May Day 2017: A Smattering of Strikes

Tens of thousands turned out for May Day demonstrations around the country, including 1,000 janitors who struck in California. Photo: SEIU United Service Workers West

Tens of thousands turned out for May Day demonstrations around the country, though the actions didn’t have the same spontaneous character as February’s “Day without Immigrants.”

Once again, the most impressive turnout was in Milwaukee, where 30,000 people took to the streets for a midday march organized by immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera. One hundred fifty businesses throughout Wisconsin closed in solidarity or due to a lack of workers, including the big Latino grocery chain El Rey. There’s widespread public anger over Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke’s attempt to deputize his sheriffs as immigration enforcement agents and over deaths at the county jail.

Some organized groups of workers walked out on strike, including hundreds of Latino warehouse workers at B&H Photo Video in New York City. Since voting to join the Steelworkers in 2015, they’ve been embroiled in a battle for their first contract. Now they’re trying to fight off the employer’s effort to relocate their jobs to New Jersey.

On a freezing cold day in Minneapolis, hundreds of people rallied with striking retail janitors at Home Depot and with strikers at Franklin Street Bakery, where a majority-immigrant workforce is fighting to form a union with Bakery Workers Local 22.

In California, 1,000 janitors struck after their union, Service Employees-United Service Workers West, got both Facebook and Google to promise that neither they nor their contractors would retaliate against workers for May Day strikes. Janitors and day laborers in California, Arizona, and Texas teamed up in a Caravan against Fear to take over the offices of several anti-immigrant members of Congress.

There were also individual strikers, especially in big cities, some of them on strike for the first time, as Kari Thompson reports from Los Angeles below.

—Dan DiMaggio

LOS ANGELES

Victor and Marta are undocumented owners of a small market. (They did not want to give their last names.) They’ve lived in Los Angeles for 15 years with their two daughters.

New Book

Secrets of a successful organizer

A step-by-step guide to building power on the job. Buy Now. »

For the first time, they closed their store for May Day. “Tomorrow we’ll have complaints from customers,” Victor said with a grin. “When we saw there was going to be a march May 1, we decided to do it.”

Why? “Immigration is a very important issue. Our daughters are citizens, but we are not. We’re trying to find a path,” Victor said. The couple is affiliated with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, one of the groups that organized the march.

Victor and Marta had considered bringing their daughters too, but dropped the idea after they received a call from the school telling parents not to let students skip school for the march.

These calls were a reaction against pressure from United Teachers Los Angeles, which had called for schools to close for the day. The school district was “actively working to undermine participation in the demonstration, even among community members,” said Gillian Russom, a high school teacher and member of UTLA’s board of directors.

Despite threats of retaliation against teachers, UTLA had a contingent at the march: 80 people, including teachers and union staff. “This is a big step for a union that has had only a small number of participants in past May Day marches,” Russom said.

Sharon Vivian, a senior in high school, skipped school for the march. She works at Domino’s and is a member of the Restaurant Opportunities Center. “My mom wasn’t able to leave work because she would get fired, and she deserves to be here,” said Vivian.

—Kari Thompson

Kari Thompson, an organizer with the United Electrical Workers, spoke to participants at the march in Los Angeles.