May Day Rhetoric Rings Out As Loyal Activists Listen
May 2, 2011
By Neal Tepel
At least three different agendas were on display at Labor's May Day March and Rally to Foley Square in lower Manhattan: The pro immigrant position, staked out by LIUNA Locals 78, 79, and 10, the traditional May Day message of worker solidarity and the defense of hard won rights including safety on the job, and the anti Bloomberg, anti budget cutting activism of a newly energized DC 37. Each had its partisans.
The crowd that showed up less than half of what organizers hoped would be at least 10,000 was heavily weighted toward union staff and rank and file activists. Most of the crowd energy was brought by recent immigrants and their families, who showed up to declare that despite the U.S. Senate's heartbreaking 55-41 defeat of the DREAM Act before Christmas, they would fight on.
RWDSU Organizer Kevin Lynch sounded a plea to conscience, invoking the struggle of the tens of thousands of New Yorkers who work 70 hour weeks in sweat shops and for unscrupulous contractors without sick pay, overtime, or benefits. Organizing these workers is currently only on the radar screen of RWDSU and LIUNA. Putting a human face on worker safety, TWU Local 100 VP Kevin Harrington brought Bernadette Boggs, widowed when her track workers husband Daniel was killed on the tracks at Columbus Circle in 2007, on stage with her daughter, Kirsten to talk about the need for vigilance against unsafe work conditions.
The highest ranking labor official on board, IAMAW International President Thomas Buffenbarger, may have puzzled the crowd when he praised Pope Benedict's beatification of Pope John Paul II, but then brought that into perspective when he drew out that Polish Pope's ties to the great struggle of the Solidarity Union in 1980. "We are in the same position as solidarnosc," he said. "We have to stand against oppression, hatred, and injustice. I see in you an army poised to defend the values of this generation. We can and will prevail over corporate tyranny."
LIUNA Local 78's Edison Severino, drawing cheers from over a hundred orange shirted laborers, called the rally "a defining moment." Angry about the diminishing opportunities for immigrants, he said, "Today I see the American Dream being denied to so many people, and the Tea Party running the agenda. It's time we ran the agenda."
It's a nice sentiment, but today's rally was long on hopes and short on ideas to make them a reality. One of the few concrete initiatives was sketched out by DC 37 Associate Director Oliver Gray, who built on his union's aggressive campaign to cap contracting out by the Bloomberg Administration. He cited the $80 million corruption found in the City Time contract, as well as the recently unearthed $3 million fraud perpetrated on the Department of Education by consultant Willard Lanham. "They have the money," Gray said of Bloomberg. "But we have the people."
The crowd of mostly believing Christians who stood by the stage Evangelicals, Baptists, and Catholics in the LIUNA and DC 37 contingents seemed slightly thrown off by anti consumerist preacher Rev. Billy, who pranced on stage with his Stop Shopping Choir, railing against big box stores and capitalism in general. "We have never made change in this culture without risking our lives," he shouted. "And we are ready to do that now." This was clearly not a crowd, however, that looked ready to march on the Bastille.