Monday May 1, May Day—or International Workers’ Day—kicked off in the Portland Park blocks this year.
Many of the city’s participants gathered in Shemanski Park, and others attended the “Day Without Immigrants” rally outside of Smith Memorial Student Union. The crowd included students and community members, as well as union members from various unions within PSU and the community.
PSU Community brings it back to education
“I’ve been involved in community organizing for years at PSU, and it’s really hard to bring people together even around pretty basic issues, like keeping tuition affordable,”said rally organizer, PSU student, and International Socialist Organization member D. Mazuz. Often, students can get too caught up with racial and ethnic differences to join together according to Mazuz..
Organizers signed community members up for a new Emergency Response Network, intended to mobilize people in the case that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement attempt to detain students or workers on or around campus.
“Over the last few years at PSU, I think there’s been a bit of a divide between a minority of student activists and the larger PSU community. While we’ve seen grassroots politics grow dramatically in this country since Trump got elected, we haven’t seen quite the same level of growth on campus,” Mazuz said.
The rally was endorsed by local groups such as 15 Now PSU, the Muslim Students Association, the ISO, and the Socialist Alternative as well as unions like the PSU Faculty Association (PSUFA) and PSU American Association of University Professors (PSU AAUP).
“Specifically, our union at PSU organizes for dignified and fair economic compensation of our highly skilled work, and to protect the academic freedom to teach, and do research, free from those with political and economic power who are at times tempted to use that power to place limits on the pursuit of knowledge at the university,” said president of the PSU AAUP Jose Padin, a professor of sociology at PSU.
“I think unions are important for any working person because they [can] provide some non-economic benefits. Just connections to other human beings, which humanizes a workplace. Otherwise the workplaces be drudgery and be alienating so we humanize it that way. But also because as individuals none of us really has much power to change our working conditions. But collectively we do,” Padin said.
In 2014, OPB reported that union membership was at 15.9 percent, compared to 38.9 percent in 1964. Across the US, union membership has declined.
“Unions have fundamentally a hard time conveying to workers what their value proposition is, how they’re really going to make workers’ lives better,” Glenn Spencer of the US Chamber of Commerce told the New York Times in 2013.
An article in The Atlantic from 2015 stated that workers in unions were 28 percent more likely to have employer-provided insurance and 54 percent more likely to have a pension. While overall union membership is declining, Latinx and African-American membership is on the rise.
May Day in Shemanski
“A Day Without Immigrants” soon joined the official May Day gathering at Shemanski park, where booths from different community organizations lined the square as Portland Aztec Dancers put on an almost hour-long and education dance performance for a small crowd.
The performance was followed by speakers who emphasized immigrant rights and workers’ rights.
“I feel like it would be wonderful if we could have a daylong fair rather than it have to just be a march, but a fair to celebrate and to have booths for our community organizations,” Padin said.
Later in the afternoon, the crowd left Shemanski Park for a permitted protest which was forcibly dispersed by police with the use of flash grenades.
According to OPB, police reported that projectiles had been thrown at them by protesters sporting “black bloc” attire , including unopened cans of Pepsi. Several store windows were broken, and a police vehicle vandalized.
Twenty five protesters were arrested and the permit was revoked, the Portland Police Bureau declaring the event a riot.
“While I don’t agree with how this small group of protesters acted, I think it’s important to be clear that the police instigated this situation. They tried to revoke the permit for a peaceful march that was in the middle of its route downtown, and clear over a thousand people off the street onto the sidewalks,” Mazuz stated.
“The actions of the Black Bloc aren’t intended to win over larger numbers of people to the struggle. In truth, those who participate in the Black Bloc seem to view the majority of people with disdain. But it’s going to take more of us, not fewer, in the streets and organizing in our communities and workplaces to fight back against Trump’s attacks,” The Socialist Worker said in a statement on their website several days later.
The statement also voiced concern over the amount of children and undocumented immigrants in the crowd that were put at risk by the property destruction committed by blac bloc protestors.
The first May Day occurred in 1896, when 350,000 workers went on strike to advocate for an eight hour work week. In Haymarket Square, in Chicago IL, someone at a demonstration threw a bomb that resulted in the death of several police officers and protesters.
Eight anarchists were arrested for the violence, and four of them were later put to death for the
crimes. According to International Workers of the World, three were present at the Haymarket Square affair.
Today, May Day is considered an official holiday in 66 countries, but the US is not one of them. Rather, every first monday of Sept.. Americans celebrate Labor Day. Labor Day was made an official holiday by President Grover Cleveland,and commonly commemorates the final days of summer.
In 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower declared May 1 in the US to be Law Day, as proposed by the American Bar Association (ABA). The ABA describes the day as “A national day set aside to celebrate the rule of law. Law Day underscores how law and the legal process have contributed to the freedoms that all Americans share.”
“We have labor day but it doesn’t have the same meaning,” Padin said, “I wish we could make kind of a holiday, a national holiday for the dignity of work more central and more salient to our identity…Our national identity in the US lies elsewhere, it’s not in recognizing the dignity of work.”