Momentum Builds for Massive West Coast May Day Strike

Jonathan Rosenblum

Up and down the West Coast, we are likely to see the largest May Day strikes since hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers walked off the job in 2006. (SEIU United Service Workers West/ Facebook)

This arti­cle was first post­ed by Labor Notes.

Shop stew­ard Tomas Mejia sensed some­thing was dif­fer­ent when 600 jan­i­tors streamed into the Los Ange­les union hall Feb­ru­ary 16 — far more than for a reg­u­lar mem­ber­ship meet­ing. Chant­i­ng Huel­ga! Huel­ga!” (“Strike! Strike!”), they vot­ed unan­i­mous­ly to strike on May Day.

This won’t be a strike against their employ­ers. The jan­i­tors of SEIU Unit­ed Ser­vice Work­ers West felt dri­ven, Mejia says, to strike with the com­mu­ni­ty” against the raids, threats, and immi­grant-bash­ing hate speech that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has unleashed.

The pres­i­dent is attack­ing our com­mu­ni­ty,” said Mejia, a mem­ber of his union’s exec­u­tive board. Immi­grants have helped form this coun­try, we’ve con­tributed to its beau­ty, but the pres­i­dent is attack­ing us as criminal.”

Fol­low­ing the Los Ange­les vote, union jan­i­tors else­where in Cal­i­for­nia have also vot­ed to strike with the com­mu­ni­ty” on May 1. As the meet­ings gath­ered steam, Mejia reports, work­ers in schools, gro­cery stores, restau­rants, and farms start­ed talk­ing about join­ing the walk­out too.

And the strike is going on the road: SEIU-USWW is part­ner­ing with the human rights group Glob­al Exchange, work­er cen­ters, the South­ern Bor­der Com­mu­ni­ties Coali­tion, and faith groups to orga­nize a Car­a­van against Fear” that will tour Cal­i­for­nia, Ari­zona, New Mex­i­co, and Texas in April, stag­ing ral­lies, cul­tur­al events, direct action train­ings, and com­mu­ni­ty strike votes lead­ing up to May Day.

The biggest yet

In recent years, May Day has seen demon­stra­tions to sup­port immi­grant rights. This year’s mobi­liza­tions will cen­ter on defend­ing immi­grants, but weave in oth­er issues as well, such as cli­mate jus­tice and the de-fund­ing of pub­lic education.

Up and down the West Coast, we are like­ly to see the largest May Day strikes since hun­dreds of thou­sands of immi­grant work­ers walked off the job in 2006.

A thou­sand miles to the north of Mejia’s home city, lead­ers of the unions rep­re­sent­ing Seat­tle pub­lic school teach­ers, grad­u­ate employ­ees at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton, and staff at Seattle’s com­mu­ni­ty col­leges have called for a strike to protest the Trump administration’s attacks on immi­grants, Mus­lims, work­ers, women, and mem­bers of the LGBT com­mu­ni­ty. The pub­lic school teach­ers and UW grad­u­ate employ­ees are sched­ul­ing strike votes in the com­ing weeks.

We’re hor­ri­fied about what Trump has done,” said Alex Bacon, a com­mu­ni­ty col­lege admin­is­tra­tive assis­tant and mem­ber of AFSCME Local 304. And giv­en the Trump administration’s sup­port for right-to-work” leg­is­la­tion and slash­ing health care and retire­ment pro­grams, he said, even if we’re not in the crosshairs this sec­ond, we’re next.”

Sum­mer of resistance”

A March meet­ing orga­nized by the coun­ty labor coun­cil and Seat­tle City Coun­cilmem­ber Kshama Sawant brought togeth­er immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from two dozen Seat­tle-area unions — includ­ing Labor­ers, Team­sters, Boe­ing Machin­ists, stage­hands, hotel work­ers, and city and coun­ty work­ers — to plan a May Day of mass resis­tance. Par­tic­i­pants acknowl­edged the need for cre­ativ­i­ty rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

A week lat­er, the labor coun­cil com­mit­ted its sup­port for an immi­grant-led May Day march, in a res­o­lu­tion urg­ing unions to con­sid­er all forms of action on May 1, 2017, whether strik­ing, walk­ing out, tak­ing sick days, extend­ed lunch hours, exer­cis­ing rights of con­science, orga­niz­ing demon­stra­tions or teach-ins, or any oth­er acts of col­lec­tive expres­sion that builds sol­i­dar­i­ty across communities.”

Labor Coun­cil head Nicole Grant described May Day as just the begin­ning of a sum­mer of resis­tance,” show­ing that work­ing peo­ple can and will respond to Trump’s attacks with dis­rup­tive action. We won’t take down this pres­i­dent in one day,” added Sawant. But on May Day we are tak­ing our resis­tance to anoth­er level.”

Cli­mate jus­tice activists are also fold­ing into the May Day move­ment. In Wash­ing­ton state, the Sier­ra Club and oth­er envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions are call­ing for an Earth Day to May Day Action Week,” blend­ing Earth Day April 22 and a March for Sci­ence” into a full week of work­shops and protests cul­mi­nat­ing in a big May 1 mobilization.

Local con­nec­tions

Nation­al­ly, many union lead­ers haven’t weighed in on the May Day strike move­ment, in part because their con­tracts with employ­ers include no-strike clauses.

Mejia acknowl­edges the risk of strik­ing, but says, The gov­ern­ment is crim­i­nal­iz­ing us.” The big­ger risk, he says, would be to not fight back, because inac­tion will only embold­en Trump and his bil­lion­aire backers.

Key to suc­cess­ful May Day strikes, many activists point out, is con­nect­ing local fights to anti-Trump resis­tance activ­i­ties. At the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton, for instance, where one-third of the grad­u­ate employ­ees are inter­na­tion­al stu­dents, union mem­bers are demand­ing that uni­ver­si­ty admin­is­tra­tors bar­gain with them over the impact of Trump’s Mus­lim ban and oth­er exec­u­tive orders. And they are press­ing the uni­ver­si­ty to declare itself a sanc­tu­ary cam­pus” and to waive a dis­crim­i­na­to­ry fee it now impos­es on inter­na­tion­al students.

Jonathan Rosen­blum is the author of Beyond $15: Immi­grant Work­ers, Faith Activists, and the Revival of the Labor Move­ment (Bea­con Press). A mem­ber of UAW Local 1981 (Nation­al Writ­ers Union), he also works as a com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­er for the office of Seat­tle City Coun­cilmem­ber Kshama Sawant.
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