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May 1st: People Power: Build Progressive Alternative to the Tea Parties

Lydia Howell: It's high time for progressives to escalate our own mass movement, to make it loud enough it cannot be ignored. The immigrant rights movement's recent May Day marches have gotten far more media attention than any peace rallies since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The labor movement needs a jump-start. It's crucial to have a broad, united progressive counter to the reactionary, racist Tea Parties.
Photo:  Sundogg

Photo: Sundogg

Progressives, workers and social justice activists have Latino immigrants to thank for revitalizing May 1st in the United States and 2010 is the year join the marches in high numbers. May Day is International Workers Day, celebrated world-wide, but, born in the United States in 1886 when there were over 11,000 strikes for the 8-hour day. To draw workers away from the political dissent and international solidarity of May Day, business interests invented the apolitical Labor Day holiday. But, in recent years, hundreds of thousands of immigrants—most from Mexico—have brought May Day back to fiery life. This year, we must not only stand with immigrants but, also, stand up for ourselves.

This is a call for many movements to unite on May Day: those working for immigrant rights and human rights;those active around police accountability; African-American and Native American communities who have been hardest hit by the Great Recession with high unemployment and those trying to organize a union at their job; the peace movement which must call for a re-ordering of priorities from war to needs at home.

The term “May day! May day!” is an international signal used by navy and air pilots to signal an emergency. The just-passed Arizona law SB1070 aims “to identify, prosecute and deport” undocumented immigrants. Both supporters and opponents of the law call it the strictest and broadest immigration law in decades. It grants police broad powers and puts all Latino people at risk, regardless of their immigration status, by requiring one prove one's immigration status or citizenship with papers. Arizona's law comes after an escalation in workplace raids over the last year where undocumented workers, primarily from Mexico and Guatemala are rounded up from meat-packing factories, canneries and the harshest workplaces in the United States.

Do you know that many of the winter vegetables you eat are harvested by Mexican workers in Arizona?

The SB1070 law is the dictionary definition of racial profiling with the goal of ethnic cleansing Latino people out of Arizona---a state like the rest of the U.S. Southwest and Texas that was originally northern Mexico until it was stolen in the 1840s Spanish-American War. To put it more bluntly, Mexican people were already living on the land now called Arizona when white settlers arrived, so, white people who call for deporting undocumented Mexicans are engaging in ethnic cleansing.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer claims that racial profiling would not be tolerated and that police will get special training in how to implement the new law. The New York Times quoted the governor saying,“We have to trust our law enforcement.”

How's that “trust the police” been working out so far for Latinos (regardless of status), African-Americans, American Indians, the poor of all colors, homeless people and the mentally ill? All are vulnerable to daily harassment, arrests without charges, being Tasered, beaten, choked, shot and murdered. No amount of “special training” has had an impact on police abuses of unarmed civilians. Police remain above the law, facing no charges, no trials, no convictions and not even fired from their jobs, regardless of how violent their actions towards the “the Others” who are targeted.

White progressives working on human rights—whether opposing U.S. torture policies, Israel's oppression of Palestinians or Colombia's paramilitary death squads, must recognize the parallels here at home. May 1st is an opportunity to make the connections between all these other human rights abuses and the rising attacks on immigrants and abusive police impunity here at home.

Peace activists must show up to make the connections between U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan with draconian repressive measures here at home (domestic spying on Muslims, environmental activists, anti-war dissidents) which Arizona's 1070 law is the latest example of. The anti-war movement can get a much-needed re-charge on May 1st raising the cry, “Money for JOBS! NOT for War!”

But, it's equally crucial that May Day be widely resurrected by working people and labor activists.

The African-American community had high hopes that the first Black president would make their long unmet needs a priority—especially with unemployment reaching as high as 50% for youth in American cities. As white unemployment stabilizes, Black unemployment remains twice as high, on average over 16%. Stimulus money has not been targeted to Black communities or Black-owned businesses. In spite of laws requiring government contractors to hire a percentage of African-American workers, such goals are rarely met. Even as inner city communities lack enough safe and affordable housing, community clinics, libraries, youth centers and as schools in these neighborhoods crumble, little stimulus money has come to address these needs---which also would create much-needed jobs. Black people need to be at May Day to raise their voices for these critical priorities and to resist the anti-immigrant sentiments that undermine the 21st century civil rights movement that's so crucial to build. Like African-Americans, Latinos are the primary “products” filling the cells of the bulging prison-industrial complex. American Indians/Indigenous people face 60% to 80% unemployment and the same lack of basic infrastructure on Reservations and in cities that Black people are dealing with. There are many points of solidarity to be had.

