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West Michigan unions and immigrants rally for May 1, International Workers Day

By staff

Speakers at May Day rally in Grand Rapids, MI.

Grand Rapids, MI – West Michigan labor unions, politicians and socialist groups rallied and marched for International Workers Day on May 1 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. More than 70 union members and Asian-American, Chicano/Mexicano, and Black community activists and politicians gathered. The local unions also expressed solidarity for immigrant rights and justice for Patrick Lyoya, the young African man executed by Grand Rapids police officer Christopher Schurr.

“Solidarity and the need to organize and win power for workers has to be the focus of unions in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic. Work is being redefined now as many workers realize they hold a lot of power if they are organized and act together,” said Tom Burke, recording secretary of IATSE Local 26.

“This year’s May 1 rally uplifts recent strikes. We had victories for Kellogg’s workers in Battle Creek, 10,000 UAW union members at John Deere equipment plants, teachers, nurses and other health care workers across the country. The young workers’ Amazon union victory in New York cries out for the Teamsters and AFL-CIO officials to stand up and call for a national union drive right now!” continued Burke.

International Workers Day included speeches from Ryan Letts, president of the Kent-Ionia Labor Council; Jess Westra, president of the IATSE Local 26 West Michigan Stagehands, and Jesse Perez of Teamsters 406. Lindsey Katerberg, first vice president of IATSE Local 26, announced an upcoming fundraiser so Michigan politicians can pass a film tax credit to bring thousands of Michigan film jobs back.

The Grand Rapids May 1 rally called for union drives at Amazon and Starbucks. In Kalamazoo, a recent strike by workers at the Maru Sushi restaurant won a lot of attention. Local service workers are demanding higher standardized pay, across the board benefits, and respect in restaurant, hotel, bar and entertainment industry jobs. Stagehands are looking for thousands of Michigan film jobs to make a comeback and are asking Michigan politicians to pass a film tax credit.

Dr. Jose Flores, a candidate for the Michigan House spoke about growing up Chicano and the importance of recognizing American Indian peoples in the U.S. He called for expanding immigrant rights to the 11 million undocumented immigrants, many in low-paid jobs.

Lily Cheng-Schulting, another candidate for Michigan House, and an immigrant herself, said, “We need politicians who really represent the people and not just a corporate agenda. This includes equality and representation for the many Asian American, Mexican and Central Americans who live here in West Michigan.”

The May 1 rally expressed solidarity with the family of Patrick Lyoya, an immigrant from the Congo executed by Grand Rapids police officer Christopher Schurr on April 4. County Commissioner Robert S. Womack spoke about how he forced a meeting with the chief of police after being contacted by the family of Patrick Lyoya. They were the first to see the police execution video and demanded its release to the public.

Womack, who is now running for the Michigan House, was followed by popular community activist Danny Santiago. Santiago, who leads protests with the Patrick Lyoya family, spoke about the need to build the movement for Black lives in the streets to win justice. He described how the police and the courts are set up to deny justice. He explained how city officials direct the police to harass and repeatedly arrest Black leaders for using bullhorns and protesting.

Adam Schurman of the Grand Rapids Service Industry Workers Coalition spoke and then led the service workers’ march through downtown to the Rosa Parks statue. The march stopped to rally at a local Starbucks and to hear a fired up and informative speech by former Starbucks worker Kate Masterson.

The local unions are pushing back on the mistreatment of immigrant farm workers, factory and service industry workers. Abuses were exposed in West Michigan apple growing areas this past year, where owners drive down wages through racist intimidation and threats of deportation, worsening conditions for all workers. International Workers Day rally organizers expressed their solidarity with an immigrant rights march led by COSECHA on the same day in Grand Rapids.

Young workers are rejecting the conditions being offered by big corporations and business owners these days. They are joining unions, walking out, fighting back and forming new unions as needed.

#GrandRapidsMI #MayDay #internationalWorkersDay #IATSE