Immigrant rights activists across the United States will be using May 1, 2007, which is International Workers' Day in the US and abroad, to march against raids focused on Latinos by the Department of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as reforms to the American immigration system, along with the restoration of civil rights of all.
For far too long, May 1 has been a date monopolized by leftists. However, as communism goes down in the shadows of history, we now have an opportunity for workers and immigrants in America to reclaim this day to celebrate, commemorate and advocate for the rights and dignity of both.
On May 1, 1886, workers throughout America participated in huge strikes demanding an eight-hour workday. The hub of the growing trade union movement at the time was Chicago, where workers from not only different parts of the United States, but Europe as well, had joined the workforce.
While all workers faced incredibly difficult conditions, immigrant workers bore the worst of them. These ranged from low pay and unsafe conditions to long hours. Interestingly, today's undocumented workers, most of whom are immigrants from Mexico, face a similar situation.
But what made this particular May a memorable one for workers and immigrants was the Chicago police killings of those who participated in a rally three days later in the city's Haymarket Square. The violence was in response to a bomb that had been thrown at the event, which killed one police officer.
The anti-worker and anti-immigrant backlash that followed parallels, to some extent, what we have been seeing in the US in last few years. Police arrested massive numbers of immigrants and leaders of Chicago's trade union movement. Immigrants were not only tagged as terrorists. Police subjected them to beatings and torture as well.
There were calls for limiting immigration and stronger license to deport immigrants. Workers were described as, "wild-eyed, bad-smelling, atheistic, reckless foreign wretches, who never did an honest hour's work in their lives," in the May 15, 1886 edition of the Albany Law Journal. This description is echoed today by certain commentators like CNN's Lou Dobbs who remarked on his show Lou Dobbs Tonight that "the invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health of many Americans" through "deadly imports" of diseases like leprosy and malaria (April 14, 2005).
Eight men were charged with the Haymarket Square killings. Seven of them were immigrants from Europe. Ultimately, they were all found guilty and all except one were sentenced to hang. Four of them met this fate. One of them died in his cell one day before the executions.
Immigrants and workers must band together on May 1, 2007 for a common cause that ultimately hurts all of us in our nation of immigrants. Let us not forget the strength and sacrifices of those who died at the Haymarket Square massacre.
With special thanks to Chris Mahin of the organization UNITE HERE, who provided much of the historical information for this piece in his article, "May Day and the fight for immigrants' rights."