A diverse group of more than 100 people streamed from the United Steelworkers headquarters on the Boulevard of the Allies at 6:30 Monday night so they could carry their May Day message to the damp streets of Downtown Pittsburgh.
With drums and a tambourine providing a beat, they marched down Stanwix Street to Fifth Avenue chanting alternately, “Get up, get down, Pittsburgh is a union town” and “Don’t give in to racist fears, immigrants are welcome here.”
The “Workers’ Struggles Have No Borders” May Day rally and march brought together labor and immigrant concerns — they are one and the same, said Jessica Rios Viner, president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement — on what’s also known as International Workers’ Day.
LCLAA organized the event with the Pittsburgh chapter of Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, Casa San Jose and the Thomas Merton Center.
Viner said all workers face exploitation in a “broken capitalist system where corporations abuse their powers, break the law and get away with it.”
Abuses include people in power holding visas as retaliation, she said.
Viner noted the importance of immigrant work — in fact, the country was built on the backs of immigrants, she said.
“In American society, if immigrants suddenly walked out of their jobs, everything would be paralyzed,” she said. “We move this country and do the jobs no one wants and face racism and discrimination just because our roots trace back to stolen places, or because we look, sound, pray or love differently.”
Immigrants will continue to fight to be respected, she said.
Other speakers discussed the need for unions, especially in underrepresented communities.
The right to organize and form unions must be exercised, said Carl Redwood of the Pittsburgh Black Worker Center. “We know that a lot of our family members now, particularly younger folks, don’t have anybody in their family from the union,” he said. “That’s different than it was 30 years ago. So we really have to promote unions … to get Black community folks to publicly come out in support for unions.”
May Day, he said, provides an opportunity for workers to “renew our struggle to create a future for all of us, a socialist future. Reclaim May Day. People before profit.”
MAN-E of 1Hood Media told the crowd he’s been a full-time laborer since age 16, “building houses I could never afford to live in and commercial buildings the owners don’t want me in. But I’m proud of the work that I do, that a lot of us do.”
He reminded everyone that May Day was born out of the struggles and hardships of the working class who began to rise up for better working conditions, wages and basic human rights.
During the rally, members of the Pittsburgh Labor Choir led the crowd in several songs, including a number that began “Sign me up for the union” to the tune of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Choir members then brought everyone together for renditions of “We Shall Not Be Moved” in both Spanish and English.
Other speakers included Chris Caras, director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh; Erin Jones, pastor of Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community; Sofia Ramirez, community member of Casa San Jose; Steve Mellon, striking Post-Gazette journalist; and Rabbi Jamie Gibson, emeritus rabbi of Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill.