In The News
Labor Rights crucial in workers’ May 1 marches
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Putting their trust in the integrity and fairness of Wisconsin communities -- and recognizing how essential labor rights are to America’s economic future as well as to genuine immigration reform – Voces de la Frontera will turn this year’s May 1 into far more than massive rallies and marches around the state proclaiming the importance and depth of immigrant workers.
The event is now another strong bow in the fight for the Employee Free Choice Act. It calls on all working families to look past the simplicities of social and cultural hyperbole and recognize the broader struggle underneath for everyone’s economic improvement and justice in the workplace.
Voces, a partner of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, is organizing this statewide Labor Rights mobilization as a conscious recognition that passage of the Employee Free Choice Act – a central union cause in organizing and bargaining to attain family supporting wages – is integrally tied to legalization for undocumented workers.
Executive Director Christine Neumann-Ortiz has called on union rank and file to respond by sharing information, helping with the intense costs, such as street permits and flyers, and mainly by urging its members to the streets bringing signs and banners.
“We believe that both legalization and the Employee Free Choice Act benefit workers as part of a long-term strategy to rebuild the labor movement,” she said.
The decision may surprise some who regard undocumented workers as driving down wages. You hear such comments even in union shops. If anything, such knee-jerk beliefs have been increased by the poor economy, desperate talk radio and by the pretense initiated under President Bush that somehow arresting, deporting and even criminalizing a few hundred hard-working immigrants in meat-packing plants and similar under-the-radar industries would actually address the problem.
A new president is being pressed to produce better solutions, from the borders to the farms.
What has been undocumented for far too long is how screwed up and even contradictory are America's legal rules in this arena, how the regulations don’t work to keep families together or to create clear pathways out of the shadow economy. While undocumented workers now are central all over the American map, there is no clear map to help them break free, or even to return to work in their home countries as was historically true in the early 20th century.
There is also no consistency in the law about businesses’ role and obligations.
That is the reality – millions of workers who came here to keep their families from starving and now have no power to lift themselves because of economic downturns globally and because of fear of how they will be treated or because the avenues to better pay and education are denied them by a society that proclaims its laws are the best in the world.
Yet the underlying truth remains – everyone should be paid fairly for a day’s work. Citizens aren’t across the board, and what is real for them is even more real for undocumented families.
Neumann-Ortiz noted in her announcement of the decision to turn May 1 into a demand for Labor Rights, “One of the ways to rebuild the labor movement is challenging not just racism but nativism.”
Since 2006, Voces has mobilized more than a quarter of a million marchers in events around Wisconsin and now believes the time has come for massive numbers constructed around pro-worker legislation and the Employee Free Choice Act – “to bolster the commitments that politicians made in 2008.”
For more information on May 1 activities and how to participate in Milwaukee and other Wisconsin cities, contact Voces at (414) 643-1620. Those interested in sponsorship should also contact Jeanne Geraci at email@example.com. You can also drop by the workers’ rights center at 1027 S. 5th St. in Milwaukee.