Anti-immigrant sentiment is being stirred up as a means to mis-direct ALL American workers' legitimate anger about rising unemployment, falling wages, and inceeased job insecurity, CREATEED by Corporate-friendly policies and the Wall Street banksters' bailout. Anti-immigrant organizations aim to to funnel anger towards Mexican immigrants rather than Corporate CEOs and their bi-partisan protectors in Congress.

After the 2008 election, President Obama and the Democratic Party majority in Congress shelved EFCA (the Employee Free Choice Act), which would level the playing field between bosses and workers who want to form a union. For 30 years, American workers' right to organize on the job has, in practice, been gutted. With impunity, bosses illegally fire workers. Bosses propagandize and pressure workers not to vote for a union, threatening to move the company while illegally barring union organizers from the workplace.. The result is a huge drop in unionized workers in the U.S,: from a 1950s high in the private sector of almost 40% to 7% today. Workers' health and safety laws exist primarily on paper with little meaningful enforcement---as the recent miners' disaster tragically exposes. Massey Coal had HUNDREDS of safety violations yet was not shut down. There's no whistle-blower protections for workers who report dangerous, unhealthy working conditions.

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So-called “independent contractors”--that is “temp workers”--- are the fastest rising sector on the job (now at least 30% of workers). Being a “independent contractor” means no job security, no benefits, no unemployment insurance, no rights.

Labor has plenty of reasons to turn out in large numbers this. May 1st

Simon Johnson, author of the new book “13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown” observes that the 2008 financial meltdown resulted in the loss of EIGHT MILLION JOBS while 2009 was the best year ever for salaries and bonuses for the same Wall Street financiers and bankers who CAUSED this Great Recession and job loss. Progressive dissent has been puny.

It's overdue for progressives to have a loud reply to the Wall Street thieves and those in Congress and th4e White House who (so far) continue to cater to the SIX “too big to fail” banks which continue the SAME practices that led to the 2008 meltdown---and could create another, even worse, economic crisis in a few years. These banksters continue to foreclose homes, hike up credit card rates to loan shark levels and do predatory lending and checking accounts. Health insurance CEOs continue to rake in huge salaries and to raise premiums and co-pays, so that more and more businesses drop health insurance benefits or cut workers and families continue to be priced out of health care access. (It's not at all clear that the Democrats' health insurance bill will solve these problems—and the bill doesn't even go into full effect until 2017, meaning thee problems remain.

Meanwhile the right-wing has captured a lot of attention with their Tea Party movement where a confused outcry rails against the Obama Administrator's “nationalizing” (government ownership) of the banks or “government-run health care”---- that have not happened! They demand a restoration of the so-called “free market” and “ending regulations that kill jobs!”--- the very things that CREATED the economic crisis and have been losing jobs since the 1970s. Tea Party people express plenty of anti-immigrant sentiment, as well, as they say “I want MY country back!” Perhaps, with some education on the facts and a progressive alternative, some Tea Party people would see that it's (primarily white) Corporate CEOS and bankers who have robbed them—not undocumented immigrants, African-Americans or the poor.

It's high time for progressives to escalate our own mass movement, to make it loud enough it cannot be ignored. The immigrant rights movement's recent May Day marches have gotten far more media attention than any peace rallies since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The labor movement needs a jump-start. It's crucial to have a broad, united progressive counter to the reactionary, racist Tea Parties.

Finally, Arizona's 1070 law must be loudly denounced. We've already seen what happens when harsher measures are imposed on a targeted group of targeted people in the post-September 11th attacks on Muslim communities. We've seen how that led to Abu Graibe and Guantanamo, the undermining of the rule of law and the shredding of the Constitution. Undocumented immigrants have been suffering similar human rights abuses in invisible detention centers aground the country, many of them run by for-profit companies like Corrections Corporations of America. History—past and more recent—shows what happens when we do not resist the State scapegoating a minority group in economic hard times or a “national security crisis” (whether real or manufactured). No more excuses for inaction.

The words of Martin Luther King Jr.*** and the United Farm Workers were co-opted for the 2008 presidential campaign and all progressives need to take them back. We the People need to seize those words for ourselves and restore their original meaning. May 1st is the time “to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.” Together, Si Se Puede! Yes We Can!

Find out where the MAY 1st Immigrants Rights & Workers Rights March is in your area.

***Quote you never hear :

Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream Address at March on Washington,August 28, 1963. Washington, D.C.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.

lydia howell

Lydia Howell

Lydia Howell is an independent journalist in Minneapolis, winner of the 2007 Premack Aard for Public Interest Journalism, and producer/host of "Catalyst:politics & culture" on KFAI Radio.