May 1st is here today. It is the historic International Workers' Day where workers and oppressed people manifest in various ways their determination to resist and ultimately break the chains of capital. This day is remembered and celebrated with fervor by millions of people throughout the world.
In the US the celebration had dwindled down to a few people who still remembered where this holiday came from and why we must persevere; that is, until the great May Day demonstrations of immigrants all over the country on May Day 2006. This manifestation in the major cities where mostly (but not exclusively) Latino immigrants are concentrated unleashed a massive protest against the wave of racist anti-immigrant activity across the country. While this manifestation represented all class strata of the immigrant community, its core was the millions of immigrant workers who have become essential to the economy today. These workers bring with them a tradition of making May 1st a day of protest and solidarity.
It is in that spirit of protest and solidarity that we join with our immigrant brothers and sisters on this May Day, even as the US government is pouring huge sums of money into erecting a wall between Mexico and the border states–states that only 150 years ago were Mexico. When Mexicanos say, “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us,” it’s more than a slogan, it’s a historical fact. We want to highlight that immigration is tied to inextricably to neo-liberal globalization and US foreign policy that shores up the system binding the global South to the US in an oppressive and unequal relationship. If we examine the very nature of this relationship, it becomes clear that the solution is not to be found in abstract sloganeering for human rights but in confronting the system that fosters the “push and pull” dynamic that often fuels immigration today.
Immigrants are not here in the US because the US is some “promised land.” They are here often as a direct result of the impact of neoliberalism on their own economic life, on their environment. They arrive here in the US often risking their lives and having little to looking forward to other than living in obscurity, separated from their families. They are here often as refugees from the civil strife sown by US foreign policy. Immigration today is fundamentally different than the immigration that the US experienced in the 19th and early 20th century. While there are a number of undocumented immigrants from European countries, the politics of immigration today are racialized and target immigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean, African, Asia and the Middle East. The face of immigration is the immigrant of color who is targeted and scapegoated today.
The fact that the immigrant community has not been totally cowed and intimidated into submission is a testament to the strength that this community could share with all oppressed and working people in the US. These past few years have shown a higher level of organization in the immigrant community. We also recognize the important role of media and small businesses in the immigrant community in giving their resources to the struggle for immigrant rights. Immigrants cannot be ignored or taken for granted by labor unions. Labor unions must organize and promote immigrant leadership in the labor movement.
Nor can the tensions that exist between the immigrant community and African Americans be ignored. African Americans and notably African-American legislators have made statements and taken action in solidarity with immigrants, in one instance initiating legislation in support of driver’s licenses for undocumented workers in the Georgia House. But the tension does remain, based on the sense that African Americans are in competition for the same jobs, and on the declining standard of living of African Americans. The immigrant becomes an easy scapegoat for these problems. The fact is, the situation that African Americans face is rooted in the very neo-liberalism that impacts the lives of immigrants; a neo-liberalism that produces gentrification, the dismantling of the urban environment through privatization, and relentless cutbacks in social programs.
The foundation of this neoliberal policy would be shaken at its roots by the unity of African Americans and immigrants. We have to support efforts to build power and solidarity between African-American and immigrant communities. On this May Day, we call for unity in opposition to the police brutality that resulted in the murder of Sean Bell on the day of his wedding and solidarity in the demand for a Federal civil rights prosecution against the officers involved in the murder. This incident and every other incident in which a decision is made that the lives of people of color do not matter must be challenged, fought by forces unified for justice.
We are both realistic and optimistic. Realistic in knowing that there are no easy formulas and solutions to these problems that we face. Realistic in realizing that there is as yet no unifying project that can articulate forcefully the various demands of the working class and the oppressed in this country. We are optimistic that in the face of oppression, there is resistance. We are optimistic that revolutionaries are again talking about the need for a revolutionary organization that is truly an organic result of the reality of what we are facing today.
Finally, on this May Day, we draw tremendous inspiration from the popular struggles that are advancing in many Latin American countries and Nepal and the growing global resistance to the neo-liberal agenda of US Imperialism and its various surrogates.Download this piece as a PDF