NEW YORK — May First, International Labor Day, is the most important date for workers in the entire world, or, more precisely, in almost the entire world, because, as we know, it is not officially celebrated in the United States.
This will not keep thousands of workers, men and women, immigrants and non-immigrants, with papers or without them, from marching that day, shoulder to shoulder, down the streets of the main cities, calling for better jobs and better working conditions, for a stop to deportations and for a fair immigration reform.
The reality, however, is not encouraging for the workers or the immigrants.
On one hand, immigration reform is near death and the deportations continue, despite the promises. On the other, things are not better for the workers who suffer unemployment, an unbridled social and economic inequality, and an exploitation that is expressed in slave wages.
A study on the disparity of wages in the fast-food industry recently done by Demos, a public policy organization based in New York City, makes clear the extent of the abuse and exploitation of labor.
According to the study, the presidents (CEOs) of fast-food corporations — junk-food, if you prefer — received an average salary of $23.8 million in 2013, more that four times the average in 2000.
Meanwhile, the workers — thousands of whom are Latino immigrants — receive miserable wages, an average of $9.09 per hour, or less than $19,000 a year for a full-time worker.
In other words, the salary of the president of the corporation, is no less than 1,200 times greater than the salary of an average worker. An obscene comparison, no doubt.
These harsh realities make the marches and shows of worker solidarity with the immigrants an even greater expression of support for them. But, as the labor movement understands, solidarity is a two-way street and the unions also benefit from the massive attendance of immigrants to these demonstrations and from their important participation in unions.
After all, the lack of opportunities and the offensive social and economic inequality that prevail in the country don’t ask anybody where he was born or what his immigration situation is.
In that spirit, the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), the largest national coalition in defense of the rights of immigrants, last week announced the launching of its campaign “Stop Separating Families.” The campaign, FIRM says, represents an escalation in its tactics, about which it will offer greater details in the coming weeks.
For now, on May 1, FIRM will add its enthusiasm to the labor movement and stage activities in various cities — New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Miami, among them — demanding respect for the rights of the workers and the immigrants.
“We have said it many times and we say it again: we shall not let up until the President and Congress take concrete steps to halt the separation of families,” said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), part of FIRM. “While politicians in Washington remain motionless, the immigrant parents and their children live in continuous fear of separation.”
Choi and his group face a long period of intense work, because, while Congress resumed its tasks last Monday (April 28) after a two-week vacation, nobody believes it will take the concrete steps demanded by Choi on matters of immigration reform or minimum-wage increase.
For his part, Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the country, expressed his solidarity with the claims of the immigrants. At a meeting with a group of activists in Washington, the labor leader promised that the AFL-CIO will fight to stop the deportations once and for all.
“Immigrants shouldn’t have to feel that their community is being attacked and besieged the whole time,” Trumka said.
No, the situation is not the best in the country for workers or immigrants. But this May First both contingents will march to demand their rights, fused in the hope that someday they will achieve their objective of a fairer society for all.