May Day protest poised for huge turnout as coalition of activists joins unions

Amanda Holpuch in New York and Tom Dart in Houston
Protesters gather in Union Square in New York as part of the traditional May Day marches. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

May Day organizers were expecting a surge of thousands of demonstrators on Monday as rights groups, galvanized by the Trump administration, came together for the annual workers’ protest.

Labor unions were joined by a broad coalition of groups supporting rights for women, religious and LGBT people, immigrants and ethnic minorities.

The turnout was expected to rival the 2006 May Day protests, which saw more than a million march in protest of a proposed immigration law that ultimately failed.

“It’s really a day that is going to be focused on immigrant rights and workers’ rights,” Kica Matos, a spokeswoman for the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, told the Guardian. “We have been very intentional about lifting up the voices of not just immigrants, but other progressive allies that support the rights of immigrants.”

The day was to include a migrants’ strike across the US, in an action reminiscent of February’s Day Without Immigrants, which saw businesses close for a day.

In 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16.7% of the US labor force was foreign-born. That population is more likely to work in service occupations, construction and transportation than the native-born population.

In the aftermath of the February protests, there were rumors May Day would be focused on the same action. On Monday, demonstrations were scheduled to vary from city to city.

Some places, including Las Vegas, were hosting marches in the evening, while some rural areas, including Homestead, Florida, were to see farm worker strikes and boycotts.

In New York City’s Washington Square Park, friends Kalinda Kelley and Natasha Oxley attended a rally in support of the Retail Action Project, a community group that works to improve wages and hours. It was the first protest for both women, who said they were more motivated to protest because of Trump’s presidency.

“All communities need help right now,” said Kelly.

Groups including Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, the Laundry Workers Center and International Women’s Strike were posted around the park as supporters prepared for the day’s main event, a march downtown. People carried signs that said “stop separating families” and “solidarity is our weapon”.

Nancy Romer, a retired teacher, turned up in support of Professional Staff Congress, a teacher’s union, and Brandworkers, a nonprofit workers’ support group that helps migrants.

She said the left needed to come together to create a unified resistance against the Trump administration. “We have to advance a future together and we have to do it quickly,” she said.

Romer, who helped organize the Climate March in New York City over the weekend, has been an activist for 49 years. She said protests in 2017 have a different energy compared to demonstrations in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

“This is a different moment,” she said. “People understand that all of these issues are connected, people understand there is a ruling class.” She was happy to see young people protesting. “They have more to fight for because they have less to lose,” she said.

The city’s plans for May Day included a set of demonstrations around the city, culminating at 5pm with a rally downtown.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and other city officials were to speak at the evening rally. De Blasio and mayors of other “sanctuary cities” – which limit cooperation with federal immigration law enforcement – have resisted the White House’s push for more aggressive deportations because they say the policy threatens public safety.

On Monday morning in Austin, Texas, activists stormed one of Governor Greg Abbott’s offices in protest against Senate Bill 4, a state measure passed by the House last Thursday that would in effect ban sanctuary cities by criminalising law enforcement officials who do not honour Ice detainers.

Several dozen protestors blocked entrance to the lobby. They chanted “SB4 is hate!” and held an advice clinic for migrants as police watched.

Critics have derided the proposed law as a “show me your papers” bill akin to the Arizona bill from 2010 that became mired in racial-profiling controversies. The Texas plan, now awaiting final tweaks by the state Senate, would allow police to investigate the immigration status of anyone they arrest or merely detain.

The likelihood of Abbott vetoing the bill is extremely remote. In January he threatened to oust the Travis County sheriff, Sally Hernandez, when she said her department would not honour all Ice detainers, and cut off $1.5m in criminal justice funding as a punishment.

In Los Angeles, organizers said hundreds of thousands of people were expected at an event where 100 labor and community groups planned to show a “united” front against Trump. Jorge-Mario Cabrera, spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said 30 to 40 groups had participated in such protests in recent years.

White House rhetoric and attempted policy changes have targeted immigrant workers and other migrants, particularly those who live in the US without legal status.

Past administrations have opted to focus deportation efforts on violent criminals and drug dealers, but in the two months following Trump’s inauguration, more than 90% of removal proceedings have been against people who have committed no crime other than living in the country without permission.

The week after Trump took office, he signed an executive order that temporarily suspended refugee admissions to the US and suspended admission for people from seven Muslim-majority countries. Amid mass protests at airports across the country, the order was blocked by a federal court.

This year’s May Day actions follow this and other major demonstrations in the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency, including Saturday’s People’s Climate Marches, the March for Science in April and the Women’s March on the day after the inauguration in January.

On Saturday night, Trump commemorated his 100th day in office with a rally in Pennsylvania. Trump recited lyrics from the song The Snake, which depicts a woman caring for an ill snake in her home before it bites her, and said it served as a metaphor for the border.

“So let’s dedicate this to General Kelly, the Border Patrol, and the Ice agents for doing such an incredible job. All right?” he said.

These remarks were met by cheers, but the president’s policies are less popular in his hometown, New York City. He will return for the first time as president on Thursday. Protesters will greet him, including a band of activists clad in Star Wars gear because he is visiting on 4 May, the day celebrated with the phrase: “May the fourth be with you.”




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