Assesment of the action called by the Boston May Day Coalition at the Boston Common on May 1st. 2006
A class confrontation has unfolded over the past couple of months. Unprecedented mobilizations of immigrant workers and their supporters have entered the political stage pressing their demands and making history. On the one side stand Immigrant Workers and their supporters who conducted a National Political Strike. On the other side stand employers and the government determined to deepen the oppression and super-exploitation of immigrant workers.
A National Strike and Boycott was called demanding immediate Amnesty and full rights for undocumented immigrants as well as an end to the campaign of roundups, intimidation, and the militarization of the border. Within this context serious differences developed in the immigrant rights movement between supporters of the National Strike and visible mass mobilization and opponents of the strike who supported the boycott and preferred that the workers rely on "friendly" politicians to advance their interests. Support for the strike was strongest on the West Coast while those who did not support the strike call were largely based on the East Coast.
These two views led to different approaches taken on May Day. These differences also reflect the pressures of the opposing classes on each side. Those who followed the lead of the workers knew that the government will never grant amnesty without further mobilizations and strikes. Organizations committed to unconditional support for the just demands, mobilization, and STRIKES of working class people supported the Call to Action coming out of Los Angeles. Many smaller proprietors in the immigrant communities also followed the lead of the workers and expressed their solidarity. A number of large employers felt the pressure of the workers and announced that they were closing on May 1st as well fearing a head on confrontation with the workers.
However, most businesses in general opposed the strike and remained open. The government and bosses wanted to convince workers that this is an affair of government. That the struggle is over. They have given assurances that undocumented immigrants and others would not be hit with felony charges as written into HR4437 which was passed by the House Of Representatives.
The corporate media throughout emphasized the possibility of "backlash" against workers who felt it was their duty to strike. Some Catholic Bishops followed suit, publicly opposing the strike including Cardinal Sean O'Malley in Boston. The union officialdom, with notable exceptions largely on the West Coast and in the Mid-west, refused to support the strike. They were bending to the pressures of the employers and their government. The fight to organize and defend the rights of immigrants has always been fundamental to the survival and advances of unions but for so many in the officialdom this key lesson seems to have been forgotten. Many immigrant rights organizations nationally would not come out in support of the strike.
In Greater Boston, immigrants rights organizations and agencies largely yielded to the pressures of opponents of the National Strike. MIRA publicly united with those in the Church hierarchy who opposed the strike. MIRA's Executive Director, Ali Noorani explained to the Boston Globe that: "We are not calling for strikes,..." Coming out of April 10th nothing was initially planned except for a boycott on May Day. There was strong opposition to a central demonstration downtown. Many other organizations were paralyzed, taking a centrist position, being caught between the choice of supporting the impending strike and mobilizations of working class immigrants or supporting the authority of immigrant rights groups and agencies.
In this context an organization of Socialist youth, having a perspective of unconditional support for the rising mass mobilization of immigrants, took immediate steps to obtain a rally permit on Boston Common. They repeatedly approached MIRA to take charge of the May 1st permit and assume FULL control of the Rally. MIRA declined the offer. Simultaneously, Socialist Alternative approached the Greater Boston Stop the Wars Coalition for support which immediately united with these youth and agreed to assist in forming an open, democratic, non-exclusionary although hastily organized Coalition: The Boston May Day Coalition. Within 5 minutes of formation, we had a Web site reserved and by the next morning had our poster on the Web. It was clear in that context that few in the working class movement were capable of providing a clear perspective and vehicle for the participation of workers and their allies who wanted to STRIKE and publicly voice support for the National Political Strike and immediate Amnesty. The Boston Common rally provided that political space.
When it became clear that workers from coast to coast were going to take strike action and mobilize the organizers of the April 10 protest called numerous local visibilities and rallies. These were supported by the Boston May Day Coalition which proposed to the April 10th Committee that we support each others' actions. They agreed. Although it was made clear by members of the April 10th Committee shortly after that the strike was not included on the list of actions having mutual support.
The Boston May Day Coalition publicly announced its support for the "Gran Paro Americano 2006" (work stoppage) on May 1st called by the March 25th Coalition in Los Angeles. This call to action was widely supported by many thousands of workers from coast to coast and it was imperative for supporters of this call to provide some leadership.
