April 29, 2014
By Steven Wishnia
Asbestos removers and adjunct professors will join with civil servants and cabdrivers May 1 for a massive rally in City Hall Park put on by New York City’s leading labor, immigrant, and community organizations.
The rally, sponsored by the Labor Rights, Immigrant Rights, and Jobs for All Coalition, will demand a higher minimum wage and fair contracts for city employees, reforming federal immigration laws and passing a state version of the DREAM Act, building all construction projects with union labor and preserving the state’s “scaffolding law,” providing universal pre-kindergarten, and raising taxes on Wall Street and the richest 1%. It will begin at 5 p.m. and end with a march to Wall Street.
“Our communities are facing the highest levels ofincome inequality, poverty, hunger, and homelessness in decades,” the coalition said in a statement. “Workers’ productivity is high, but wages are stagnant. Corporate profits and CEO compensation have skyrocketed.”
The coalition encompasses more than 30 unions, from Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers to District Council 1707 of AFSCME; community groups such as Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change; and immigrant and ethnic organizations like the New York Immigration Coalition, the Workmen’s Circle, and the Yemeni American Association. Speakers will include Vincent Alvarez of the New York City Central Labor Council, DC 37 AFSCME president Lillian Roberts, Lucia Gomez of the immigrant-rights group La Fuente, and Bhairavi Desai of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
Laborers Local 79 will join the rally from 140 West St., where they’ll be protesting Magnum Realty’s use of a nonunion contractor to demolish the old Verizon building to convert it to luxury condos. Laborers Local 78 will come from 20 Exchange Place, where New York Insulation is removing highly carcinogenic asbestos despite a long history of “gross safety violations,” says Stephen Benavides, the local’s research director. The company has been banned from doing publicly financed work in the state until 2017 for not paying prevailing wage, he adds, but is getting work from the private sector.
May Day began in the U.S. in 1886, when 60,000 workers in Chicago went on strike to demand an eight-hour day, and quickly spread around the world as International Workers Day. It is still the main holiday honoring workers in most of the world, including Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, France, Germany, India, and Mexico. Trinidad and Tobago celebrates June 19, to commemorate a 1937 oilfield workers’ strike that catalyzed both the islands’ labor movement and their push for independence from Great Britain.
In the U.S., after Labor Day was declared a national holiday in 1894, May Day became largely the province of leftist groups, with large rallies in Union Square during the 1930s. In 2006, it capped a season of protests by immigrants, with hundreds of thousands of people turning out for demonstrations in Los Angeles and Chicago. New York unions revived the tradition in 2010, inspired by those immigrant-rights marches, says rally co-chair Sonia Ivany, president of the New York City Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.