THIS IS WHAT
SOLIDARITY
LOOKS LIKE?

NEW YORK CITY’S DUELING MAY DAY RALLIES

The first of May – May Day – is supposed to be a day when workers from all points of view come together in solidarity.

Ever since the holiday was invented by socialist, communist and anarchist-oriented construction workers who were fighting for the 8 hour day back in 1886, it’s goal was to unite our entire class to fight for the emancipation of all workers.

And in most of the world, it means exactly that – workers from all political stripes come together on May Day, and have been doing so for over a century.

And, in cities across the country (Los Angeles, Detroit, Madison, Wisconsin, Tucson, Arizona, Houston, San Antonio, San Francisco, Boston ect) there will be united May Day rallies – and, as has been the case since 2003, the main issue at these events will be rights for immigrant workers.

Those rallies will follow in the 123 year old May Day tradition of worker unity across sectarian political lines.

But here in New York City, apparently, some folks didn’t get the memo on that.

This city will see two rival May Day rallies, with overlapping time schedules, in two different city parks (that, bizarrely enough, are within 10 minutes walking distance of each other).

The first rally, begins at 12 noon in New York City’s historic Union Square Park at E 14th St and Broadway, (where New York City’s first official May Day rally was held back in 1890).

There is a feeder rally at 2PM in Sara Delano Roosevelt Park at Grand St between Forsyth St and Chrystie St in Chinatown which marches up to the main Union Sq site at 3PM.

Then, at 5:30, the Union Sq rally turns into a march down Broadway to the Federal Building at 5:30 PM and a downtown rally at 7PM.

There are a number of small immigrants rights groups from a variety of ethnic groups – including the Long Island Workplace Project, Pakistan USA Freedom Forum, the Senegalese Workers Association, Bronx Community Coalitions United, Bayan USA Filipino Association, the Ecuadorian Alliance, la Pena del Bronx and the National Movement Against Sweatshops (NMASS – who are the folks who are putting together the Chinatown feeder march).

There is also one official labor endorser, the Civil Service Technical Guild, local 375, District Council 37 AFSCME [American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees] – the local union that represents architects, engineers and chemists that work for the City of New York.

The main leftist group that actually put the event together is Act Now to Stop War and End Racism [A.N.S.W.E.R.] a front group for Larry Holmes’ Workers World Party [no, not THAT Larry Holmes – the heavyweight boxer…Larry Holmes the bantam weight leftist], who, as is typical for these types of rallies, are the folks who’re calling the plays for this from behind the scenes.

The second rally, at Madison Square Park on E 23rd St between 5th Av and Madison Av, 11 blocks [about a half mile] uptown from the main rally, starts an hour and a half after the Union Square event, at 1:30 PM, and ends at 3:30 PM.

As well as taking up the same timeslot, and being 11 blocks away, the splinter group event also has the more economically robust backers.

Among the supporters are major labor unions like United Food and Commercial Workers local 1500 (a low wage supermarket clerks union) and Service Employees International Union local 32bj (a local union that represents janitors, doormen and security guards up and down the northeast corridor) and Workers United, an SEIU front group recently broken away from another union.

The earlier rally also has backing from a lot of corporate foundation grant funded immigrant rights groups – first and foremost the New York Immigrant Coalition, but also Make the Road New York, the Restaurant Opportunity Center and others.

On the left end of the spectrum, United for Peace and Justice, a front group backed by the Communist Party USA and the Committees of Correspondence (a CPUSA splinter group) is also among the endorsers.

Now, why exactly are these two groups holding two simultaneous separate rallies?

Leslie Cagan, the co-chair of United for Peace and Justice (and a co-founder of the Committees of Correspondence) claims that her group had nothing to do with the timing of the two events, and put full responsibility for the scheduling issues on the New York Immigrant Coalition.

She also denied that their were political differences with the other rally.

Frances Liu, the immigration advocacy field coordinator for the New York Immigration Coalition, admitted that there were political differences.

According to Liu, her group’s event was narrowly focused on just three issues – immigration reform now, passing Employee Free Choice and health care for all – unlike the other rally, which had a broader focus on working class demands.

Liu also claimed that her group was encouraging attendees at her organization’s event to go to the other rally after her event was over.

Now, admittedly, there are political differences – the other May Day rally has a much broader set of demands.

