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Women Activists Came Together on May Day

by Ann Montague

The organizers of the International Women’s Day Strikes issued a comprehensive statement encouraging women to support the May Day actions this year. It was entitled, “No Ban, No Wall, No ICE,” and said in part, “We come together with the understanding that our exploitation as waged and unwaged workers has a common cause and our oppressions as people of color and immigrants are connected with threads of sexism, racism, anti-blackness, militarism, environmental depredation, homophobia and transphobia. … Solidarity is our weapon.”

Women activists were widely seen this May Day. They were recognized as leaders of all the movements and struggles that joined together to celebrate this historic worker’s day. In some cities women organized their own contingents in marches.

In New York City, the main base of the March 8 International Women’s Day strikes in the U.S., women held their own rally at Washington Square on May Day before joining up with the other marches and rallies in the city. The featured speaker was from International Women’s Strike (IWS), New York City. Ximena Cosmonauta set the tone by welcoming immigrant workers from worker’s centers and unions: “There is no way to talk about women’s freedom if the liberation of some depends on the exploitation of others.”

Women were a large proportion of the 1,000 Philadelphia unionized teachers who walked out to protest working conditions and the fact that they have been working without a contract for four years. Kristin Jones, a teacher from Carver High School, marched on May Day with her two children and spoke for many when she referred to parents who might have been upset about their children’s losing a day of class. But then she said, “We had to do this!”

Women were also prominent in May Day actions in smaller cities and towns. In Tucson, the Promotoras de Derechos Humanos, and in Salem, Ore., the Adelante Mujeres and the women of MEChA marched together behind their banners.

Other unions and non-union workers organizations made up predominately of women, walked out of work to join marches and rallies. Fight For 15 organized walkouts across the country, as they have been doing for four years. They contributed in a way that no other worker’s organization has done.  For weeks before May Day they used social media to put out information to nonunion workers about their rights under the law to walk off the job for the day.

In Las Vegas an estimated 3,000 workers joined the May Day march, called “Unity March For Immigrants.” Most of the marchers were from unions with a mainly female membership, including many immigrants. Bethany Khan, an official of the 57,000-member Culinary Union led the march. She reports that her union is the largest in Nevada and also the largest immigrant organization—with members from 150 countries. A rally also took place in Reno, sponsored by Women and Children of the Sierra, Reno-Sparks NAACP, Tu Casa Latina, and Chispa Nevada.

SEIU United Service Workers West was particularly visible in Oakland and San Francisco. In addition, women joined a demonstration outside of the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement Headquarters in the San Francisco Financial District. Yadira Sanchez, 26, was one of the demonstrators who blocked the doors. “It is our duty to unite together,” she told reporters. “There is growing momentum and people are angry.”