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Labor Day rallies for immigrant rights
Taking a stand for all workers' rights

September 8, 2006 | Page 11

THOUSANDS OF immigrant rights supporters returned to the streets in mobilizations around the country on Labor Day weekend.

In Chicago, activists traveled nearly 50 miles on foot to take the message of justice for immigrants to the doorstep of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a chief supporter of anti-immigrant legislation in Congress.

In Los Angeles, thousands turned out for two marches in solidarity with those facing deportation and making the connection between immigrant rights and workers' rights.

In other cities and towns across the country, many more rallied to the call for equal rights for immigrants.

-- In Chicago, one of the most inspiring actions, the Immigrant Workers' Justice Walk, kicked off in the Chinatown neighborhood on September 1. A crowd of 400--including groups of Latinos, Asians and other immigrants, as well as members of local unions and churches--sent off marchers on the beginning of a four-day, nearly 50-mile march through the city's western suburbs.

According to Jorge Mújica of Chicago's March 10 Movement, which initiated the march, the length was chosen to represent the distance that many undocumented immigrants are forced to travel when they enter the U.S. across punishing desert terrain.

The culmination of the march came on Labor Day, when as many as 3,000 marchers and activists from around the area gathered in Batavia, Ill., outside Hastert's office.

Unfortunately, groups of racists, including members of the Minuteman Project, turned out to confront marchers along the march route--including a collection of more than 100 right-wing counterprotesters who showed up in Batavia.

But for participants like Gonzalo Enriquez, an immigrant from Mexico, taking part in the march was about demanding equal rights--and the opportunity to become a citizen. "I have been in this country 20 years. About nine years ago, in 1997, I applied for residency," he told Socialist Worker. "About five members of my family put in our applications, and almost all of us are still waiting."

-- In Los Angeles, approximately 3,500 people marched through downtown to City Hall September 2, demanding amnesty for all undocumented immigrants. The march was called in solidarity with Elvira Arellano, a Chicago woman facing deportation who has taken sanctuary in a church.

The march was led by a contingent of women to the chant of "Mujeres unida, jamás será vencida" (Women united, will never be defeated), while carrying a large banner calling for equality and justice for all. "We all take the risk she has," one marcher said of Arellano. "We all live in fear."

Two days later, another 1,000 turned out for a Labor Day march from the Longshore Workers' hall in Wilmington, Calif., to Banning Park, near the ports of Long Beach.

The Teamsters, International Longshore and Warehouse Union, United Teachers Los Angeles and many other unions joined with the newly formed National Alliance for Immigrants' Rights to call for a moratorium on deportations and amnesty for the undocumented.

The march highlighted an organizing drive by the Teamsters to which aims to unionize the almost exclusively Latino (both documented and undocumented) workforce that makes "just in time" deliveries to the ports.

As Nativo Lopez, president of the Mexican American Political Association, told the crowd, "You can't talk about immigration reform without talking about labor, and you can't talk about the labor movement without talking about immigration. It's one in the same."

When a group of approximately 20 Minutemen tried to disrupt the rally, marchers surrounded them, chanting "Union! Union! Union!" and "Racists go home" in both English and Spanish--until police were forced to escort the racists out of the park.

-- In San Francisco, as many as 5,000 turned out for a march from Justin Herman Plaza to the Civic Center. The march and rally included large contingents of Asian Americans and Filipino students from several schools, and favorite chants included "No one is illegal--we are the people."

-- In Madison, Wis., 300 turned out, marching from Brittingham Park, to the city's Labor Temple, where the annual "Labor Fest" was taking place. Workers from Star Packaging in Whitewater, Wis., arrested by Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Whitewater police, and under threat of deportation, spoke, calling for solidarity with other workers and for the government to not split up their families.

-- In Portland, Ore., a September 3 rally sponsored by VOZ Workers' Rights Education Project, Portland Jobs with Justice, PCUN farm workers' union and others brought out 1,500. Protesters chanted "Queremos amnestia, ahora, ahora!" (We want amnesty, now, now!) and "The workers united, will never be defeated."

-- In Burlington, Vt., 500 people turned out to celebrate Labor Day with a march and rally for worker rights, better health care, fair contracts and immigrant rights. The struggle against racist deportations was highlighted by a speaker from Immigrant Rights Vermont, who read a message of solidarity to the crowd from an undocumented dairy worker.

-- In Providence, R.I., 300 turned out to support workers' rights and immigrant rights at Brown University at a rally organized by a coalition of labor and immigrant rights organizations. In Greensboro, N.C., 200 people gathered in the Bethel A.M.E. church in for a rally, followed by a unity march on Labor Day organized by the Guilford Country Coalition Against Intolerable Racism. And in Winston-Salem, N.C., more than 100 people gathered downtown to support immigrant rights.

Marshall Braun, Matt Ivey, Sarah Knopp, Elizabeth Lalasz, Ben Lassiter, Chris Murphy, David Rapkin, Jim Ramey, Kyle Schmaus, Robert Skeels and Alessandro Tinonga contributed to this report.

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