May Day Demonstrators Rally In Chicago For Fair Pay, Equal Treatment | WBEZ
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May Day Demonstrators Rally In Chicago For Fair Pay, Equal Treatment

Several rallies took place throughout Chicago on Wednesday to celebrate May Day or International Workers’ Day, a labor holiday that has roots in the city around securing an eight-hour work day.

The day is widely observed by millions around the world as workers took to the streets in practically every corner of the globe on Wednesday to demand better working conditions, access to health care, fair treatment and higher pay among other things.

In recent years, activists have also demonstrated on May Day to push for the rights of immigrants and immigrant workers.

In Chicago, a small group of activists gathered Wednesday morning outside an immigration building in downtown Chicago. The protesters demanded that local leaders do more to stop federal immigration agencies from continuing to violate the city’s sanctuary ordinance.

“They [undocumented immigrants] are being terrorized because local officials are cooperating with federal agencies, and they end up in deportation,” said Juan Solis, an immigration attorney who says he is representing immigrants facing deportation because the city’s sanctuary ordinance was not respected. “They are leaving human suffering behind.”

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, one the largest and most active immigrant rights groups in the state, co-sponsored other rallies at the Haymarket Memorial in the West Loop and the James R. Thompson Center downtown.

Demonstrators gather at the Chicago field office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency to protest federal immigration officials who violate Chicago's sanctuary city ordinance.
María Ines Zamudio/WBEZ
Demonstrators gather at the Chicago field office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency to protest federal immigration officials who violate Chicago's sanctuary city ordinance.

This year’s pro-immigrant May Day rallies were small compared to the massive demonstrations of a decade ago. The first massive pro-immigration May Day march was in 2006, which brought out at least 300,000 demonstrators, CNN reported. Organizers were fighting against a bill approved in the U.S. House of Representatives that would severely tighten immigration enforcement.

Demonstrations against the legislation began in March 2006 across the country and continued over the next several weeks culminating in massive rallies in several cities on May 1, which demonstrators dubbed as “a day without immigrants.”

Wednesday afternoon, organizers supporting temporary workers held a meeting a few blocks from the Haymarket Memorial. After the meeting, pro-immigrant groups led a rally to the Thompson Center.

On the West Side, Black Workers Matter gathered in front of Cloverhill Bakery. Members say the bakery shuts out black workers and discriminates against the ones who work there.

Adekunle Cole said he was unfairly laid off.

“I am not a threat. The truth is the threat. We have the right to equal treatment. We have the right to organize. We have the right to not be retaliated against. We will stand and fight and we will win,” Cole said.

Black Workers Matter is demanding that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission intervene.

Last year, a class action lawsuit was filed against Aryzta, the former owner of the bakery. Black workers say Latino workers were favored and management tried to pit black and Latino workers against each other. The lawsuit alleges that the company had a scheme with staffing agencies to not hire blacks and to favor Latinos instead, ultimately to reduce labor costs.

Hostess now owns the bakery. A Hostess spokeswoman sent this statement: “Hostess Brands strictly prohibits discrimination on the basis of race or any other characteristic protected under the law and complies with its reporting obligations to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Since acquiring the Galewood Cloverhill bakery last year, Hostess has taken numerous steps to increase benefits to employees, enhance management and operations and significantly improve working conditions at the bakery, which was perilously close to closing prior to the Hostess acquisition.”

María Ines Zamudio and Natalie Moore are reporters for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow them on Twitter at @mizamudio and @natalieymoore.

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