Rhode Island celebrated Labor Day with a march against racism organized by Rhode Island Jobs With Justice. With the events of Charlottesville and the death of Heather Hyer still smoldering in our memories, hundreds of Rhode Islanders representing dozens of labor, political and advocacy groups came together to celebrate the accomplishments of organized labor and to condemn racism, white supremacy and the rise of fascism. News of President Donald Trump‘s immanent revocation of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) which would put nearly 800,000 young Americans at risk of deportation, also informed the event.
The march started at Burnside Park and concluded at the Rhode Island State House. The What Cheer? Band provided the music for the march. Some speakers spoke about the importance of organized labor in securing decent lives for people.
Michael Araujo, executive director of Jobs with Justice, started it off.
Providence City Council President Sabina Matos (Ward 15) is a member of Unite Here! Local 26.
Veteran and fast food worker Charles Jones spoke about the importance of a unions to protect worker’s rights and the importance of defending DACA from Donald Trump. Michael Araujo introduced him as one of the bravest people he knows. I will add that he is one of the kindest people I have met.
Rhode Island State Treasurer Seth Magaziner
Providence Central Labor Council President Paul MacDonald spoke about the gifts Labor has brought us, in addition to Labor Day itself. The eight hour work day. weekends, paid vacations, the prohibition of child labor, social security, sick leave, family medical leave act, minimum wage, overtime pay, equal pay for equal work are only a few of the things brought to us by labor.
Josh provided some music in his inimitable style.
University of Rhode Island Professor Scott Malloy is an expert in union history. He knows that the rise of racism and anti-union sentiment go hand in hand.
Tobias and Madison of the Providence Student Union invited everyone to their “Call It What it is March” which will be a march and chant “against systems of oppression” starting at the Providence Career & Technical Academy on Fricker Street and ending at the State House.
Rhode Island State Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (Democrat, District 5, Providence) is a teacher who spoke movingly about losing children to gun violence but also of possibly losing DACA kids to deportation under Trump.
Rhode Island State Representative Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 5, Providence) is a strong supporter of labor and one of the founders of Resist Hate RI. The struggles of labor and the struggle to combat racism, said Regunberg, are fundamentally connected.
Principle Officer of IBT Local 251, Matthew Taibi said that “Right to Work” which weakens unions and hurts their bargaining power was founded by a former KKK member and white supremacist, “who clearly saw that dividing workers is the way to rollback wages and increase profits for the one percent.”
Justin Kelley of IUPAT reminded the crowd that poverty and racism are social constructs that can be ended if we work together. He also reminded everyone about the Free Hugo Mejia. Mejia is undocumented, and sits in a cell, separated from his family, awaiting a decision on whether he can stay in the United States. Mejia is a member of IUPAT and the union has been tirelessly working on his behalf.
Raul Figueroa is an organizer with Fuerza Laboral. Labor Day is a day to be with friends and family, said Figueroa, and being at the rally was his way of celebrating, and being with friends and family.
Javier Juarez is a researcher from the Latino Policy Institute. He arrived in Providence at the age of ten, learned English and then went on to college. He is undocumented and protected by DACA. Under DACA Juarez secured a driver’s license, a job and an education, including a scholarship at Brown University. He is an American.
Maureen Martin is the secretary treasurer of Rhode Island’s AFL-CIO and the President of the Coalition of Labor Union Women. Unions across America, said Martin, stand against hate in all of its forms, “and are pushing back against the polictics of division.” Organized labor, said Martin, “demands equality for all worker.”
Josh with one final song.