Hundreds of labor rights advocates swarmed into Washington Square Park for International Workers Day Sunday, chanting and lugging signs as they called for protections and a pathway to citizenship for immigrant workers.
The rally underscored the importance of immigrant workers and the essential efforts they brought forward throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City’s darkest days. While others were able to shelter in place, advocates reminded the city that these workers kept the Big Apple moving through delivering and cooking food, washing laundry, and so much more—but their sacrifice was not immediately rewarded with pandemic relief until the passage of the Excluded Workers Fund (and still many have not received payments due to the sheer amount of workers left behind.)
Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez held onto a white carnation, a symbol of purity, while she rallied for immigrants, not just in New York City but across the nation.
“We are here to fight for our workers because our workers fight for us, that’s what May Day is all about. We have to remind people, the folks in power, and the folks across this country that working people are immigrants in New York City and across the country. We have to remind ourselves of how far we have come, and we need to talk about what there is left to go. What we have to do ahead,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
At the Washington Square Arch, hundreds of advocates, labor workers, and supporters held signs reading “End deportation,” “We are essential, not disposable,” and “Our labor saved lives.”
Several workers discussed their experience immigrating from another country for a better life, only to face hurdles as they attempt to take care of themselves and their families—like Victor who hails from Africa and is proud to call the United States his home.
“The United States, this is a country that is a home for citizens of the world. We are the citizens of the world, and for immigration we demand nothing less than citizenship. The pathway to citizenship is the right thing for us to be able to effectively contribute our quota into developing the United States,” Victor said.
In addition to immigrant contributions going unnoticed, workers talked about the inability to speak up for change and protections due to a fear of deportation.
Angelika, a member of the Amazon Labor Union, both celebrated the victory of her union but also called out the fear immigrants face when it comes to demanding protection.
“Amazon workers shouldn’t be afraid to ask for better working conditions because of their immigration status,” Angelika said.
Advocates stepped off from Washington Square Park and made their way through Lower Manhattan to Foley Square, pausing midway to perform a “die-in,” where protesters laid in the middle of a roadway to emphasize their importance to communities in this country.
Senator Jessica Ramos, who has been a strong advocate for labor workers says that more work needs to be done, including passing the Excluded No More legislation which would provide immigrant workers permanent protection (such as access to unemployment benefits).
“This May Day may be one of the most significant in my time serving the labor movement. A multi-racial, mutli-ethnic groundswell is returning May Day to its roots: a recognition that all working people share a common cause. Our ability to secure recognition for Excluded Workers, to win union elections where it is supposed to be impossible, and to unify organized labor around the unique struggles of immigrant workers is made stronger by recognizing that every worker has more in common with each other than they do with the forces that keep their wages low and their hours long,” said Queens state Senator Jessica Ramos, chair of the Senate Labor Committee in the NY State Senate.
The event culminated at Foley Square with a performance by La Manga Band.
Additional reporting by Adrian Childress.