Workers and Immigrants Gear Up for May 1 Protests

“Dreamer” Yatziri Tovar at the May Day protest announcement. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

“Let me tell you something,” said Edison Alvarado before ending a conversation about the complicated future of his job. “I want to call on people regarding May 1. On that day, a national strike will take place against President Trump to protest his view of Hispanics and the way he is destroying families.”

Alvarado is one of the 31 Latino workers who are waiting in anguish for April 21, the deadline to present paperwork proving that they are authorized to work for an audit that the Department of Homeland Security is performing on Tom Cat Bakery.

Ever since this situation became known, said the Ecuador native, the company’s employees have been showered with shows of support and solidarity on the part of other workers, politicians, community organizers and lawyers.

The situation of these workers – who have fought tirelessly since they were told on March 15 that they needed to present form I-9 –  the ordeal being endured by José Pérez, a dairy farmworker who has been detained in a Buffalo prison for a month, and the case of Carlos Hernández – the manager of Mexican restaurant La Fiesta in West Frankfort, Illinois – become the stories and the faces of a political moment that the immigrant and working class populations are experiencing as an ongoing aggression, one against which they are willing to stand up.

For that reason, a large number of immigrant aid and support groups, as well as workers’ unions, are organizing a day of protest to resist President Trump’s policies. Events are being organized across New York City for this national day of action, which will end with a march in Manhattan’s Foley Square at 5 p.m. Organizers are expecting to mobilize nearly 50,000 people, and thousands more in the rest of the state.

On Monday, during the announcement of the call to demonstrate, New York Immigration Coalition Executive Director Steve Choi explained that this is the time to take the streets the way it was done in 2006, when the people marched in cities across the country to demand immigration reform. Those demonstrations ended with a day of boycott, also held on May 1, a date when most of the world – but not the U.S. – celebrates International Workers’ Day.

Choi condemned the fact that current President Donald Trump led a racist and xenophobic campaign and “is now doubling-down his actions by demonizing Mexicans and Muslims.” The activist said that no one in Washington “is defending us, and it is time for us to defend ourselves.”

A Dreamer’s call

Yatziri Tovar, a “Dreamer” working with the organization Make the Road, said that Trump is separating and “terrorizing” families like hers, detaining Dreamers like herself, and that he wants to “build a wall we don’t need.” Tovar, who arrived in the U.S. when she was two years old and says that she feels like a “head-to-toe New Yorker,” called on the public – regardless of their place of origin, religion or beliefs – to join the march and resist.

“On May 1, 50,000 of us are going to say no to the wall at the border and to the millions of dollars that he wants to spend to recklessly enforce anti-immigrant policy,” said Tovar, shortly before demanding Congress’ approval of a budget that reflects “our priorities.” The organizers are clear on this point: They do not want a penny from public monies to pay for the wall or for unfair anti-immigrant actions.

In a solemn tone, Tovar added that, as New Yorkers, “we demand dignity and respect, and that is why we are going to step out together on May 1. We will rise up and show that we will resist and that we do not live in fear.”

Sean Campbell, president of Teamsters Local 813, said that an attack on one person “is an attack on all of us.” He also criticized the White House and Congress for their actions to roll back possible improvements to labor issues such as overtime pay, eliminating state contractors’ certifications to prove compliance with federal rules and relaxing regulations requiring reports on work-related illnesses and injuries.

Shirley Aldebol, from 32BJ SEIU, told El Diario that the Tom Cat Bakery situation is worrisome because, when the doors of the workplace are opened up to immigration policy, “people live in a lot of fear.”

Before that day comes, Alvarado admits that he and his co-workers – who make a significant amount of the bread offered at restaurants across the city and available for purchase at stores such as Citarella – are going through complicated days but are “still in the struggle.” Many of them are parents, and some have worked in the Long Island City, Queens, bakery for over 20 years. Alvarado said that the conversations they are having often revolve around receiving at least some compensation, “just so we don’t leave empty-handed after all this time.” Whether they keep their job is not in the hands of the company, even though some of the lawyers are exploring all legal options.

Depending on the April 21 outcome, May 1 may find the workers with their years-long dream broken. However, their desire to defend it will be stronger than ever.

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