The other rally also calls for passing Employee Free Choice – but it also calls for the ending of immigration raids, ending deportations, ending budget cuts, ending bus and subway fare increases (a HUGE working class issue in NYC, since New York workers generally do not drive and take mass transit to work), a jobs program at Davis Bacon wage scales, a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, abolition of NAFTA and all other free trade agreements, humane and just immigration reform and an end to the Wall Street bailouts.

The Union Square rally – based on the signs, slogans and statements presented at their April 27th press conference – are also challenging President Barack Obama to live up to the promises he made to labor, people of color and immigrants during his campaign.

The Union Square rally also points out that workers in other countries have waged general strikes around similar issues – and points out that the government, Wall Street and populist media demagogues like Lou Dobbs use race and immigration to divide American workers so we will be unable to wage those kinds of struggles here.

All in all, a much broader range of demands – and a much broader representation of the dire needs of working class New Yorkers of all immigration statuses.

Apparently, those demands were a little too radial for Liu’s group, the New York Immigration Coalition – and for Cagan’s group, United for Peace and Justice – not to mention UFCW local 1500 and SEIU local 32bj.

The other rally, as I mentioned is narrowly focused, on immigration reform, Employee Free Choice and health care for all.

Those demands are also not fleshed out – the Madison Square rally is as vague as President Obama on the specifics of immigration reform and health insurance (and, like the president – and the SEIU, for that matter- they do not call for single payer).

The Madison Square event is dead silent on the meltdown, the Wall St bailout, the bus and subway fare increases, the need for jobs at prevailing wages, ending raids and deportations, NAFTA and the foreclosure and eviction crisis.

They also do not challenge President Obama to live up to his campaign promises.

It appears that the Madison Square group are more conservative than the group rallying at Union Square.

Which wouldn’t in and of itself be a problem.

Except for the Madison Square group’s sectarian refusal to participate as a group in the Union Square event and the march on the Federal Building.

NMASS is having it’s own simultaneous rally too – with their own separate set of demands – but, they are marching to Union Square as a body at the conclusion of their event, to join with the main rally.

It’s deeply unfortunate that the organizers of the Madison Square event cannot bring themselves to do the same.

Unfortunate – but not that surprising to veterans of the New York leftist scene.

Going back to the first Gulf War in 1991, the activist far left in this city has been divided into two dueling camps – one united behind the Workers World Party and it’s various front groups, the other behind the Communist Party, USA, it’s splinter group the Committees of Correspondence, and their jointly controlled front group United for Peace and Justice.

Back in 1991, on the eve of the war, there were two separate rallies – January 15, and January 22 – held by the predecessor groups to United for Peace and Justice and A.N.S.W.E.R.

A.N.S.W.E.R.s predecessor group opposed the war – United for Peace and Justice supported a UN embargo instead of a war (that UN embargo would later go on to cause a massive famine in Iraq, killing approximately 1.5 million Iraqis).

And the pattern has continued – and, if anything, it’s gotten worse during the current US wars against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.

United for Peace and Justice has also shown a pattern of refusing to offend the powers that be in the Democratic Party, the labor movement and the corporate foundation world.

Specifically, they tone down their demands and avoid making any kind of anti imperialist or anti capitalist demands.

We can see that here, in the narrowness of the demands at the Madison Square rally as opposed to the Union Square rally – and in the Madison Square rally’s refusal to demand President Obama live up to his promises.

Again, it’s their right to have their differences – but it’s very wrong of them to be sectarian and divide May Day over this.

Admittedly, United for Peace and Justice co-chair Leslie Cagan claims that her group isn’t responsible for this – it’s all on the New York Immigration Coalition.

If that’s true, it would be a first for United for Peace and Justice to let another group call the political plays in an event they were a major part of.

More importantly, at a time when the working class desperately needs unity and political alternatives, it’s truly unfortunate that United for Peace and Justice – and the New York Immigration Coalition, and the SEIU and the UFCW – choose to be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.

- commentary by GREGORY A. BUTLER, LOCAL 608 CARPENTER,
for GANGBOX: CONSTRUCTION WORKERS NEWS SERVICE
 http://finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/gangboxnews/
 http://groups.google.com/group/gangbox/
 http://myspace.com/gregory10031
 http://gangbox.wordpress.com
 http://clnews.org
“UNION NOW, UNION FOREVER”
originally published on Wednesday, April 29, 2009