May Day 2009 and Workers’ Rights

May Day – for some, the day is a celebration of spring. For others, it is a call for help. But for the immigrant rights movement, May Day is International Workers’ Day. Celebrated on May 1 in many countries throughout the world, May Day honors the workers that came before us who organized to create better working conditions for all: a 40-hour week, minimum wage, overtime pay, safety and health standards, and many other worker rights that now we take for granted. 

May Day – for some, the day is a celebration of spring. For others, it is a call for help. But for the immigrant rights movement, May Day is International Workers’ Day. Celebrated on May 1 in many countries throughout the world, May Day honors the workers that came before us who organized to create better working conditions for all: a 40-hour week, minimum wage, overtime pay, safety and health standards, and many other worker rights that now we take for granted. 

Protecting Workers’ Rights

Through the Capacity Building Fund (CBF), Third Sector New England has supported the Immigrant Workers’ Centers’ Collaborative (IWCC), a network of 5 immigrant-led organizations in the Greater Boston area. These workers’ centers integrate individual advocacy for unpaid wages and other labor law violations with education and organizing of workers. Through these efforts, the workers are better equipped to defend their rights and collectively improve conditions at their workplace.  

CBF has provided the IWCC with the resources to convene different organizational levels at least once a month in peer learning sessions, mutual support, multi-ethnic organizing and broader movement building. “In 2005, my organization decided to start a workers’ center to address the multiple work-related complaints we were receiving from our members,” explains one of the IWCC-member organizers. 

“We floundered for about two years, wanting very much to make this vision a reality, but not really knowing how and where to get started. Then, we became a part of the IWCC, and in less than three years, we established a well-structured program that is now handling in-takes from workers two days a week.” 

According to the organizer, with support from the IWCC, the program has developed 3 educational guides. And it has a workers’ committee that meets twice a month to learn, organize and mobilize. Additionally, it has established a campaign with another IWCC member because of systematic unpaid wages of cleaning workers at two restaurant chains. “There is no way we could’ve gotten here in a mere three years without the mutual support and learning that the IWCC has provided.” 

May Day and Immigrant Rights

While the United States does not officially observe May Day, the immigrant rights movement in the United States claimed May Day as the day to bear witness to the unjust and inhuman treatment of immigrant workers. Interestingly, May Day has its origins right here in the United States.

In May 1886, workers in Chicago, Ill., were on a general strike as part of their struggle to establish an 8-hour workday. Chicago police fired on the striking workers, killing 12 of them. The tragedy is known as the Haymarket Massacre. And since then, organized labor throughout the world has observed May 1 as May Day, celebrating the contributions of the labor movement and raising awareness of the continued struggle for improved working conditions.  

When asked what they would be doing on May this year, members of the IWCC answered, “We are marching with others from East Boston to Chelsea, of course! There is still a lot road to travel not only for immigrant workers, but for workers in general throughout the world.”

On this May Day, TSNE salutes all workers everywhere. It is thanks to what our hands, hearts and minds produce that our life is lifted and enriched.

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