About 100 workers rights activists and immigration reform advocates held a May Day rally on the Capitol Square Wednesday to speak, chant and sing against unfair labor conditions for undocumented workers.
Madison protesters joined demonstrators from coast-to-coast for a May Day rally organized by the Wisconsin Immigrant Worker’s Union. The event began at Brittingham Park before protesters marched to the Capitol and climbed its stairs.
Alex Gillis, director of the Immigrant Worker’s Union, said he has been leading the May Day event since 2006 and was proud with the turnout from unions, Latino community members, students and others.
“I’m really happy with the energy and how appreciative people are in this town of what we do every year,” Gillis said. “It’s becoming and I really welcome that, even though I would like to see more people.”
South Central Wisconsin Federation of Labor President Kevin Gundlach spoke at the Capitol and compared the rally to similar late 19th century protests. He called for laborers to unify and to fight for a common goal of equality.
Gundlach said the sacrifices of immigrants like those in the audience that have strengthened communities of workers and justice can be achieved through the fight for universal fairness.
“It is their struggles, and our struggles and the struggles of 11 million Americans that hundreds of thousands across the country are commemorating today, May 1, 2013, International Worker’s Day,” he said.
Gundlach finished his speech with a triumphant cry, “Solidarity,” which sparked a “?S? se puede!” chant from the crowd.
After various speeches on the Capitol steps, participants at the rally sung in unison, “Which Side Are You On”? to question whether lawmakers have sided with the workers of deep-pocketed business people.
Gillis said the most important part of the May Day rally is that efforts in Madison are only a small piece of the puzzle in the national and worldwide movement focused on the same labor equality goals.
“The more important thing is we are a part of a big chain of change,” Gillis said. “Around the world, rallies are happening. We think that we are contributing to this idea that the whole country, coast-to-coast is rising up for better immigration policies.”
Gillis added he is excited to see immigration reform initiatives moving to the forefront of national attention, yet he is concerned about the impact a bill. authored by a group of bipartisan U.S. senators, will have on current undocumented people who have lived in America their entire lives.
Following the sit-in protest at Interim Chancellor David Ward’s office Monday, Student Labor Action Coalition member Tina Trevi?o-Murphy spoke out against the University of Wisconsin’s contract with Palermo’s Pizza due to its violations of workers rights.
“We’re trying to put pressure on the chancellor and we want to put pressure on Palermo’s,” Trivi?o-Murphy said. “The reason we want to put pressure on Palermo’s is so the company will negotiate with the workers to have safe working conditions. They haven’t been willing to do so.”
Trivi?o-Murphy called Palermo’s factory in Milwaukee a “sweatshop” that forces employees to work seven days week with no time off or paid leave if injuries or even amputations occur on the job.
May Day is a labor holiday founded in the United States during 1886 worker strikes in Chicago to fight for eight-hour workdays. The holiday is celebrated worldwide for various reasons but is less prominent in the U.S.