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‘Demonstrate power through strikes’

This article is over 16 years, 1 months old
NewStandard correspondents Kari Lydersen in Chicago, Jessica Hoffman in Los Angeles, Michelle Chen in New York and Jessica Azulay report on the protests
Issue 2000
Calling for an amnesty (Pic: David Bacon
Calling for an amnesty (Pic: David Bacon

More than a million immigrants and allies took to the streets in cities across the US on 1 May in the latest of escalating demonstrations for recognition.

In Chicago, where even the police estimated that at least 400,000 marchers turned out in the streets, participants demanded legalisation and workers’ rights for immigrants.

Magdalena Palomina, a 40 year old second grade teacher, heard about preparations for May Day marches and boycotts in the US while she was visiting family in her hometown in Michoacan, Mexico, last month.

“It was on the news there on every station – everyone knew about it,” she said. “People complain about immigrants here sending money to Mexico, but so many American made products are bought there. McDonalds, Burger King, Sam’s, CostCo, Wal-Mart – we have it all.”

“Miguel”, a 40 something immigrant from Queretaro, Mexico, who didn’t want his real name used, called in sick to work at the University of Illinois in order to don a velvety, glittered sombrero and attend the protest.

“I wanted to be part of this,” said Miguel, who has been in the US for 25 years. “I was in their shoes, I know what it’s like to be undocumented, to be in the shadows. You want to feel free and be able to work and express your feelings, but you are exploited all the time.”

One man wore a US flag as a cloak, next to him stood another man draped in a Mexican flag and another in a Polish flag.

“Right now we are one, Polish and Mexican and everyone else,” said Polish immigrant Piotr Bielinski, 23, who has been in Chicago for two years working as an electrician.

In California, truck drivers and line haulers from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach – together composing the busiest seaport in the US and the eighth busiest port in the world – did not go to work.

Members said they were striking in support of immigration law reform and to pressure their employers for a new contract that addresses rising fuel costs and recognises them as employees rather than independent contractors.

At 12 noon more than 250,000 people, according to official estimates, gathered in downtown Los Angeles for a rally and march that ended in front of City Hall.

The demonstration was organised by the March 25 Movement, named for the date of a very large pro-immigrant demonstration five weeks ago, and actively endorsed a full work and school boycott.


The crowd, which was overwhelmingly Latino, waved signs with slogans like “amnistia general” (general amnesty), “Who’s the immigrant, pilgrim?” and “If you’re wondering what I’m doing here, learn the real history: I’m in my homeland.”

“I love it – action speaks louder than words,” Ana Lebron, a 25 year old Salvadoran telephone operator, said as she marched.

“It concerns me that this nation was built by immigrants and now they’re trying to say we don’t have any rights. It wasn’t by choice that I came here – my country was in a war and my mother had to [seek refuge here].”

Maria Hurtado, a 50 year old mother, said she had worked in factories in Mexico and the US and struggled with her field hand father alongside Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers.

“I strike for myself today,” she said. “In this time there is no respect for the workers. The government closes their eyes to what happens in the factories, the jobs – they’re not doing nothing. A lot of companies made a lot of money off my people.”

A larger march, later in the day, from MacArthur Park in the Westlake district to Wilshire and La Brea in the Miracle Mile area, was organized by the Somos America (We Are America) coalition, which did not endorse a boycott or strike. Many organisations and individuals attended both events.

Some 3,000 miles away in Manhattan, New York City, protests began with a symbolic “human chain” formed by immigrants and other activists at designated points throughout the city, coordinated by a coalition of labour unions and advocacy groups.

Liang Bin, a naturalised citizen who arrived eight years ago from Fujian province in China, came to protest against the widely criticised House of Representatives immigration bill that would criminalise undocumented immigration.

“America is a country of immigrants,” she said. “If people are here, let them obtain legal status, let them prosper here.”

“Gong ping! Xian zai!” chanted a Latino man, having learned the Chinese version of “What do we want? Equality! When do we want it? Now!”

“Everybody go for the same thing,” he said, beaming beneath a large, green and white multilingual banner. “We gotta get together.”

© 2006 The NewStandard

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