Demonstrators gather for May Day rally in support of labor, immigrant rights

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Julian Kilchling/Staff

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More than 100 demonstrators gathered on Sproul Plaza in light of International Workers’ Day, or May Day, which is traditionally known for its history of advocating for worker rights.

Members of numerous organizations such as Amnesty International, the Undergraduate Workers Union, BAMN, SEIU Local 1021 and UAW 2865 were in attendance, discussing issues relating to immigration, labor, academic freedom and more. The Berkeley rally lasted for about an hour before the crowd marched down Bancroft Way and around Berkeley High School to reach the Downtown Berkeley BART station, where they boarded trains headed to Fruitvale BART Station, where they then joined demonstrations in Oakland.

“I am here on campus rallying for May Day to support UC Berkeley becoming a sanctuary campus,” said Erica West, campus social welfare graduate student and member of the International Socialist Organization. “We’re here in solidarity with undocumented students, supporting the (Undergraduate) Workers Union … and just here to fight against Trump and oppression and for all the marginalized students on campus.”

According to campus African American studies professor Michael Cohen, International Workers’ Day originates from the Haymarket affair in 1886 in Chicago, Illinois, where tens of thousands of workers fought for an eight-hour workday, instead of a 10- to 16-hour workday.

“We have this deep deep radical history … the fascists want us to forget,” Cohen said during the event.

West added that the 2006 International Workers’ Day reignited the “radical workers holiday,” after hundreds of thousands of immigrants mobilized in the streets.

Yana Skorobogatov, campus history doctoral candidate, said May Day is especially important in today’s political climate.

“It’s a reminder that when workers come together and unite, they can have a disruptive effect on the economy and have an effect on politics,” Skorobogatov said.

Flyers passed out by the International Socialist Organization listed three demands: reimburse “wage theft” and provide living wages for the Undergraduate Workers Union, declare UC Berkeley as a sanctuary campus and refuse to cooperate with the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, with deportations.

In addition to chanting “No ban, no wall, sanctuary for all,” rally-goers held signs reading “Striking is a necessity — not a privilege” and “Immigrant rights are human rights.”

Numerous attendees — ranging from union members to Berkeley High School students — took turns speaking on the steps of Sproul Hall.

BAMN organizer Yvette Felarca was one of the first speakers, criticizing ICE raids and Trump administration.

“We are not going to wait until 2018 and we are not waiting until 2020,” Felarca said in her speech. “But that means we’ve got to take a stand now against the most consistent and most dangerous attacks that (Donald Trump) is making.”

Nikki Lemus and Karina Valdespino, members of the Undergraduate Workers Union, detailed their struggles with Cal Dining.

“Student worker power right now is more important than ever as management and higher powers in Cal Dining retaliate against the student workers who have stood up for what they believe in and for their rights in the workplace,” Lemus said. “We increase our hours, going above the time cap — 19.5 hours — which does not give us enough to pay for food, to pay for housing, to pay for school.”

Berkeley High School students such as senior Lupe Vargas skipped school to attend the rally.

When the rally moved from Sproul Plaza and onto the streets, the crowd stopped by Berkeley High School to encourage students to leave the premises, chanting “walk out” to join their march on to Fruitvale BART.

“Being at a ‘public Ivy’ doesn’t mean anything when you are racially profiled, deported, sexually assaulted by a professor, or fired for trying to unionize,” West said during the event. “These things we are fighting against — racism, sexism, policing of our communities — are present right here on Cal’s campus and we have to fight back.”

Contact Jessica Jimenez and Fionce Siow at [email protected].