Today thousands of people will be marching in Los Angeles, joining tens of thousands more across the U.S. and millions around the world. May 1st, also known as “May Day,” also known as “International Workers’ Day,” is a day of celebration, of recognition, and of movement.
In the U.S., May Day has also most recently become an annual event when immigration activists and their allies mobilize for mass action in support of immigrants’ rights. This year, after a string of ICE raids which has deported tens of thousands from the U.S.; after another round of reactionary pieces of legislations aimed at Latinos and immigrants; and after the continued stalemate on comprehensive federal immigration reform, the pro-immigrant marches take on a particular urgency.
I suspect, as in past years, these mass actions will be misinterpreted and misunderstood by most in the mainstream media. However, it is important for all of us to know what these marches are about.
This is a labor movement.
First and foremost, today’s marches are about labor. It is no coincidence that the annual May Day celebration has also become home to an annual immigrants’ rights event. Both are about labor. Both are about the rights of people who are workers to be treated like human beings with certain inalienable rights. Both are about reframing the way we think about economic rights in this world. Why is it that masses of people have to work in poverty to produce the wealth for a small elite? Why is it that we live in a nation where political rights are assumed but economic rights seem foreign? When we can easily understand that without economic rights there can be no other rights (the right to vote is a meaningless luxury for the person who is starving from a lack of food), why is it we care so little for the ability of an economic system to provide for people’s basic needs?
Labor rights are human rights. These marches are also, of course, about humanity. Immigrants are people traveling within a transnational system. That is, they are people whose economic situation in one part of the world necessitates their movement to another part of the world, in order for them to meet their (or their family’s) basic needs. That their options become few in one region and more plentiful in another is not an accident. That they find there way to specific destinations from other specific destinations is also not accident.
It is easy for us to think of these issues as only one affecting the host countries in question–the nations (like the U.S.) who become the final destinations for the world’s immigrants. But these seemingly local and national issues are really international human ones. Whether we as a nation like it or not, all people have the right to survive. They have the right to meet their basic needs. They should have the internationally recognized right to work, and work at a fair and livable wage.
You make think these are not realities. You may think it is not feasible for these rights to become realities. As a humanist, I say what you think doesn’t matter. They are a moral imperative. As a critical analyst, I ask, why not?
Real change begins with an individual’s consciousness. Immigrant workers in this nation, for example, find themselves most often being exploited for their labor. They are paid a wage less than the prevailing one, made to work in illegal and unsafe conditions, and manipulated to accept this condition by a host of immoral tactics initiated by employers. These realities became realities by the direct acts of human beings. They can change the same way. When you buy a T-shirt or a pair of shoes, do you care how they are made? You should; you need to start being concerned. Your action of purchasing at a cheap price above all else and your inaction at doing nothing to deal with the political economy of your clothes are both the results of your human acts. What happens when they change?
May Day is a day for us all to struggle for a world that is more respectful of all peoples’ needs and rights. It is a time for us to question how we can live in a world where so many of those needs and rights are not secure. Most importantly, it is a time for us to question the fundamental assumptions undergirding the “reality” we understand. If you think things are they way they are and there is nothing that can be done about it; if you think illegal immigrants are criminals and don’t deserve rights; if you think the benefit of one worker must come at the expense of another; then you should ask yourself, why? Why do you think that? What assumptions guide that thinking? And how did you arrive at them?
This is a movement for change. A movement is, by definition, a mass of people moving in a particular direction. They may be motivated for different reasons, analyze the situation in different ways, and envision a future goal in different ways, but they can still move together. Today, the tens of thousand who will be marching will be doing so for too many reasons to list here. In short, they will be speaking to shared cause through a myriad of voices. The question, however, is how will we choose to listen?