Martha Hernandez stood in front of the General Assembly building Monday near a sign listing bills pending in the House and Senate that she described as “anti-worker” and “anti-immigration.”
Hernandez, a member of the Triangle Immigration Rights group Comite de Accion Popular, ripped the sign down, flung it to the ground and stepped on it.
“These bills are on the floor like trash, because we won’t let them get approved,” Hernandez, of Raleigh, told a cheering group of about 100 people who had marched from Moore Square for a rally at the Legislative Building.
Those who took part in the May Day rallies and protests in downtown Raleigh and Durham were in synchronicity with demonstrators across the United States who hit the streets Monday. The demonstrators focused much of their protests on behalf of immigrants affected by the policies of President Trump and North Carolina’s Republican-controlled General Assembly.
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“It’s important that the people in the General Assembly know that we are not approving the laws and bills that they are passing,” Hernandez said. “They are destroying families. They are hurting workers and people who have come here for a better life. The U.S. involvement in Latin America has caused many of us to be uprooted from our places.”
May Day – also known as International Worker’s Day – has triggered worldwide demonstrations in past years around workers’ rights. Angela Williamson-Lopez, a labor organizer for Organization United for Respect, Walmart, or OUR Walmart, drove to the Triangle from Texas to speak at the Raleigh event.
Williamson-Lopez said OUR Walmart represents “thousands” of the company’s employees and claimed the organization was able to get the retailer to raise its minimum wage to $10 an hour from $7.25. Now, she said, the fight has turned toward getting a better sick-leave plan for Walmart employees.
“You get eight sick days a year,” she said. “On the ninth sick day, you’re fired.”
“Parents ought to be able to take care of their child who may have the flu, but people are afraid to call in to work and won’t take their kids to the doctor because of fear of being fired,” she added.
Raleigh’s May Day activities mirrored concerns shared by people across the country, particularly immigrants’ rights, LGBT awareness and police misconduct. Several participants held up a sign that proclaimed Black Lives Matter but also demanded a $15-an-hour minimum wage, union rights, the full repeal of House Bill 2, an end to Islamaphobia, the de-funding of local police departments and a dismantling of U.S. Immigrations Customs and Enforcement, the federal agency responsible for the arrest and detention of people who may be in the country illegally.
One of the rally participants who helped to hold a sign aloft was Lamont Lilly, the 37-year-old native of Durham who ran for vice president of the United States with the Workers World Party and has worked with residents in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore.
Lilly said he participated in the May Day protests for multiple reasons, but principally to address the exploitation of working people.
“The working poor, the blue-collar folk and the exploitation of labor in this country,” he said. “The African captives who gave 300 years of slave labor and the immigrants who were overworked, underpaid and super-exploited. It’s about many things.”
More than 30 grassroots organizations chipped in to organize the rally and march, which they called a “Mass Strike & Resistance on May Day, International Workers Day.” The events included a midday public forum on Islamaphobia hosted by the Ar-Razzaq Mosque in Durham, and late afternoon and early evening rallies scheduled at the site of Durham’s new police headquarters under construction, the Durham County jail and at city hall during a city council meeting.
“Its funny,” Lilly said. “Mention May Day and people think that it represents the international workers. Here in America it’s associated with Labor Day, a cookout with hot dogs and hamburgers, but we haven’t had much justice to eat.”