International Workers Day Rally at City Hall Demands Economic Justice

Protestors gathered at City Hall on Saturday to commemorate the struggles of the labor movement

Luca Dhagat

Yesterday on May 1st demonstrators held a march from Roosevelt Park to City Hall in commemoration of International Workers’ Day. 

Numbering around 300 from a variety of activist organizations and labor unions, the march was aimed towards calling attention to 3 central demands: affordable housing, compensation for essential workers, and the protection of undocumented immigrants.

The march in San Jose was by far not the only one happening. Protests in nearly every major city in the world happened this Saturday on what is a national holiday for nearly all countries, excluding the United States. The demonstrations are often joined by prominent leaders in the labor and social justice movements. The San Francisco demonstration, for example, hosted famous New Left activist and academic Angela Davis as a keynote speaker.

International Workers’ Day, also known as May Day, was initially started by labor unions as an international day of protest for the 8 hour workday. Although it has now expanded to represent a variety of social causes, it continues to fundamentally represent the struggle of the working class for economic justice.

May Day has its roots in Chicago. During an 1886 demonstration for labor rights, police officers attempted to break up the protest for several days. On May 4th, after a bomb went off that fatally wounded several people, police officers opened fire on the demonstrators. Although the culprit was never found, 4 protestors were executed, despite there being no evidence of their connection to the bombing. The government used this event, known as the Haymarket Square Riot, as justification to intensify their crackdown and repression of the early labor movement. Ever since 1891, international protests have marked May 1st in remembrance of this.

“I am proud to have grown up in a working-class home in East San Jose,” said Peter Ortiz, a Santa Clara County Board of Education trustee, who attended the May Day protest in San Jose. “If there is one thing I have learned during my time as a community organizer, it is that everything working-class families earn, we have to fight for. Nothing is ceded in this world voluntarily. It must be taken.”

The coalition that organized this year’s May Day protest also used it as a chance to promote specific bills they hope to see passed in the near future. For example, many demonstrators held up signs advocating for the Protect the Right to Organize Act(PRO Act), a labor law that would make it easier to organize a union. Others advocated for the California Guaranteed Healthcare Act, or CalCare, which would establish a single-payer healthcare system in California.

Other demonstrators made calls for racial justice. A contingent from the Filipino community from the activist organization Anakbayan made calls against the rise in racism against Asian Americans. Organizations representing Mexican Americans, such as the United Farm Workers and Movimento Democratic, carried signs and banners advocating for immigrant justice and the protection of undocumented community members.

With the economy still reeling from a recession caused by the pandemic, job and financial security for many workers has severely declined or even disappeared entirely. Coupled with local issues such as the Bay Area housing crisis, the future for many in San Jose continues to be plagued with uncertainty. Saturday’s march celebrating International Workers’ Day represents the growing calls for economic justice and reform in an age of worsening economic insecurity.