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May Day USA

ON 1 May, millions of immigrant workers took to the streets for their rights, in the largest protest and boycott in the United States in decades.

The protests were huge: in Los Angeles 500,000 to 1,000,000 demonstrated, in Chicago 400,000 to 600,000, hundreds of thousands in New York City, 100,000 in Atlanta, 100,000 in San Francisco, and 75,000 in Denver. In total, protests took place in over 150 cities and across the country.

But the radical new dimension in the situation was the hundreds of thousands of workers who boycotted work and went on strike, the first national political strike in recent memory in the US.

In a magnificent demonstration of the enormous power of the working class, many corporations that rely on immigrant workers were forced to scale back or close down completely, especially retail stores, restaurants, meatpacking plants, and construction sites.

In Los Angeles, truckers shut down the country’s largest shipping port, and an estimated one-third of the city’s small businesses were shuttered. Half of the stores in the city’s fashion and garment district were closed.

In Florida, more than half the workers at construction sites in Miami-Dade County did not show up. In the meatpacking industry, eight out of 14 Perdue Farms Chicken plants were shut down and Tyson Foods, the world’s largest meat producer, had about a dozen of its 100 plants shut down. Cargill Meat Solutions, the nation’s second-largest beef processor, ‘voluntarily’ closed, giving its 15,000 workers the day off.

Lettuce, tomatoes and grapes went unpicked in fields in California and Arizona, which contribute more than half the nation’s produce, as scores of growers let workers take the day off.

Israel Banuelos, 23, and more than 50 of his colleagues, skipped work, with the grudging acceptance of his employer, an industrial paint plant in Hollister, California. "We were supposed to work", Mr Banuelos said, "but we wanted to close down the company. Our boss didn’t like it money-wise". (New York Times, 2 May)

Young people were at the forefront of this new movement. Throughout the country, activists organised walkouts in high schools and colleges. The Associated Press reported that "The impact on some school systems was significant. In the sprawling Los Angeles Unified School District, which is 73 percent Hispanic, about 72,000 middle and high school students were absent - roughly one in every four". (2 May)

Nor were the protests limited to the United States. In San Diego, immigrant rights groups organised a march to the US-Mexico border, to meet up with a protest on the other side of the border in Tijuana. Traffic all along the border was slowed down due to the boycott and protestors forced some crossings to close.

May Day was born in the United States, on 1 May 1886. For decades, the working class and socialist traditions of May Day were virtually erased and wiped out, but 120 years later, we have seen its re-emergence in the United States, now the epicentre of global capitalism. Rather than some pale imitation of the past, The Great American Boycott 2006 is the music of the future.

Philip Locker


MAY DAY 2006 was a truly historic day of strikes, walkouts, protests and boycotts throughout the United States. It marked an important step forward for the immigrant rights’ movement. Although many politicians, non-profit groups and churches that previously supported immigrant rights’ rallies backed out of the immigrants’ May Day protests, millions upon millions still demonstrated throughout the country. Thousands of small businesses shut down, and hundreds of thousands of workers went on strike.

In Boston, the main immigrant rights’ coalition pulled out of the May Day actions. The churches, trade union leaders and politicians backed out, too. The leaders of the previous two immigrant rallies specifically told people to go to work and school and to ignore the 1 May National Immigrant Strike and Boycott, and refused to call a central demonstration downtown.

Given this, Socialist Alternative (CWI in the US) immediately moved to get a rally permit for the centre of Boston, and called for an emergency coalition in solidarity with the national strike. With other activists, we were able to call a rally that was endorsed by over 25 immigrant, worker and progressive organisations.

Despite a concerted campaign by the ‘liberals’ to sabotage and censor all mention of our event, our protest was a success. Around 3,000 rallied on Boston Common, in a spirited demonstration of support for equal rights for all immigrants.

This demonstration was in marked contrast to previous immigrant rights’ rallies in Boston. These were overwhelmed with American flags, and demonstrators were forced to sit through politician after politician talking about the virtues of the ‘alternative’ anti-worker McCain-Kennedy bill [proposing a ‘guest-worker’ scheme].

But during the May Day rally, the most common image was that of Che Guevara. The May Day rally unapologetically called for amnesty for all undocumented workers. Workers’ struggle was stressed by nearly every speaker.

Hank Gonzalez and Bryan Koulouris


THE 1 May rally and march in Seattle was a powerful expression of strength by the immigrant working class. Thousands of workers in Seattle and across Washington State participated in job actions and strikes, with the biggest actions in the agriculture industry. In addition, thousands of high school and college students walked out of school.

Organisers place the number of protesters at 30,000, which mirrors the turnout for 10 April. Following the same route as 10 April the protesters flooded the streets, creating an enormous, beautiful, snaking sea of people. It was truly an empowering, inspiring demonstration. These two protests were the largest in Seattle since the 15 February 2003 march against the Iraq war, which also had 30,000 people.

Unfortunately however, the leadership of the 1 May rally called for a ‘silent protest’, which stood in sharp contrast to the incredibly energetic and combative atmosphere on 10 April. This was due to the reformist outlook of the top organising groups.

Overall, the march was peaceful except for two incidents which reveal a potential polarisation in society between the immigrants and their supporters, and a racist right-wing reaction. The first incident involved a lunatic driver who decided to drive his car into the marchers; fortunately no one was seriously injured. The second occurrence was the appearance of several neo-Nazis who stood at the foot of the Federal Building waving a flag with a swastika emblazed upon it. They were quickly taken into the building by several heavily armed government agents.

Bryan Watson

For further reports visit the CWI website:


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