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Labor on the move - 100s rally for workers’ rights

Hundreds of activists clothed in royal blue t-shirts or red scarves and black jeans marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to join several thousand New Yorkers demonstrating in Union Square on May Day for immigrant rights, fair wages and equal funding for public education.

“This is a good day to remember that most of the things we value in public policy like minimum wage were won as a result of popular struggle,” said Andrew Friedman, co-executive director of Make the Road New York. “I’m happy to be here today continuing the tradition.”

Several Brooklyn-based groups including Make the Road New York and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) met at Cadman Plaza last week to peacefully demonstrate over a variety of labor-related issues as two-dozen NYPD community affairs officers looked on. An international workers holiday celebrated to commemorate the fight for the eight-hour work day, the demonstrations have been shifting towards immigration rights and fair wages campaigns in the past few years

“We’re here today for equal rights for all workers and to organize,” said Billy Randel, a truck driver and IWW representative. “The vitality of immigrant workers is going to help us reclaim May Day as a labor holiday.”

The IWW’s membership consists of truck drivers and food industry workers, particularly restaurants and wholesalers. In 2004, an IWW was organized at Starbucks Coffee Shops in New York City, and several Starbucks employees were present at the rally.

“We’re here for equal rights for all people including immigrants,” said Daniel Gross, an IWW representative and Starbucks employee.

Make the Road New York has been participating in May Day demonstrations for the past nine years. Its younger members said they were protesting to help immigrants pursue educational opportunities and pressure elected officials to create more opportunities for them.

“We’re here to help promote the fact that immigrants, undocumented students deserve the right to go to college,” said Adilka Pimentel, a youth organizer with Make the Road and emcee for the Cadman Plaza rally.

Azeen Kermati, a Make the Road school partnership coordinator at the Pan American International High School in Queens, observed a difference in the reactions to May Day between the students who were children of immigrants or immigrants themselves and those who are native-born.

“For the students and teachers we have from Queens who are immigrants, it resonates a little closer to home,” Kermati said. “May 1 is a huge international movement for immigrant workers. To have something to identify with here is an opportunity to really connect with people and show solidarity.”

Make the Road members hoped that the May Day march would draw attention to issues regarding equal opportunity in education, reducing deportation, and expanding the city budget for educational services. The members urged Mayor Michael Bloomberg to restore funding for legal and educational services in the city’s public schools and the leaders of state colleges to charge in-state tuition for all students regardless of their immigration status.

Nieves Padilla, an organizer with Make the Road New York, who has been running a fair wages campaign for businesses on Knickerbocker Avenue, the march expressed the critical importance of labor rights, regardless of where the workers are from.

“We bring a benefit to the economy of this country and it is important that all immigrants come together and fight for justice,” Padilla said. “We need to stop the raids and deportations that destroy immigrant families. We need respect for all.”

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