This is for the workers.
This is for the immigrants, the soldiers, the bus drivers, the teachers.
This is about May Day, also known as International Worker’s Day, which was borne from a story of oppression and injustice, and from the struggle that brought us the eight-hour workday.
In honor of May Day, we want to honor the campus workers — those members of AFSCME Local 3299, the American Federation of Service, County, and Municipal Employees union — which represents about 20,000 service and patient technical care employees across the University of California (UC). Since August 2007, AFSCME representatives have been in contract negotiations with UC Labor Relations, asking for a new contract that includes living wages that meet market standards and better medical benefits. The UC has said no, at times offering certain positions only a slight pay increase.
And as talk of strike becomes more than a whisper, many worry that the UC is trying to stall negotiations into the summer to quell any major actions.
So this is for the workers — those working in the dining halls, custodians, shuttle drivers, and maintenance workers.
May Day began in Chicago in 1886, when workdays would last 10, 12, or even 18 hours. Union workers carried out general strikes calling for an eight-hour workday, often met with a violent crackdown from police or private security officials. These efforts culminated on May 1, when workers throughout the U.S. went on a general strike, including 30,000 workers in Chicago, which had become the epicenter for the labor movement in the U.S. As violence erupted, police shot into the crowd, killing four and wounding many more.
In response, strikers assembled at Haymarket Square on May 4 and speakers urged union members to endure. Police stormed the meeting and violence erupted. Later, an anti-labor judge and jury tried eight men — and sent six of them to be executed. The rest is history.
Recently, in response to harsh immigration laws from the Bush administration, May Day has also become known for immigrants’ rights. This year we will see hundreds of thousands of people throughout the U.S. mobilizing in defense of immigrant rights, insisting that “no human is illegal.”
This year’s march on May Day was organized by Movement for Immigrants Rights Alliance (M.I.R.A.), a group of students and community members calling for a just immigration policy.
According to their official statement, M.I.R.A. formed in response to a “veritable war on immigrants,” seen by the militarization of the southern U.S. border and raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
While the AFSCME contract negations are still in process, the workers can still support the march, as this day reminds us that these struggles are all connected.
Along the entire West Coast, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) declared a general strike on this day, shutting down the ports of the Western United States for eight hours. Their demands: an end to the war.
It began on May 1, 2003, a couple of months after Iraq was occupied. The ILWU called for an end to the war and occupation in Iraq. As they claim, the union leaders “took the lead among labor unions in opposing this bloody war and occupation for imperial domination.”
Protesting the threat of U.S. air strikes in Iran and other countries in the region, the ILWU issued a February 8 resolution that reads: “It is time to take labor’s protest to a more powerful level of struggle by calling on unions and working people in the U.S. and internationally to mobilize for a ‘No Peace, No Work Holiday’ May 1, 2008 for eight hours to demand an immediate end to the war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Middle East.”
And the ILWU’s calls for “No Peace, No Work” echo that of our local workers. Recent flyers from AFSCME have declared “No Contract, No Peace.”
Recently, they have kept their word.
In early April, hundreds of AFSCME members, joined by student and community supporters, descended upon UC San Francisco to show that they meant business. On the day that marked the eve of the 40th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., activists engaged in civil disobedience by sitting down in an intersection in front of University. Around 50 people, including workers and students at UCSC, were arrested.
Special, indeed, the occasion was. In 1968, Dr. King traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, to represent a union of Black sanitation workers, all members of AFSCME, who had gone on strike. During those times, Dr. King was calling for a movement that would bring the Civil Rights movement together with unions and those opposing the Vietnam War. He saw that all of these issues were the same — much like the human race.
But Dr. King would not see his dream come down to real life. Before he turned 40, he was assassinated. Within weeks, students at Columbia University, protesting the university’s involvement in military research and plans to build on a public park in Harlem, went on strike and occupied five buildings, sparking protests at universities across the nation.
This year on May Day, hundreds of students at San Francisco State University staged a walkout in opposition of continuing fee increases, and marched to join the immigrant’s rights march in downtown San Francisco.
Throughout history, people have been subject to the tactic of divide-and-conquer — an age-old tactic used in warfare, colonialism, and politics. For too long, white workers were pitted against Latino immigrants and African-Americans. This persists today.
As M.I.R.A. so aptly puts it in their statement, we are facing policies of “domination through fragmentation.” On May Day, they called people “to demonstrate our insistence on the respect for all humans and our fear of a future in which scapegoat politics continues, we must unite across ethnic/class/racial/gender/sexuality lines in order to best counter policies of structural dehumanization and institutionalized criminalization.”
This May Day reminds us how beautiful it is for immigration, labor, and anti-war agendas to align. Recognizing that the seemingly separate struggles are actually closely related is crucial if we are going to see any sense of justice and the beginnings of a society based on equality.
And in honor of May Day, we say to the University of California that it is time to honor those who keep the university functioning, and give AFSCME the contract they are asking for.
For students, the first thing we could do is to listen to their voices, which are too often unheard or ignored.
And if UC continues to hide behind the stonewall while negotiating a contract, then as students, rather than complaining about the absence of the shuttles or the closed-down dining halls, put on your green and join their ranks.
Unfortunately, the eight-hour workday that was won over 100 years ago in Chicago is still only a dream for many of those who work at UCSC. To make ends meet, many campus workers have to hold a second job.
The place to start is at home.