New York May Day reborn

May Day – International Workers Day – was, of course, born in the U.S.A. But while the Haymarket events occurred in Chicago, the largest and perhaps best known May Day celebrations in the U.S. were historically in New York City. Unions, workers, their families and more traditionally marched together to honor working people.

This year, New York’s historic May Day celebrations will be reborn with a mass march and rally organized by the labor and immigrant rights movements. An alliance of over 30 city and regional organizations is calling for “Labor and Immigrant Rights and Jobs for All.” The demands are based on the AFL-CIO’s five-point jobs program and immigrant rights demands.

A recent panel of labor leaders at the Left Forum discussed May Day historically and the plans for May Day 2010.

Ed Ott, former Executive Director of the New York City Central Labor Council spoke from the panel, saying, “this project will help rebuild the working-class left in the city.” He noted that there are several protests on May 1, but argued, “this particular expression is the regrouping of some particular unions to reclaim a presence on May Day.”

This emerging alliance is reclaiming May Day from years of neglect. McCarthyism, the decline of the left, and the identification of May Day with sectarian groups (true and not) had whittled New York ‘s May Day celebrations down to a small but spirited gathering by the dawn of the 21st Century.

Then in 2006, something happened.

Immigrant rights movements in the U.S. had for several years used the occasion of May Day to demonstrate for immigrant rights, but in that year millions of immigrant families poured out on May 1 around the U.S. calling urgently for immigrant rights, workers rights and amnesty. New York was no exception. May Day received a new breath of life.

This year perhaps begins a full recovery. Saturday, May 1, the march will assemble in Manhattan’s Foley Square on Worth Street between Centre and Lafayette Streets. The March route will pass Wall Street, home to the country and world’s largest banking and finance institutions, which many participants see as the source of the current economic and jobs crisis-and end in Battery Park.

Another panelist, Bhairavi Desai of the New York City Taxi Workers Alliance said, “It is really important to see organized labor and the immigrant rights movement come together with our economy in the state it’s in.” Taxi workers, domestic workers and many other immigrant workers are excluded from the National Labor Relations Act and face particularly difficult challenges at the workplace and elsewhere.

Some of the sponsors of the May day events include, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, District Council 37 AFSCME, Transport Workers Union Local 100, Domestic Workers United, United Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 210, New York City Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (UFCW), Labor Left Project and many more.

In closing the panel presentation, Ed Ott spurred the audience into action, saying, “Every working-class activist should try to build this effort.”

For more information or to volunteer, contact Jason Green with the Alliance for Labor & Immigrants Rights & Jobs for All at or 212-239-7323

Photo: / CC BY 2.0




Libero Della Piana
Libero Della Piana

Libero Della Piana, the Senior Strategist at Just Strategy, has thirty years of experience as a writer and organizer for social movement organizations. His writing has been featured in such publications as The Forge, Colorlines, Black Commentator, and People's World. Libero was born and grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, and lives in East Harlem, N.Y.