. May Day virtually disappeared from the United States during the Cold War but was revived by the immigrant rights movement in 2006 and has been widely celebrated in the U.S. ever since.
The Indypendent spoke with a cross-section of May Day demonstrators at Union Square including an Amazon worker, a Teamster, an laundry worker organizer, a college student and a revolutionary militant who fled his nation’s turn to fascism. Here are their stories.
David Lagville, Amazon worker
I think it’s a good idea that Amazon workers at JFK at least understand, at least have the opportunity to bring a union into that facility. It didn’t work in Alabama, but I think in New York City and in Staten Island it could be a big help to the working conditions at the JFK8 Amazon warehouse.
I am in support of Christian Smalls, who was fired last year for essentially trying to get healthy working conditions at Amazon, things that they would ultimately put into place anyway.
We still need paid time off, more breaks during the day. There’s a whole menu of things that Amazon should consider, not just at JFK8 but across the breadth of the Amazon Universe.
If you’re a full-timer, you’re likely working 4 consecutive ten or sometimes eleven-hour shifts with two 15 minute breaks and a half-hour lunch break. The facility is so vast. Restrooms are such a distance from where you work that workers sometimes struggle to get to the restrooms and back without being called for “time of task.” It’s a long day. You’re on your feet the entire time.
During peak hours or “Prime Day,” you’re working overtime mandatorily. You could conceivably be working five ten or eleven hour days. That is a real challenge for some people.
Whether the union goes into JFK8 or not, it’s important that everyone understands the benefits of a union. It might not be for them, and we understand that. But they should at least have the ability to vote on whether or not a union comes into JFK.
Esther Curry, Teamsters Local 804
I’m out here cause it’s May 1st, May Day. We’re talking about the workers. If it wasn’t for May Day, we wouldn’t have eight-hour workdays. We’d be working 14-hour days. I’m happy that I’m able to reap the benefits from the people who fought way back in the day, way before I was even born.
This is why we’re here—we’re here to support people that don’t have unions, also. We need to support people to learn more about unions and to unionize. The goal here is to get people unionized so they can have the same rights as union workers. A lot of people don’t have that. They’re still working twelve or fourteen-hour days.
I’m in Teamsters Local 804. It represents UPS workers and other smaller companies. I work for UPS.
For other UPS workers, we gotta fight every day. We gotta fight for the rights of other workers. We’re upset that Amazon isn’t unionized cause we know what the work is like. It’s another package company.
Here we are at Union Square fighting again for unionism — to unite the working class of the world. Together we are strong and we can believe there is a future in a world that we see is going through an enormous change due to the forces of capital that are squashing the people and squishing out all the resources of the planet at once for immediate profit.
We are living a situation of necropolitics, politics veered towards death and the extermination of what they see as unnecessary people, lesser people—poor people, Black people, women.
I’m always active on May 1st, wherever I am in the world. I think there has been an upswing in the movement over the recent years. We saw in Italy—with the rise of Facism again a couple of years ago—people were crowding the squares in what we called the Sardines movement, the movement where we packed the squares like sardines in a can, as many of us as possible. That was proving to be effective, then the pandemic came.
I was born in Brazil. I’ve been living in America for a long time. My sign says “Lula is innocent.” Lula da Silva, the former president of Brazil, was imprisoned for 580 days, unlawfully. It was a blatant case of lawfare. International capitalism and local capitalism veered the situation in Brazil so that Lula da Silva could not be a candidate who would have certainly won the presidential election in 2018. Next year, there’s an election and we want to have him again in power.
For the time being, what matters is people’s lives. The Brazilian Indians, the indigenous people, the Black people in Brazil and the people of color that have been decimated by the current misgovernment of Jairo Bolsonaro, the man who will be forever infamous in world history for the crime of genocide that he is causing in Brazil.
Enid, First-year NYU student
I am a first-year college student, so this is all new to me. I am from Puerto Rico so my friend called me and he said there is a protest in Union Square and there are people from Puerto Rico here.
