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May Day Continues As Important Day for Immigrant Rights

April Callen • May 01, 2013

For more than a century, May 1st – May Day or International Workers’ Day – has been a celebration of workers, and a rallying call to improve the lives and conditions of members of the labor force. Its history lies in the 1886 “Haymarket Riot” in Chicago, which was spawned by a clash between police and workers on strike over the 8-Hour Day Movement.

Since 2006, May Day has become an immigrant rights day – a day of protest against the unfair and unlawful treatment of undocumented immigrants in the United States. That more streamlined shift in purpose for the unofficial holiday was originally in response to the terribly restrictive Border Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, sponsored by Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI).

On May 1st, 2006, Latino groups and activists organized the “Great American Boycott: No Shopping, No School, No Work,” to demonstrate how much the United States relies on the labor and resources of immigrants.

This year, as the Senate “Gang of Eight” bill works its way through the legislative process, thousands of activists around the country are gathering to demand legislation that creates a pathway to citizenship for more than 11 million aspiring citizens. And in the greater spirit of May Day, they are also marching for safer working conditions for immigrant workers and better wages. 

Unsurprisingly, oppositional protests have also taken place today, including one hosted by the “anti-illegal immigration” outfit, We the People, California’s Crusader. The group’s executive director Robin Hvidston argues, “We would like to see our government, our Congress members, our senators advocating and writing legislation for our American workers.”

Despite the opposition, with its rich history May Day should continue to be looked at as a day to support citizens – aspiring and otherwise. Workers are, undoubtedly, the foundation of American society. When a country invests in its workers – protecting them on the job, affording them basic rights, and offering fair wages – it enhances its own longevity. Without the support of immigrant and non-immigrant workers, what’s left is a nation simply waiting to collapse.

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