May 1st: Un Dia Sin Inmigrantes y Mayday

Photo by Fibonacci Blue

Photo by Fibonacci Blue

By Kevin Lentz

Assuming you haven’t been living under a rock, you probably understand that racial tensions are high in the US right now (not that they ever haven’t been).

In 2014 following the indiscriminate killing of Michael Brown, and the subsequent disrespecting of his body, the now world-famous Black Lives Matter movement sprang forth into life and sparked a nationwide renewal of attention to our brutal racial inequality. A year later on June 17th Dylan Roof walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and killed nine black church-goers at a bible study. Then, the year after that Micah Johnson, a black army vet, gunned down five police officers in Dallas at a protest against the police killing of Alton Sterling. And so on.

Meanwhile, following the spectacular failure of Hillary Clinton’s second presidential campaign, a vaguely orange real estate mogul rose into the highest political office in the US. Among other things, Donald Trump distinguished himself from his opponent by claiming that Mexico was “sending” us “rapists and criminals” in the form of the ubiquitous illegal immigrants that live among and with us. In line with this analysis, and to the joy of white nationalists across the states, he promised to erect a wall along the southern US border, and with sadistic vigor, insisted that he would make Mexico pay for it. This inspired our massive Latinx population—both with and without documents—to force the issue and conduct a nationwide “Day Without an Immigrant” in February of this year.

This brings us to now—the beat goes on. On May 1st, a mere three days from now, the country is poised to witness a massive national evolution of the February Día Sin Inmigrantes.

Movimiento Cosecha, in conjunction with parts of the Service Employees International Union, the Food Chain Worker’s Alliance, the Sanders campaign offshoot Our Revolution, the Democratic Socialists of America, the National Nurses Union, and others, have been working hard to coordinate and propagate a massive one day strike/protest to highlight the plight of the hardworking and stigmatized undocumented immigrant. Though likely centered along the west coast (and the northeast) due to the internal composition of Movimiento Cosecha, and indeed much of what remains of the US labor constituency, estimates already have the event boasting upwards of 400,000 attendees.

While perhaps not as of yet as large or steady as the mega-marches of 2006 and the “Great American Boycott,” which saw mass mobilizations over a period of two months, in our current climate it seems that any old spark can quickly scale up into historic conflagration. Accordingly, one would do well to pay attention to the events that transpire in the coming week. Who knows, one might even be inspired to research local events and participate this Monday.

If you do, or even if your sympathies only lead you to read up on it, there’s some important context you should probably know if you don’t already. Namely, the choice of May 1st for the protest is not merely one of expedience or convenience.

May Day 1913, strikers in Union Square

May Day 1913, strikers in Union Square

May 1st, unbeknownst to large swathes of the US, is International Worker’s Day—referred to by some as simply “Mayday.” This is a day legally dedicated and celebrated across the world—from Africa to China to Europe—in honor of the humble working person. The everyday soul who rises, toils, sleeps, and, despite systemic oppression and exclusion, unceremoniously keeps the world as we know it functioning. Ironically, this is quite an old holiday and one that moreover that has its origins in the United States itself.

The gruelling, decades long fight for an eight hour work day in the US came to a head of sorts in 1886 in Chicago where—between labor militants, unionists, political radicals of many leftward stripes, and the police—a bomb was thrown. The resulting bullets fired by the scared police into the crowd killed four and lead to a fierce backlash that saw four suspects publicly hung for the riot. This is usually referred to in the public textbooks as “The Haymarket Bombing,” of the “Haymarket Riot,” or the “Haymarket Massacre” depending on the political allegiances of the school board that reigns over whatever state you are in.

At any rate, the event marked a significant intensification of the broader international labor movement, and sympathetic workers, intellectuals, and the organizations that joined the two began to honor the sacrifices of US workers and militants in a yearly celebration. The celebration was later enshrined and spread throughout the world with the success of the world’s first socialist revolution in Russia—an event which prompted the US government to declare May 1st “Americanization Day” in 1921 and “Loyalty Day” sometime later as a counter measure.

“Labor Day,” the closest thing in the US we have to an outright celebration of the embattled wage laborer, was shunted to a weekend in September, broken off from the international tradition, and isolated.

Nevertheless, small groupuscules of the far left in the US and what’s left of the labor movement continue to celebrate the international holiday by marching, striking, and so on in small numbers on May 1st every year. This is largely what has traditionally constituted Mayday fare in the US in the most recent decades, though there is obviously large regional variation. If you participate, you are likely to experience remnants or re-incarnations of this marginal tradition.

In any case, the choice to align Un Día Sin Inmigrantes with the fiery legacy of International Worker’s Day was deliberate. And it makes sense since immigrants are, after all, workers by and large. More than that, due to the structural obstacles set against them, they are relegated to some of the most difficult and least rewarding jobs. A victory for the immigrant is consequently a vital victory for the worker in general.

Accordingly, a strong Día Sin Inmigrantes showing this Mayday, building off that of 2006 and the Día Sin Inmigrantes in February, could see the proper centering of this uncelebrated and stigmatized set of workers in a way that could strengthen both our disintegrating labor movement, and our coterminous movement for racial justice.

In other words, we could see, or maybe already are seeing, the beginnings of a properly North American contribution to the international labor movement in the twenty-first century—situated in the struggles and spaces that animate the US specifically, now, and not the “Old World,” South America, Asia, and whatever other legacies with which we have traditionally dressed ourselves up as continuing. A Mayday/Día Sin Inmigrantes that opens up towards a future that seems both necessary and desirable—a Mayday/Día Sin Inmigrantes that is popular. Then again we might not.

We’ll see one way or another on Monday.