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March on May Day

Tomorrow is May Day, or International Workers Day, a labor holiday celebrated across the world, but not here, where it originated.

Here’s May Day’s backstory. In 1884 the nascent AFL officially adopted the eight-hour work day as a central goal. The proposal read “Eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1, 1886.” The set date of the new labor federation’s ambitious demand garnered much media attention, which in turn resulted in massive rallies across the country on the appointed date (and precipitated the bloody Haymarket Massacre). Seven years later Grover Cleveland created Labor Day after another round of bloody state repression, hoping the new holiday would undermine the radical-oriented May Day celebrations. And it worked.

But while May Day is no longer America’s recognized labor holiday, immigrant rights activists have been working overtime to turn it into a day to recognize their signature issue (which is fitting, immigration and labor rights have always been closely tied together, even when nativist US unions have spurned immigrant workers).

The last time immigration rallies dominated the news was May Day 2006, when millions of people took to the streets in support of the cause. Since then immigrant rights have faded from the headlines as other considerations, including healthcare reform, the financial collapse, and our endless foreign engagements have distracted both the governing class and the media.

But in the last couple weeks immigration issues have come back with a vengeance, as Arizona passed a breathtakingly draconian bill—that basically calls for massive racial profiling—and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promised to get reform passed this year.

After a year of disillusionment immigrant rights activists hope to get a massive turn out for this years rallies and marches (which are basically assured media coverage after all the headline grabbing news recently). Check out Reform Immigration For America’s “Find A March” page, which has almost one hundred actions listed. Find the one closest to you and march in solidarity against injustice.

My one other May Day suggestion: Read Nelson Lichtenstein’s 2006 essay on that year’s mass immigration rallies.

Jake Blumgart is a freelance reporter-researcher living in Philadelphia and a former Campus Progress staff writer. His work has been published by the American Prospect, Alternet, the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Stranger, and the New York Daily News. Follow him on Twitter @jblumgart.

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