Friday, May 9, 2008

The May Day tradition: ‘Through unity we find our strength’

By Pepe Lozano

CHICAGO – It’s a May Day story my mother never let’s me forget. Both my parents, avid community activists at the time, were lead organizers of a local march and rally for international workers’ day and immigrant rights in the Pilsen neighborhood on Chicago’s southwest side. The year was 1977 and it was scheduled for May 1st.

That morning, my mother, who was pregnant with me, began to feel labor pains. She thought it was nothing to worry about but the pains became sharper and she decided to have my father take her to the hospital.

It was morning time and my father was responsible for making sure the sound system and speakers were at the rally for the May Day action, which was set to begin at noon. My mother insisted that my father stay with her at the hospital. In those days no one had cell phones and you couldn’t call someone to pick up the equipment instead, recalls my mother.

After the doctors checked my mother they found my heart rate was low and told her they needed to do emergency c-section surgery to get me out right away. They asked if there was someone waiting outside the room. “Yes my husband,” she replied. Little did she know that my father had left building. “Oh boy, that was your father for you,” says my mother.

My mother became worried and anxious. “Do anything you have to do, just save my baby,” she said. All of a sudden she felt the urge to push. “I need to push, I need to push,” she told the doctor. “Are you sure mother?” the doctor asked. “Yes!”

They wanted me to wait but I couldn’t and the doctor literally caught you, my mom tells me. Around 1:05 pm I was born and my father, the late Rudy Lozano Sr. was marching down the streets of Chicago for the rights of workers and immigrants.

My parents decided to give me the middle name Alberto after Albert Parsons, one of the labor leaders who fought for worker unity and for the eight-hour workday in Chicago back in 1886. Along with other leaders, Parsons was rounded up and executed after being accused of inciting a riot with the Chicago police at Haymarket Square. Parsons and his comrades are remembered as martyrs that sparked an international movement for working class unity and they, and the history of the U.S. labor movement, are honored worldwide every May 1st.

Reclaiming May Day
On March 10, 2006 Chicago rocked the nation when nearly 500,000 people stopped traffic and marched to Federal Plaza for the rights of undocumented workers and immigrant rights. It was the largest turnout ever in recent U.S. history for immigrant rights. The massive outpouring was to protest the anti-immigrant and reactionary anti-worker Sensenbrenner bill HR-4437, which was introduced in Congress that year.
A couple of month’s later nearly two million people throughout the U.S. marched for the rights of workers and immigrants on May 1. A sleeping giant had awakened. The spirit and history of May Day was reclaimed and in 2007 almost 300,000 people took over the streets of Chicago again on May 1.

May Day 2008
In it’s third annual May Day demonstration since 2006, over 20,000 people marched for immigrant rights throughout the streets of Chicago last May 1, including 100 Latino, labor, community, student and religious groups. African American, Arab, Asian and LGBT organizations throughout the area also joined the massive demonstration. Mayor Richard Daley and a number of elected officials made appearances as well.

A moratorium on immigration raids, the reunification of immigrant families and comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to legalization for the estimated 12 million immigrants living in the U.S. were major themes. The rights of immigrants and all workers in the workplace, the right to unionize and the passage of the Employee Free Choice act, fair wages, an end to the occupation of Iraq, equal access to education and universal health care were also stressed.

Esther, 46, is a legal resident and originally from Guerrero, Mexico. She came with 20 of her mostly immigrant co-workers from the La Condesa restaurant. “We wrote a letter to our boss saying that we were not working on May 1 in order to be here,” she said in Spanish. “Through unity we find our strength and when we unite we could win more advances,” she added. Esther and her co-workers hope to form a union at their worksite. “We want a union at work to help us and to protect our rights,” she said.

Patricia Hernandez, an electronics factory worker has been living in the U.S. for twenty years and came from Waukegan, Illinois to march. “I came to support my friends and families who don’t have papers and to say enough to the war in Iraq,” she said. “It’s time to bring our troops home,” she added.

Marlene Cervantes, 24 is a resource coordinator at Kelly High School and came with 80 students. “The students wanted to come, they’re interested in standing up for immigration reform and passing the Dream Act,” said Cervantes. Many of these kids are the leaders and at the forefront of their families, said Cervantes. “It’s important that adults listen to youth and that their voices are heard,” she added.

Another important issue was the fight for health care, according to John Viramontes, 56, an accountant by profession and leader with the Northwest Neighborhood Federation. “It just doesn’t make sense for our economic system to profit off people who are sick and need medical attention,” he said. “It’s disgusting and outrageous and never should have started that way,” added Viramontes. “I have been to all the marches since 2006 and I feel it’s important to stand up for people who don’t have a voice and call attention to the fact that families are being separated and innocent people are getting caught up.”

Gabriela Lemus is the national executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) and spoke at the Federal Plaza rally where the march ended. “We are all here marching together on behalf of all workers,” she told the World. “Today’s economy is on the downturn and workers are being impacted the world over,” she added. “The value of the human worker is being lost while the value of corporate profits continue to increase, and that’s a problem. It’s important that today’s actions be transformed into political action and to get out the vote especially for the voiceless, the undocumented worker,” she said. “We have to make sure we vote.”

AFL-CIO Midwest Regional Director Todd Anderson with the Politics and Field Department joined the rally in downtown Chicago. “We are here to join with our coalition partners to unite workers and turn around America,” he said. “Health care is a right not a privilege and we are here to stand together for a better health care system. And we need the economy to reward all Americans not just the elite and we in the labor movement are focused to develop an economy that works for all.” Anderson said the AFL-CIO is determined to “restore the right for workers to freely organize unions.” He added, “The whole world is watching Chicago this May Day and President Bush better get out of the way come this November, because it’s time for a change.”

As another historic May Day tradition comes to an end, a new fever has been heating up throughout the country. Millions of voters since the beginning of the year from New York to Los Angeles, from Seattle to Dallas and in every town and city across the U.S. are fired up for change. The American people see real hope that our chance to decide a new political direction for this country, and make history, is in our hands.

One of the reappearing slogans throughout this past May Day was, “The vote is power,” and many supporters said they are hopeful that their vote will show the power for change to defeat the Republicans in the White House and in Congress next November. As presidential hopeful Barack Obama so eloquently said, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

This past May Day I turned 31 years old. My father was only 31 when he was gunned down 25 years ago. He is remembered as a loving son, brother, husband and father. He dedicated his life to passionately fighting for social justice, labor solidarity and the equal rights of all people. He believed in building the broadest possible unity among all workers with or without documents, and he lived a life committed to the values and traditions of May Day history. If he were alive today I know he would have been proudly marching along side my mother and my two brothers this past May first. I am also confident that he too would be marching toward November and ensure that we make voter history in this country and reverse the Bush policies. I know in my heart that every May first my father is smiling somewhere in heaven thinking of my mother and sharing a May Day story he will never forget with angels.

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