Immigration and workers’ rights melded into one cause on Tuesday as hundreds of people marked May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day, at various protests in Manhattan.
One march from Union Square to Washington Square Park, funneling protesters from one rally to another, temporarily shut down traffic on part of University Place while police cleared people from the street.
While marching between the two parks, Democratic Socialists of America member Ian McMahan said he joined DSA after President Donald Trump’s election in 2016.
“The theme today is protection for immigrants, but May Day is generally a worker’s holiday,” McMahan, 78, said. “The most important labor issue today is the right-to-work laws which are an attempt to eviscerate the union movement.”
In Washington Square Park, Audu Kadiri, 40, joined about 500 people demanding better rights for immigrant workers.
Kadiri, a community organizer for African Communities Together, said his workers are often afraid of being targeted by Immigration Customs and Enforcement.
“Today, we just expect a lot of people to celebrate workers. One day of 365 is not much,” he said of the May Day events.
A crowd of roughly 200 also gathered in Union Square but the impassioned people, with music blasting and protest signs held high in the air, often varied on what they were protesting.
Imani Henry, a member of the Workers World Party who helped plan the protest, led the group in a chant of “long live Palestine, free, free Palestine,” as a couple of people sold anti-Trump buttons nearby.
“In the rest of the world this is a holiday,” he later said, adding that the country needs to work harder to revive a workers’ rights movement. “I’m proud, I’m standing with every single worker across the world today.”
The origins of May Day date to 1886, when around 300,000 workers across the United States staged a walkout to demand better conditions, including an eight-hour workday, according to the Industrial Workers of the World union.
“May 1 is an important date to assert the power of the working class,” said Nina Macaphinlac, 25, a spokeswoman for the International League of Peoples’ Struggle, which organized the Union Square rally. “It’s working people that should dictate how society goes.”
Though the rallies tend to be rooted in the fight for fair labor practices, some of this year’s events took on a more political tone, with organizers targeting corporate greed, immigrant deportation and Trump’s policies.
Standing amid the crowd in Union Square was 25-year-old Shirley Capa. The Bronx native said she was rallying in support of immigrant rights.
“I came because I have the luxury of being here and if I get into trouble, I won’t be deported,” she said.
Capa said her cousin, Luis Marin, is in the process of being deported to Ecuador. He was detained by Immigration Customs and Enforcement agents on Long Island and sent to a detention center in Texas, she said.
Earlier Tuesday, gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon joined immigration activists who marched from Battery Park to Wall Street to protest against several major financial institutions.
Organizers allege the banks are complicit in the mass incarceration of Americans and family separation of immigrants because of their investments in private prisons and detention companies.
“This #MayDay, we are sending a notice to Wall Street: Stop funding Trump’s prison policy and backing his racist agenda. No one should be profiting off of human misery,” Nixon tweeted.
A workshop at 5 p.m. in Times Square, meanwhile, taught folks how to make their own wearable protest signage.
Last year’s May Day protests resulted in 32 arrests around the city. Though there were no reports of arrests in New York City as of Tuesday evening, police in Paris arrested over 200 people and used water cannon and tear gas against masked protesters who smashed shop windows and hurled petrol bombs, hijacking a planned peaceful May Day rally by labor unions.
With Max Parrott and Reuters