May Day 2017 should prove to be the biggest labor holiday event in decades in terms of numbers and diversity of people participating, and in terms of shutting down major sectors of the US economy.
Worker dissatisfaction, support for immigrant rights, and the inhumane Trump agenda are motivating and unifying factors that are inciting mass May Day action. This year, immigrant justice will be forefront amidst emboldened xenophobic and racist ideology, speech and violence under the Trump administration.
The 45th U.S. president is already proving to be the most divisive and threatening president in history. His blatant verbal attacks on African Americans, Latinos, women, immigrants, Muslims, LGBT communities, and the media have angered millions and given rise to protests occurring weekly, if not daily, across the nation. His choices of cabinet positions and promotion of monied interests as insiders give a clear message to union members, teachers, health care activists, women’s and reproductive rights advocates, environmentalists, anti-war and police brutality activists, minorities, Native Americans, immigrants, retirees, and the working poor that we are all in the fight for our lives to maintain civil rights and workers’ rights gains of the past one hundred years.
The overriding theme of May Day 2017 is “A Day without Immigrants” as immigrant and minority businesses around the nation pledge to shut down for the day. Donald Trump’s war on immigrants and Muslims are attacks on the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights and the democratic principles of our nation. People will not stand idly by and let this president, his business partners and supporters take away our freedom, our diversity and our livelihood.
May Day 2017 has the potential to give the greatest national education that any labor justice activist could hope for. The message that has taken years to convey, through our events, conferences, and written words can be elucidated in one eight-hour non-working day. That lesson expressed in dollars can be massive if we engage the discontent into action and we all stop working “for the man” for one day.
One-day strikes have been used effectively causing great economic impact. In August 2008, South African workers protesting soaring prices for fuel, food, and electricity forced mines and factories to shut down for a day, forcing global platinum prices up by 3%, giving added worry to investors. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) stated that the strike would serve as warning not to cut jobs due to declining profits and economic recession.
India’s one day strikes of 2012 in Bangalore, Odisha, and other cities, to protest a government plan to raise diesel fuel prices by 14% cost the country $2.3 billion in lost production and trade. This figure was arrived at by the Confederation of Indian Industries who were opposed to the strike and urged Indian Prime Minister Monmohan Singh not to give into striking workers. Hundreds of thousands of owners of mom-and-pop “kirana” stores, who feared that the government reform plan would drive them out of business, were reported to have shut down for the day. Bigger companies gave staff the day off or allowed them to work from home. Across the country public transportation was compromised by protestors squatting on railway tracks and occupying bus depots. Government offices, businesses, schools and banks in Bhubaneswar were shut, with shutdowns reported in other cities, including Hyderabad, the IT hub with home offices of Microsoft Corp and Google Inc.
Closer to home was the “Great American Boycott” of May Day, 2006, “a day without an immigrant,” to protest an enforcement-heavy federal immigration bill and to call for legalization and full rights for all immigrants, and an end to deportation, raids and stepped-up enforcement. Regional economic impact was felt due to shut downs of leading meat packing plants, agricultural harvesting and packing, landscaping, food and home services, construction, casinos and trucking. The Los Angeles Development Corporation said that the boycott and strikes cost the city $200 million for the day excluding revenue for work that would be recovered later in the week. The economic impact nationally, however, was said to be minimal in the vast US economy.
This year, the national economic impact could be different. Across the country, coalitions of labor unions, immigrant rights and faith and community groups are planning May Day actions, strikes, walkouts, and stayaways. Labor unions and non-unionized workers in some progressive areas are calling for labor strikes in solidarity with immigrant businesses. In March, several delegates to the San Francisco Labor Council urged the Council and affiliates to mobilize massively on May 1 in support of immigrant and refugee rights, for the rights and interests of all working people and oppressed peoples, and to oppose the bloated war budget and Trump’s racist ultra-right agenda. The Los Angeles Federation of Labor and the Washington Federation of State Employees have endorsed a call for a general strike on May Day. Nearly 350,000 members of the Service Employees International Union plan to strike. According to a coalition of groups leading the strike, more than 300,000 food chain workers and 40,000 unionized service workers have said they will walk off the job on May 1, 2017. The Food Chain Workers Alliance, which represents workers throughout the food industry, said that hundreds of thousands of its non-unionized members have committed to striking. The Restaurant Opportunities Center United, a food industry worker advocacy group, has called for May Day strikes, and the Rural Community Workers Alliance said about 1000 workers at a Milan Missouri pork plant will walk out. This is only the beginning. People are fed up with cutbacks, deportations, legislative setbacks, a judicial appointment, the two-party political monopoly, and income inequality. Hundreds of thousands are expected to celebrate May Day 2017 in whatever way they can, and we will feel an impact that will take us to the next level of the change that has to come.