From the very beginning the Boston May Day Coalition saw the need to link the May 1st action to the worldwide tradition of celebrating International Workers Day and educating participants at least through the literature and the MCs at the Rally that this National Political Strike, was in the tradition of the 1886 National Strike of nearly 200,000, mostly immigrant, workers for the eight-hour day. We saluted the martyred unionists of 1886. We also pointed out in the debates leading up to May 1st that it was important to hold rallies on May Day in keeping with the tradition of previous years.
This year was very special and our May Day celebration provided a vehicle for workers who supported the Strike and wanted a mass presence in downtown Boston. We went on an energetic campaign to gather support for the STRIKE and the Boston Common rally. At its Wednesday, April 26th meeting the Boston May Day Coalition voted to participate in any campaign in support of workers and students victimized by action they took on May 1st. 24 organizations ended up endorsing the rally. Some immigrant rights organizations in Boston claimed that Socialist Alternative, International Socialist Organization, Stop The Wars Coalition, and others in the Boston May Day Coalition, would not be welcomed in the immigrant communities. They were wrong. Dozens of immigrant-owned small businesses posted our rally poster in their windows, and told us they would close their businesses for May Day. When we handed out our flyer in communities of immigrants, many workers asked for extra flyers to hand out in their workplaces. These workers are not fools. They know that a broad and united effort is needed to win victories. Our literature advertising the rally was translated into Spanish, Portuguese and Haitian Creole.
The Boston Common action had a very different political character from the other actions called in the Greater Boston area. This Rally proclaimed its support for the STRIKE and called for immediate amnesty for all undocumented immigrants. We called for international solidarity and denounced the attacks on the peoples of the Middle East and elsewhere. We denounced the attacks against working people here as part of the same policy. Participants were asked to join the antiwar movement.
The overall message at the rally pointed away from the appeals to U.S. nationalism and patriotism made at other rallies that day. We publicly took on the "backlash" argument explaining that victories are won only when there is a united and determined fight. We called on participants to mobilize until amnesty for all the undocumented is achieved and to change the terms of the debate. We pointed out that the Port of Los Angeles and numerous factories and stores nationwide were shut down by the Strike.
The participants in this rally were mostly Spanish-speaking immigrant workers. However, there were also strong contingents of Brazilian, Haitian, Chinese and other immigrants. A contingent of unionists also participated, joining the rally after an earlier march to the State House. Young supporters of the Rosa Parks Human Rights Day Committee brought their banner up to the bandstand. There was a very strong contingent of native-born high school and college students from various campuses. These youth gathered at Harvard and marched into Boston Common where they were greeted enthusiastically by the crowd. Their arrival was met with cheers and chants of "Primero de Mayo - Paro Nacional" and "Huelga, Huelga - Paro Nacional". All endorsing organizations were included in the speakers program, and in an unusual step there was an "open mike" for folks from the community to speak as well.
Well over two thousand immigrants and their families, native-born workers, high school and college students participated in the May Day rally on Boston Common. Strikes and student walkouts occurred in the surrounding areas of Boston and other parts of Massachusetts. Some 5000 marched from East Boston to Chelsea. Over 1000 rallied in Somerville and there was a large rally in Worcester, MA. Rallies were held in Lawrence, Lowell, and in other communities in Massachusetts. 40,000 rallied in Providence, R.I. The Boston Common Rally received front-page coverage in the Boston Metro, Boston Globe and ran on local television networks.
Overall this action in support of the National Political Strike and Boycott met with success well beyond the expectations of the organizers who were determined to provide a vehicle for immigrant workers, native-born workers, students, and all who wanted to participate. Immigrant workers in their millions nationwide decided that this was their May Day and through their action and leadership set an example for the whole society.
We were happy to be a part of the national mobilization and in providing space for these workers to step forward and place their stamp on May Day. The Boston May Day Coalition was determined to provide space on the Boston Common for all who supported the NATIONAL STRIKE and mass visibility. This was the day for immigrants to shine and express themselves. A politically diverse coalition of supporters of the struggles of working class people made the Boston Common action happen and we proved once again that in unity around class principles there is strength.
Boston, Massachusetts. May 14, 2006.