Workers call for higher minimum wage during Raleigh May Day protest and march

sgilman@newsobserver.comMay 1, 2014 

— About 75 people honored May Day, also known as International Workers Day, with a protest and march in downtown Raleigh.

Minimum wage workers, students, union members and activists met in front of the old Wake County Courthouse on Thursday evening to hold signs demanding a $15 an hour minimum wage, legalization for illegal immigrants, and dropped charges against “Moral Monday” protesters at the General Assembly last year.

The Southern Workers Assembly, a network of labor unions, organized the event with support from the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, NC HEAT and other workers rights groups. The protesters rallied at the courthouse, marched to the state budget office on West Jones Street and to Halifax Mall just outside the General Assembly building.

“What do we want? Fifteen!” organizer Dante Strobino said through his megaphone. “What do we want?”

“Fifteen” the crowd, gathered near the courthouse steps echoed back.

“When do we want it?” Strobino said.

“Now!” the protesters responded.

The event drew people from various backgrounds. Retired emergency medicine physician Sidney Harr of Raleigh said he came “to support them. I’m a socialist at heart, socialist-communist, very liberal.”

Arby’s employee Frank Jilyard said he came to support raising the minimum wage. At age 49, Jilyard tries to make ends meet with a minimum wage job and says it’s hard.

Even working most weekends, he has financial difficulty.

“I got three kids. I try to take them to the beach,” he said. “It’s hard when you’re trying to make ends meet and then go out for a day of fun.”

About 15 members of NC HEAT, a group of high school students that advocates civil justice, stood on the steps facing the crowd and giggled between chants. Others in the crowd held signs, and the mood was light.

Selena Garcia, who spent three weeks in jail after being charged with assaulting another student on a bus, spoke against the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

“Most of the kids in this pipeline are people of color,” Garcia said. When she finished speaking, she doubled over with a giggle and said, “I don’t know what else to say.”

The crowd gave up a deafening cheer.

Other speakers included Lamont Lilly, who spoke about police brutality in Durham, and Justin Flores, Farm Labor Organizing Committee vice president, who spoke in favor of raising the minimum wage.

“How many people think $7.25 an hour is a fair wage for picking tobacco in the summer heat?” Flores said, and a cheer burst from the crowd. “Fair wages now,” he shouted.

Escorted by about 40 Raleigh police officers on bicycles and horseback, the group marched from the courthouse to Halifax Mall, where the rally ended.

Labor unions in the United States held strikes and rallies on May 1, 1886, on what was supposed to be the first day of a standardized eight-hour work day, as called for by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions. A rally on May 4 at Haymarket Square in Chicago that year turned into a violent riot that resulted in the deaths of at least seven policemen and at least four protesters.

Gilman: 919-829-8955

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