New York, NY – Stagnant wages, unsafe working and attacks on immigrant communities of color all combined to define the overall feeling of insecurity working men and women expressed during this week’s May Day observance along Central Park West on Wednesday.
“We’ve got to stand strong because they’re trying to bust us up,” NYCHA secretary Annette Gagliardy told LaborPress. “That’s the bottom line,” she added, tilting her head to indicate the Trump International Hotel and Tower down the block. “What they’re doing to the workforce itself is ridiculous — it’s not fair.”
Cafetera worker Patricia Zimmerman stood with fellow Local 372 sister Barbara Richardson near the modest stage set up at W.61st Street and talked about the need to “rise up for social justice on International Workers’ Day.”
“There are jobs being cut — and not just the Board of Education,” Zimmerman said. “It’s all over. That’s why we’re out here.”
Carlos Gagot, a Local 580 Ironworker, wanted to talk about how leaving the non-union sector two years ago, dramatical changed his life “like night and day” because he is now confident about his ability to one day send his kids to college. But he also recalled friends still trying to survive without union safeguards in NYC’s often lethal construction industry.
“Last year, I had a friend of my mine who had an I-beam rip him from his kneecap to his hip,” Gagot said. “He had to have surgery and the company just threw him into a truck and sent him to the hospital.”
Khadim Niang, a civic organizer with African Communities Together, reemphasized the state of constant fear many immigrants — union and non-union alike — experience because going to work could expose them to the Trump administration’s deportation machine.
“They’re basically facing having to leave their jobs,” Niang said. “And how are they going to support their families if they’re getting threatened? Especially if you work for a place where the boss can say, ‘Hey, if you don’t work today, I’m going to call ICE on you.’ A lot of people who are working are in unions. Your immigration status should not bar you from getting treated fairly by your boss — or getting the benefits you need — or stopping you from being able to support your family.”
Workmen’s Circle Executive Director Ann Toback denounced the Trump administration’s racist and unjust policies, urging workers everywhere to stand in solidarity with their immigrant brothers and sisters.
“The aggression that the president and his administration is spreading harms us all — but it is especially cruel to our immigrant communities,” Toback told workers. “We can never forget the terrible impact on immigrant children. These policies are harming all of our children. They’re hurt by this culture of hatred, racism, islamophobia and anti-semitism.”
The overall anxiety and unease that working people expressed on Central Park West this week cut across all sectors and professions.
“We’re pulled in all different directions and we can’t do our jobs the way we want to and our students deserve,” John Jay College adjunct professor Elizabeth Hovey told LaborPress. “We are on food stamps. We can’t make rent. We’ve basically lost 60 percent of our wages since the 1970s to inflation. And we’ve got a governor who is quite willing to starve us.”
A tenured faculty member at Kingsborough Community College who requested anonymity, denounced the trend in academia to eliminate full-time, tenure-track jobs in favor of “contingent labor who get paid much less than half the pay rates for essentially the same work.”
“It’s essentially the same as outsourcing,” she said. “It’s the idea of why pay professionals fair amounts for their skilled labor, when you can do it on the cheap and treat these experts as just interchangeable and expendable? I’m a tenured faculty member. But I see people who have publication and research achievements comparable to mine, and who are teaching as well as any of us full-time faculty possible could, but cannot get full-time jobs because CUNY has converted the full-time jobs to these dead-end part-time jobs.”
Ed Ott, former head of the New York Central Labor Council and noted lecturer at the Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies, talked about how the ongoing plight of the working class portends badly for Democrats.
“I think even if you feel right now, that you’re okay — you always know you’re a month away from disaster,” Ott told LaborPress. “So, I think there’s a general sense of insecurity amongst workers. You get out of New York City and it’s a whole different picture. That’s why they’re looking to the Right. They don’t think the Dems have anything to offer them. And they’re looking for solutions. And some of those solutions can get prettying f—-ing ugly.”
Add the looming threat of homeless, and the picture staring back at the working class grows darker still.
“People that own their homes are like, ‘Am I going to keep it? It’s tied to my job.’ It’s pretty bad — the homelessness is pervasive,” Ott explained. “Every morning, I don’t care who you are, particularly if you’re in that bottom third — you know you’re one paycheck away from joining that guy on the sidewalk.”
Despite the threats, Ott offered, at least, a little bit of hope for the American working class.
“Right now, you see element of a resurgence — pockets here [and there],” he said. “You look at the digital media guys are all organizing. There are some signs of hope, but I think, generally, working people feel, in particular outside unions, they feel really insecure at this point.”
Asked if she was hopeful on this May Day, Zimmerman said, “It will get better. We’re arguing for a good cause.”