Numerous groups of people will hold activities, rallies and protests across the country and throughout the world today to observe International Workers’ Day. Here in Madison, a mix of labor, faith, and community organizations and their allies will come together for the annual May Day March in Madison joining the national call for immigration reform and workers’ rights.
“The labor movement has been under attack all over the world,” says Alex Gillis, founder of Union de Trabajadores Inmigrantes (Immigrant Workers Union), who has been organizing May Day rallies in Madison since 2006. “People will be coming out today from every corner of the world asking for the same thing we are asking; rights in the workplace and a decent salary that we can take care of our families.”
Gillis says that it’s very important to not only celebrate the struggles of working-class people but to show support for the immigrant community.
“This year our immigrant communities are facing a lot of adversity. The president is still dividing the society and creating hatred against immigrants and other communities,” Gillis tells Madison365. “We’re afraid that he is going to make good on his promises of mass deportations. We see how he’s making things more difficult for DACA recipients and so forth. We think that this year is an important year for the May Day Rally.
“But every year is an important year,” Gillis adds. “Going back to marchers in Chicago in 1884 who were asking for an 8-hour day.”
The celebration of International Workers’ Day, widely known as May Day, began to commemorate the uprising of Chicago workers for establishing their rights.
“Today we have the same struggles. Families are working two or three jobs just to pay the rent,” Gillis says. “They are working too much and making too little and they aren’t having the opportunity to spend time with their children. These are systematic conditions that hurt everybody.”
Madison’s May Day Rally will start at Brittingham Park at 11 a.m. and will make their way up West Washington Ave. arriving at the state Capitol at noon.
“We will have a few speakers from the faith and labor communities to highlight some of the biggest concerns that we have as a community and as the working class at large,” Gillis says.
Meanwhile, outside of Milwaukee today, Voces de la Frontera and allies will be marching on the Waukesha County Courthouse in a May Day “Day Without Latinx and Immigrants” rally and will be demanding that the Waukesha Police Department not partner with federal authorities on immigration enforcement and participating with the Office of Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) in what is known as the 287(g) program.
“We are making a specific point to be in solidarity with the community marching in Waukesha where they are trying to deputize the local police into immigrant agents,” Gillis says. “Voces de la Frontera will be doing a statewide rally in Waukesha. The idea is to bring power and pressure to the local police.”
Gillis says that he just doesn’t understand all the anti-immigration rhetoric going on in the country right now.
“For so many of us, we are proud to be a country of immigrants and a melting pot. Immigrants have given us so many great advancements in this country. Their labor built this country up, ” Gillis says. “And yet they still use this anti-immigrant rhetoric to divide the working class. They are saying, ‘These people are coming from the outside and are trying to take yours.’ I think that’s the main argument we see.
“I think many people in the anti-immigrant front confuse the facts about the impact of immigrants in this country,” he adds. “People have been mobilized to hate immigrants for centuries – against Irish people, Polish people, black people. We’ve seen hatred against the Chinese and Japanese communities. For Latino immigrants – especially Mexicans – it’s been going on for a century now.”
Gillis would hope that people would make the connection that the struggle of the immigrant community is the same struggle all workers face in the United States and all over the world.
“In the end, if we understand that we all working hard to take care of our family and relatives, then there are no differences between people in this country,” he says. “At the end of the day, we are all victims of the same system, victims of the same exploitation. It’s very unproductive to blame the people who have nothing for the problems that we see today.
“Until they realize that, you’re going to have people who are angry,” he adds. “And they have the right to be angry. But they’re angry at the wrong people. They aren’t angry with Trump or the richest; they are angry with the poor and the powerless.”
Gillis is hoping for a diverse turnout at today’s May Day Rally.
“It’s an important rally,” he says. “Workers’ rights and immigrant rights are important for the whole community. Here in Madison, we will be joining our voices with people all over the world today.”