Just Above Sunset
May 7, 2006 - May Day in Los Angeles













Home | The Weird | Quotes





May Day 2006, Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles

"Immigrants and their supporters were gathering in cities across the country today for demonstrations and an economic boycott intended to show the impact the workers have on the nation's economy… The demonstrations took many forms and included people from a disparate number of countries, many of them in Latin America, but also from Asia and other parts of the world." – New York Times, Nationwide Immigrant Rallies Are Under Way, Monday, May 1, 2006

Hundreds of thousands gathered across the whole country on this Monday to celebrate "A Day Without Immigrants" - to demonstrate the importance of immigrants to our economy. As has been discussed elsewhere in these pages, the Senate is considering a bill that attempts to increase border security and offers citizenship to certain illegal immigrants, and the House has already passed a bill that would erect a giant fence on the border and would make illegal immigrants felons, and make those that help them in any way, even with shelter and medical assistance, or even a hot meal, criminals also. Our local Catholic archbishop, Roger Mahoney, has led protests of the House bill, the president sides with the Senate, while the "social conservatives" and "values" folks side with the House, and Lou Dobbs on CNN is waging a daily one-man jihad against anything but arresting and deporting the perhaps twelve million immigrants here without papers, and building that wall. The issue is hot. And people have taken to the streets.

Monday, May Day of 2006, there were massive marches in Los Angeles, one downtown in the morning, and a second took place in the evening. Between those two there was a massive march along Wilshire Boulevard, from MacArthur Park west to La Brea (site of the famous Tar Pits). That began at four in the afternoon, so the kids could stay in school and join in after classes.

These photographs are from the center of it all, Wilshire and Western, around three in the afternoon, as the crowds were gathering, the news crews were everywhere doing their "live remotes," and the police were rolling in - in their Crown Victoria squad cars, on motorcycles, and even on bicycles. There were closing off Wilshire Boulevard, the busiest urban corridor in the world.

But they knew this was not a hostile situation. The mood was downright genial and surprisingly welcoming. Folks mugged for the camera, people wanted to talk and share food, and everyone was actually happy.

This was a demonstration that seemed to be in support of the idea that there are millions now who, with great difficulty, made their way here to work and make something of themselves, and to support the families they loved, and participate in the American Dream, whatever that is. Yes, they did not follow the rules, but they do work hard, and seem in love with this country - and this May Day they and their supports wanted to point out the twelve million illegal immigrants are an important part of the economy, and would like a chance to become "legal" and not be branded as felons and sent away. They believe in this country, and are willing to start at the very bottom of the system. But they want you to know they really do want to be here, and participating in making this place better. It was oddly patriotic. The marchers all wore white shirts (no threat) and almost every flag was an American flag. There wasn't one Mexican flag anywhere, but there might have been later.

The police gathered in small groups and you could overhear them talking about their own families, or last night's amazing Lakers playoff win in the last microsecond of overtime, or trading notes on which mirrored sunglasses were the coolest (really, three of them did). The police on bicycles rode by in groups of fifteen or twenty, waving to the crowd and now and then trying to play tunes with their special whistles, which didn't work all that well, but made everyone laugh. This was going to be just basic crowd control, with a cooperative and pleasant crowd. No trouble - just lots of people.

Here's a shot of some of them. 

May Day 2006, Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles

And not everyone was from Mexico and parts south.

May Day 2006, Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles

May Day 2006, Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles

A little bit of the patriotism –

May Day 2006, Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles

Note the Anglo guy in the background.  He's not happy at all.

May Day 2006, Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles

The press –

May Day 2006, Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles

May Day 2006, Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles

Police presence –

May Day 2006, Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles

May Day 2006, Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles

May Day 2006, Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles

Businesses were closed, and a rare shot of Wilshire Boulevard absolutely empty in the middle of a Monday afternoon –

May Day 2006, Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles

May Day 2006, Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles

For a bit of history see The Roots of May Day, from Nelson Lichtenstein, posted at SLATE.COM the same say. Lichtenstein is a professor of history up the coast at UC Santa Barbara, where he directs the Center for Work, Labor, and Democracy.

Here's a bit of what he has to say -

... These May Day demonstrations and boycotts return the American protest tradition to its turn-of-the-20th-century ethnic proletarian origins - a time when, in the United States as well as in much of Europe, the quest for citizenship and equal rights was inherent in the fight for higher wages, stronger unions, and more political power for the working class.

