Hundreds rally for May Day

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Photo by Alon Harish.

Rallies do not appear to be fading from the Elm City soon.

Hundreds gathered on the New Haven Green today to celebrate May Day, which honors organized labor. Immigrant advocacy groups, labor unions and other activists congregated outside City Hall at 11 a.m. for a march intended to show solidarity with workers and support for immigrant rights.

While unions had a visible presence, the gathering was predominantly attended by immigration activists. John Lugo, an organizer from Unidad Latina en Acción and the rally’s main speaker, said that the alliance between immigrants’ rights activists and organized labor is natural.

“We are workers. Immigrant workers are the most exploited and most invisible workers,” Lugo said. “It is hard for us to be in unions, but we have solidarity with unions and unions have solidarity with us.”

Workers from all sides need to be given a voice to tell their stories, said Stephanie Bifolco, an organizer with the Junta for Progressive Action, an Latino advocacy organization.

The rally comes at a time of heightened tensions between City Hall and its labor unions, who are being asked accept cost-saving reforms to their benefits and pensions. 82 city employees were laid off in February and dozens more layoffs are expected this summer.

Lugo told the crowd of about 250 that the march was dedicated to the city’s public school custodians. The custodial union, Local 287, has been fighting for months to prevent Mayor John DeStefano Jr. from privatizing school custodial services.

“[DeStefano’s] trying to deteriorate decent paying jobs,” said Robert Montuori, president of Local 287. “The same thing Wall Street did to the country, he’s doing to us. We’re fed up working people being blamed for everything.”

The rally comes after two major rallies in March that marked the rise of tensions between city workers—both on and off the city payroll—and the DeStefano administration. A Mar. 14 rally brought Al Sharpton, the national civil rights figure, to the Green to support city unions. The Mar. 30 “We Are One” rally, by far the largest this year, was organized by a broad coalition of unions, churches, and student groups.

One man was not enjoying the festivities. John Ziebell, an unemployed New Haven resident, was holding a sign protesting jobs being lost to illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants are taking jobs that American citizens would be perfectly willing to work, he said.

May Day, also International Workers’ Day, is celebrated nationwide on the anniversary of the 1886 Haymarket affair, in which a dozen striking workers were killed during a rally in Haymarket Square in Chicago.

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