Messages of solidarity and unity were the themes of the annual May Day Rally Tuesday evening, as hundreds of community members gathered on the Capitol steps to promote workers’ rights.
The May Day rally was held in commemoration of the 1886 May Day Haymarket massacre, during which workers took part in a nationwide general strike to force recognition of the eight-hour working day.
Endorsed and organized by the Immigrant Workers Union, Madison’s May Day rally was held in solidarity with similar International Workers’ Day rallies worldwide, including ones in Spain, Greece and Egypt.
The rally consisted of scheduled speakers from the labor, faith, immigration and student perspectives. An open microphone was provided for comments from any vocal participants.
Alex Gillis, co-founder of the Immigrant Workers Union, whose organization has kept up the tradition of the May Day rally since 2006, finds the specific focus of the rally changes from year to year.
“Every year [the rally] is dictated by what is happening; last year was very big because all of the Scott Walker attacks were happening, and 2006 was the biggest because there was a national outcry from the immigrant communities,” Gillis said.
According to Gillis, the International Workers’ Day is an opportunity to unify immigrants through their commonalities as workers. This message was reverberated through many of the speakers.
Gillis stressed the importance of the “99 percent” and power of a grassroots movement in trying to unify immigrants with the working class.
“Immigrants and workers from this country have a lot more in common than they have differences,” Gillis said. “They are trying to say that [immigrants] are stealing their jobs, they are trying to say that they hate us. At the end of the day, we are all the 99 percent, so that is key for our community to be strong and united with other people.”
DeeDee Hirschtritt, a University of Wisconsin senior studying gender and women’s studies and history, attended the rally for this same message of unity. With all of the upheaval in Wisconsin, Hirschtritt said, she found value in standing alongside the workers.
Hirschtritt also found interest in all of the political presence at May Day.
“I think it is interesting to see everyone with all of their different political posters. A lot of causes come together on May Day,” Hirschtritt said.
Adding to the political landscape was independent governor candidate Hari Trivedi who attended the rally in an effort to reach out to voters.
However, despite this political presence at the Rally, Gillis emphasized the importance of the anarchist movement to the May 1 rallies.
“I cannot foresee a May 1 without the history and testimonials of the anarchist movement,” Gillis said.
On behalf of the Immigrant Workers Union, the May Day rally represents a time in which matters must be put in the hands of the people, Gillis said, and match the ruling power with power of the people. Gillis pleaded with the crowd to understand that voting and marching would not be enough, arguing society needs to exercise real power with a general strike in the U.S.