There is this LUMA energy contract being created and it’s going to privatize the energy companies. That will make energy more expensive, that will make the workers have to work harder and they’re gonna perpetuate the use of fossil fuels on the island.
We’re trying to advocate for less fossil fuels. We mostly use hydroelectric energy. We also have windmills and solar energy. And we’re fighting for that but LUMA doesn’t want any of that. They just want to use fossil fuels.
The main problem is that this company is based in the States, it’s not people from the island. This is something that happens a lot because of colonialism on the island and the power the federal government has over there to just privatize everything they desire.
Rosanna Rodriguez, Laundry Workers Center
I am part of the Laundry Workers Center, the organization that trained the workers to organize. We are a workers center that advocates for low-wage immigrant workers. We empower people through the organizing process.
We are here today demanding the dignity and respect for all the workers around the world, especially here. We are in solidarity with Liox Wash Supply workers in demanding that the company rehire the workers, pay them the stolen wages and also recognize the union.
The company fired the workers because they formed an independent union. To avoid responsibilities, they decided to shut down the laundromat and fire all the workers. It’s not legal what they did so we are fighting back against these employers. The workers are six immigrant women. That is why this struggle is really important.
During this pandemic, it’s been more obvious how the system treats the workers, especially people of color. We have to fight really hard. During COVID, we were essential but we were excluded. The state did not recognize our labor.
We were part of the struggle for the excluded workers fund. It was huge that we won the excluded workers fund. We have to celebrate that victory because it was a victory for and by the workers. Twenty three days on hunger strike. But before that it was a whole year of taking action and demanding the inclusion of the workers.
Victor Toro, Political Asylum Seeker
The authorities of the United States do not celebrate this holiday, but the workers here are celebrating it. The people are going out into the streets and proclaiming their demands.
In my case, I have been undocumented here in the United States for 36 years. I was imprisoned by ICE. I have filed many petitions and complaints and my case still hasn’t been resolved, just like the other 11 million undocumented workes. I am here to see if we can breathe life back into an immigrant movement.
In 2006, there were 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Obama said he would naturalize everyone and he didn’t, neither did Trump or any other leader.
There’s a movement all over the country. Here, in California, in Chicago. Right now, people are marching in Washington, D.C. At this moment, people are coming out of the darkness.
The state tries to say that immigrants are responsible for bad things that happen in this country. For me, this is the big lie.
Immigrants have come from all the countries where the United States has torn with war and military interventions. They have come from Iraq, where the United States fought a false war, an invented war. They’ve come from Libya, Syria, Pakistan—all the Middle Eastern, Asian and African countries. They’ve come from Latin America, where Hilary Clinton supported a coup d’état in Honduras. The United States is responsible for the immigration from Central America.
I came from Chile. In Chile, I was persecuted, I was jailed. I was imprisoned for being a member of MIR, Movimiento Izquierda Revolucionaria, an organization of the workers, the people. This people’s organization saw a lot of loss under the Pinochet dictatorship, and they’ve continued fighting ever since. I fled and tried to obtain political asylum here, and I still haven’t been successful.
The United States intervened during the coup in Chile and are still intervening currently, with the Pinochet
Things have changed a little, but the United States is still involved in government changes in Latin America. In Brazil, it was a little better hidden but they were still involved. The Brazilian who comes here—it’s not their fault. It’s not the Latino’s fault. It’s not the fault of the Latino children who are imprisoned on the border. Trump’s wall is a farce. One way or another, it’s going to fall like the Berlin Wall.
The people, the immigrants, the workers, the workers have been suffering the consequences of the pandemic—this capitalist crisis. There have been almost 600,000 COVID deaths in this country. This is a genocide. This is called capitalismo salvaje. This is called private banks. This is called the International Monetary Fund. It’s the Republicans and also the Democrats. So they’re not the ones with the solutions. It has to come from the working people, the youth. And here we are.
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