Guest Op-ed Our May Day Message: We Will Not Be Divided

By Antonio Amaya, Gladys Vega and Milagros Barreto

Just a few days ago, we saw the power of workers standing together. Stop & Shop employees represented by UFCW Local 1445 went on strike to protect their income and push back against extreme cuts to benefits. The people of Massachusetts stood with them. And soon they had a fair contract.

Many employers want to divide us. So does the Trump administration, which has tried to split America’s working class in half: native-born against immigrants. If they succeed, we might miss their attacks on labor rights, consumer protections or our social safety net.

But it’s not going to work. We’re smarter than that.

Yesterday, on International Workers’ Day, thousands of us took to the streets together in a massive show of strength and unity: labor leaders and immigrant activists, workers born and raised right here in Eastie, and people from Latin America and all over the world who’ve made this their home.

We carried signs that proclaimed our common interests: Protect worker safety and the right to organize. End wage theft and worker abuse. Protect public education. And because immigrant rights are workers’ rights, too: Protect DACA and Temporary Protected Status (TPS). And stop local officials’ collaboration with Immigration & Customs Enforcement.

It’s a tradition we’ve been proud to uphold for two decades. Every year for May Day, the immigrant communities of Everett, Chelsea and East Boston join together for an hours-long march and rally to send a powerful message to the world: We stand together with workers in more than 80 countries who are out on the streets demanding justice, dignity and respect in the workplace and the community at large.

It is true that workers are better off today than a few generations ago – or in some of the countries that our members came from. But in recent decades, conditions in many workplaces have actually declined. And even in modern times, we continue to fight for labor rights. There is still a wide socioeconomic gap that separates the working class from the rich – and that gap is widening. Corporate greed is rampant, and white supremacy and corruption enable it to thrive.

This is why it’s so important to honor the enormous battles that workers are waging in Massachusetts, across our nation and around the world. Every day, they stand up for dignity and respect, for income security, for an end to exploitation and wage theft. And at the same time, many of those same activists are fighting just to keep their families together and in America.

Yesterday we marched with countless TPS holders who, after decades in this country, face the prospect of deportation as soon as next January. And we marched with undocumented workers whose status forces them to serve as subcontractors, highly vulnerable to abuse and wage theft.

We’ll say it again: Immigrant rights are workers’ rights. And in a state where 1 in 5 workers is foreign-born, and key unions are powered by immigrants, workers’ rights are very much immigrant rights.

They can try to divide us. They won’t succeed. We stand together – indivisible – against hate and bigotry, and for justice and dignity for all. See you next May Day!

Antonio Amaya is executive director of La Comunidad, Inc. Gladys Vega is executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative. Milagros Barreto is coordinator of the Immigrant Worker Center at MassCOSH. The three organizations jointly lead the May 1st Coalition.

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