First of May marks May Day, or International Workers Day


Thomas Allison

Middle Eastern Studies senior Yajaira Fraga reads a Frederick Douglass quote from her phone to May Day protestors in front of the Tower Tuesday afternoon, before the group marched to join a larger protest at the Capitol Building. May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day, is a global celebration of labor rights and other left-wing movements.

Sylvia Butanda

Laborers and activists around the world, including in Austin, acknowledged the first day of May through political demonstrations on Tuesday.

International Workers Day, or May Day, developed from rallies in Chicago in the early 1900s that called for eight-hour workdays. The event is now a global holiday recognizing workers and labor unions.

May Day events in Austin included a rally at the steps of the Capitol and a march through the downtown district as an estimated crowd of 300 people of different organizations and labor unions united to discuss future goals and current issues and flaws in the American labor and political systems. Prior to the rally, UT students organized a march to the Capitol advocating rights for immigrant families and workers.

Dave Cortez, organizer for Occupy Austin Bank Action team and the May Day Austin Coalition, said it was inspiring to see UT students organizing the march independently and around issues that directly affect them.

“The march at UT and the rally at the Capitol are vehicles to inspire people to follow up on different struggles and campaigns,” Cortez said. “Whether you’re a student, parent, housekeeper, teacher or server, we are all workers and the hope is we can begin to collaborate more and weave together the various struggles being fought throughout the Austin community.” Latin American studies senior Jonathan Orta, one of the student organizers for the UT march to the Capitol and member of the International Socialist Organization, said students who participated in the May Day march and rally are part of a growing student movement.

“Students are the tie between the future and current conditions,” Orta said. “A real student movement is starting to build and it takes a common theme, like fighting for a reform in the issues we’re concerned about, to connect it all.”

Latin American studies junior Jessica Alvarenga, a participant in the UT march and member of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition, said the voices of workers and students have been oppressed and silenced for far too long.

“We continue to be segregated among economic lines and workers continue to be part of the economic slavery,” Alvarenga said. “We have a dream where a worker can be in the same room as his boss and be treated as an equal and where he can be treated with the respect he so deserves.” In addition to the marches and rally, Occupy Austin organized discussions and teach-ins at Woolridge Square and Eastwoods Park throughout the day.

Michael Diviesti, a leader of the Texas chapter of GetEQUAL, a national organization that empowers the LGBTQ community, spoke at one of the discussions.

“LGBTQ workers are more often discriminated against in the workplace, and because of that, a large rate of this community are unemployed or denied housing,” Diviesti said. “Our main goal is to support the workers’ movements because we’re intricately involved in unemployment issues.” Diviesti said although the nation has a decent system of voting, a person’s voice does not stop at the poll booth.

“Every single day is a vote and you’re counted,” Diviesti said. “When you stand up to the government on the streets in the rally or by walking into your hall of congress and talking to representatives, the culmination of votes increases for our concerns to be heard.” 

Printed on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 as: May Day celebrates workers, unions