Because today's marches are on a workday, they recall the mass strikes and marches that turned workers out of factories that convulsed America in the decades after the great railway strike of 1877, the first national work stoppage in the United States. Asserting their citizenship against the autocracy embodied by the big railroad corporations, the Irish and Germans of Baltimore and Pittsburgh burned roundhouses and fought off state militia in a revolt that frightened both the rail barons and the federal government. Hence the 19th-century construction of all those center-city National Guard armories, with rifle slits designed to target unruly crowds. The protesters wanted not only higher pay and a recognized trade union but a new birth of egalitarian freedom. Indeed, May Day itself, as an international workers holiday, arose out of a May 1, 1886, Chicago strike for the eight-hour workday. The fight for leisure - clearly lost today - was a great unifying aspiration of the immigrant workers movement a century ago with its slogan, "eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, eight hours for what we will."

The largest mobilization of immigrant workers in U.S. history occurred in 1919, when President Woodrow Wilson's rhetorical celebration of self-determination and "industrial democracy," or self-rule at the workplace, echoed across steel districts from Homestead, Pa., to Gary, Ind. Strike organizers printed their handbills in 15 different languages. Immigrant churches and working-class lodge halls served as soup kitchens. The strikers called the mounted police "Cossacks." All these eruptions, which would successfully Americanize millions of immigrants in the 1930s, blended trade unionism, ethnic self-consciousness, and the demand for full citizenship. That unity proved essential for a long season of New Deal hegemony. And that's why this spring's awakening of a new generation of immigrant working-class half-citizens holds such promise for liberals.

The last of these great labor-strike demonstrations came in 1947. On an April workday, the United Automobile Workers flooded Detroit's Cadillac Square with more than a quarter million of its members to protest congressional enactment of the Taft-Hartley Act, which curbed union strike power and disqualified radicals from labor leadership. Most laborites called Taft-Hartley a "slave labor law." Then as now, the leaders of the demonstration were divided over tactics. The left, and not just those oriented toward the Communists, wanted to shut down the factories so that American unions could deploy, as one top UAW officer put it, "the kind of political power which is most effective in Europe." More cautious unionists, led by UAW President Walter Reuther, sought a huge demonstration but one that began only after workers clocked out for the day. Capitalizing on these internal divisions, and on the early Cold War hostility to labor radicalism and political insurgency, the auto companies took their pound of flesh. They fired key militants and cut off the tradition of white, working-class strike demonstrations in industrial cities for the rest of the 20th century.

For our generation, as for the one before it, the idea that we might change the conditions of work life and the structure of politics has seemed either radical fantasy or Parisian self-indulgence. Celebrations of May Day, the holiday that embodies that imagined link, have been consigned to the most self-conscious and marginal radicals. In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed May 1 "Law Day" so as to snuff out any proletarian embers that might have continued to smolder through the Cold War.

The 1960s civil rights and anti-war movements kept their distance from workplace actions, which became the province of an increasingly stolid and constrained trade unionism. The protests of that era were almost always held on weekends. The 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech, took place on a sweltering Saturday afternoon. There were plenty of protest signs paid for by the union movement, but no factories shut down that day. The same is true of the big anti-war marches, and American feminists and gay-rights advocates have continued that tradition. The linkage between workplace protest and civil engagement has been broken - one reason that the boycotts and work stoppages today seem so novel and controversial.

When weekday work stoppages did take place, their marginality, and even alienation, from mainstream America was revealing. Arab workers put down their tools in June 1967 to protest U.S. support of Israel in the midst of the Six Day War. Millions of black workers left work when they learned of MLK's assassination on April 4, 1968, but black power efforts to use the strike to build a radical movement on the assembly lines largely failed in Detroit a year later. Today's marches and boycotts are restoring to May Day something of its old civic meaning and working-class glory. Even some of the most viciously anti-union employers of Latino labor, like Perdue, Cargill, and Tyson Foods, kept their factories closed. As in the crucial struggles that began more than a century ago, today's marches have forged a link among working-class aspiration, celebrations of ethnic identity, and insistence on full American citizenship. It's an explosive combination. And it could revive and reshape liberal politics in our time.

 

Perhaps so. So consider this image.

May Day 2006, Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles































 
 
 
 
Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
_______________________________________________

The inclusion of any text from others is quotation for the purpose of illustration and commentary, as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law.  See the Legal Notice Regarding Fair Use for the relevant citation.
 
Timestamp for this version of this issue below (Pacific Time) -

Counter added Monday, February 27, 2006 10:38 AM

STATISTICS