Labor Standard Logo

One More Tucson May Day—a Tradition Since 2006

by George Shriver, co–Managing Editor, Labor Standard

Hopes and expectations were widespread on the eve of May 1, 2017, that the spirit of 2006 might be revived this year. In 2006, as many as 3 million or more undocumented immigrants and their allies poured out into the streets on May Day, and the reactionary Sensenbrenner bill, which would have penalized immigrant supporters as well as immigrants themselves, was quickly dropped by the U.S. Congress.

For an example of the hopes aroused this year on the eve of May Day, click here.

Unfortunately, these high hopes and expectations did not become a reality on May Day 2017.

In Tucson, despite the strong hopes for a revival of the spirit of 2006, and despite a couple of months of extensive leafleting, a press conference, many PSAs (public service announcements) and interviews on radio and television, the turnout was not as large, or was about the same, as in the past few years. According to AZ Media, nearly 300 took part in the spirited march led by a “Calpolli” of Aztec dancers after an introductory speech by Isabel García, chair of the Coalición de Derechos Humanos, and brief comments by representatives of the South Side Workers Center, local Dreamers, and Jobs with Justice.

A similar reduced turnout was noted in many other parts of the United States—probably due to the failure to mobilize on the part of the official labor movement and other forces that have mobilized for May Day in previous years. Another factor may have been exhaustion on the part of many allies who went out into the streets in large numbers just two days earlier, on April 29, for the People’s Climate Justice actions. Not to be disregarded also were the intimidation and threats from the Trump administration and its repressive agencies built up by previous administrations, such as the “Dept. of Homeland Security,” Border Patrol, and ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement).

The Tucson march went from El Casino Ballroom parking lot in South Tucson, north on Sixth Avenue — the main drag in the mostly Chicano South Side of Tucson — to Armory Park on the edge of the downtown area. A contingent of Veterans for Peace and Brown Berets served as peacekeepers for the march.

The local police, stung by bad press after getting caught on video knocking down and pepper-spraying peaceful demonstrators on February 16, escorted the marchers and handled traffic on one lane in the street for the mile-long march.

Emceeing the rally, both at El Casino and Armory Park, were Eduardo Quintana, former president of Machinists Local 933 in Tucson, Najima Rainey of Tucson Black Lives Matter, and Sandy Ochoa, formerly of SEIU and currently with “Mi Familia Vota,” a community action and voter registration group that concentrates on signing up Spanish-speaking voters.

Fred Yamashita, president of the Pima Area Labor Federation—the local AFL-CIO equivalent of a central labor council—greeted all the labor forces present, including SEIU, Teachers, Steelworkers, Machinists, IBEW (electrical workers), IATSE (theater and stage workers), UFCW (food and commercial workers), Teamsters, and others. Yamashita explained, “The attacks on labor are growing, and labor too must fight back. We need a gut check. We need to straighten up our own house. You see, it has been reported that 36–40% of union members voted for Donald Trump.”

The program went smoothly, with speakers from half a dozen endorsing and sponsoring organizations, and a poetry reading by a member of MEChA. a Mechista named Genesis. MEChA stands for Movimiento Estudiantil de Chicanos de Aztlán. Joel the rapper ( a young man from El Salvador) gave a powerful presentation with music and hip-hop rapping, Joel is with LUPE, an immigrant rights organization whose leader Edward, from the Dominican Republic, also gave a powerful speech. Dancers and poets from Barrio Minds shook the audience, as did the highly skilled band Santa Pachita.

One of the speakers whose message was particularly moving and disturbing, arousing strong expressions of sympathy and solidarity, was Linda Robles of the Environmental Justice Working Group, an organization of mainly South Side mothers whose children and families have been poisoned by chemicals in the South Tucson groundwater, toxic chemicals that came from the aircraft and weapons-making industry, primarily Raytheon, the infamous manufacturer of missiles and drones, but the poisoned chemicals also came from the Tucson Airport Authority and the U.S. Air Force at Davis-Monthan air base. Linda Robles called for the government to buy out the homes of families whose water has been poisoned and pay for their relocation to a safer place.

A possible disruption by a notorious right-wing racist, who provoked a bad confrontation and police violence at Armory Park in 2006, was successfully avoided this year.

It was a highly diverse crowd of marchers and rally attendees, young and old, Black, Brown, and Euro (“white”), female, male, and LGBTQ. The list of nearly 50 sponsoring and endorsing groups in the Tucson May Day Coalition was read out from the stage, as many of those groups tended their booths or tables, nestled in the shade of Armory Park’s trees as protection from southern Arizona’s unrelenting hot sun.

No Platform for Double-Talking Politicians

In the process of building the 2017 May Day March and Rally, a partial gain was won for those who are fed up with capitalism’s two-party Demo-publican shell game. A majority at the May Day planning meetings voted not to have any politicians on the stage at this year’s rally. That decision held firm despite attempts to have Democrat Rep. Raul Grijalva appear on stage. Grijalva voted for the Congressional bill that, under Obama in 2016,set up a colonial board, misnamed PROMESA (an unpromising “promise”), which is now ruling with arbitrary authority over Puerto Rico, trying to impose austerity on that island for the benefit of hedge-fund creditors, an attempt being resisted now especially by the youth of Puerto Rico, most prominently at the University in San Juan.

Grijalva supposedly represents the Mexican-American community in southern Arizona. What is needed is solidarity between two communities being victimized by U.S. imperialism: the Puerto Rican community & the Mexican-American.

Central to the successful organizing of this year’s May Day event was a group of Tucson Socialists, including Eduardo Q., Matt S., Tex S., Ethan B., Jerry B, and the author of these lines, along with the indispensable help of a visitor from Oregon, Ann M. The Tucson Socialists played a similar role in organizing the march and rallies on Jan. 30 this year under the name of Tucson Occupy Inauguration Coalition.

A factor contributing to the lower turnout in Tucson in 2017 may have been the failure of the organizing group to coalesce from the beginning around the call for “No work, No School, No Buy, No Shop,” not making it clear that this was a “Huelga,” a strike. It was not uncommon to hear people say, “Sorry I couldn’t make the march; I had to work today.”

But then, for the past many decades in this country we have not had strong social support for strikes. Our working class organizations have only sporadically supported striking workers. Along with Fight For 15 (who were striking coast to coast), there were a few union and nonunion workers organizations who went full throttle to organize walkouts. But in general, this year’s May Day showed that immigrant workers and their allies are not yet where they were in 2006 and feel their situation is more precarious.

In communties across the country, there were reports of many smaller marches, picket lines, and walkouts on May Day, organized in particular by Movimiento Cosecha. This is a possible sign of bigger things to come. Although the highest hopes for May Day 2017 were not realized, we should still keep our hopes up. Leon Trotsky rightly quoted a Latin proverb on New Year’s Day 1900, at the beginning of the twentieth century, when the cruel and oppressive rule of the Romanov tsars seemed imperturbable and unchallengeable: “Dum spiro spero.” The equivalent English saying is, “Where there’s life there’s hope.” And where the struggle of the working class in all its diversity persists worldwide, the hope for the better world that is possible does not fade.