By Jose San Mateo
While thousands of students and Santa Cruz residents rallied for immigrant rights on May Day–marching from the quarry plaza all the way to the beach flats–this group raised glasses of dark lager at The Poet and the Patriot before unfurling their red and black International Workers of the World (IWW) banner and setting out for their own march down Pacific Avenue to the Veterans Hall for the sixth annual Reel Works Film Festival.
Paul Ortiz, a Community Studies Professor at UCSC, an organizer for the event since its inception in 2001. He said that the goal of the event was to give workers a voice.
“In our schools and within the community, we are taught a vision of society where workers pay more and get paid less,” Ortiz said. “We believe that people have the capability to have a voice at the table.”
Ortiz was also excited about the film festival and its relation to the Mayday protests. He said, “People are now stepping up to demand their rights.”
Reel Works, a film festival dedicated to showing films and documentaries that address working class issues, has special significance on May Day, which has become known as an international labor holiday. In recent years, Mayday has become known for nationwide immigration rallies.
This group of 10 to 15 union members was smaller than the one that rolled down Mission Street a couple of hours earlier, but under the late afternoon sun they rallied down the street toward the Veterans Hall, drawing attention with a blend of rally chants and songs accompanied by a guitar.
Sarah Ringler, a member of the Pajaro Valley Teachers Union, enjoyed marching amongst union members and friends on May Day.
“The union has given me the dignity to do my job,” she said. “What I love about this is the community action and getting out.”
Mike Vasser, a retired teacher who served 20 years in union in Scotts Valley, held two picket signs while marching with the group. In 1968, Vasser participated in the Delano Grape strike managed by famous organizers like CÃ©sar ChÃ¡vez and saw a connection between the union struggle and those of immigrants in the US.
“Unions are pushing for fairness from employers,” Vasser said. “ This is about the plight of low wage workers.”
The band of union members brought their small parade to the Veterans Hall in downtown Santa Cruz with the chorus of an industrial workers song written in 1915 called “Solidarity Forever”.
A couple of IWW members hung their banner in the foyer of the Veterans Hall before heading downstairs for the Reel Works Film Festival.
Jeffrey Smedburg, another event organizer, said that the festival was also about educating people on labor history.
“We’ve picked a pretty big goal to teach the general public about workers history,” Smedburg said.
Parts of that labor history are the songs that the IWW members sang on their way to the Veterans Hall. Archie Green, a long time folklorist studying a unique brand of folksongs, which he dubs “laborlore,” spoke about the importance of the IWW songs for the Reel Works film festival.
Green, who is now approaching 90 years, joined the Shipwrights union during World War II and helped build battleships before becoming a scholar and studying the IWW which he refers to as “wobblies”.
Green said that he believes that the songs and workers play a larger role in society.
“Traditions that symbolize worker strength should be treasured,” he said. “Like other folk songs, these ones deal with more philosophical issues.”
Sean Burns, a History of Consciousness PhD candidate, is writing his dissertation about Green and drove him to Santa Cruz for the Reel Works presentation at the Veterans Hall. He said that the songs and the labor lore that Green studies is a form of cultural expression for the working class.
“These songs are a way to allow workers to make sense of their experience,” Burns said. “The contribution that Archie makes is that he highlights how workers make sense of their lives.”
Burns also saw a connection between the May Day immigrant protests and the struggles of the IWW.
“There is a strong link between the wobblies and what was happening with immigrants,” Burns said. “The wobblies shared a vision of dignity for all workers.”
_The Reel Works Film Festival is running through May 11, 2007, for a complete schedule of events visit www.reelworks.org _