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Long Live the Workers

A May Day speech by Christina Chavez
by Christina Chavez |
July 1, 2006
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Editors note: the following is the text of a speech prepared by Christina Chavez for International Workers Day in Chicago.

I am a first year medical student, the daughter of two farm labor organizers, and a third generation Mexican-American from California. Yes because my skin is brown and I look Mexican I too fight the struggles of racism and discrimination that many immigrants face. The plight of the immigrant is something I have grown up with. My great uncle Cesar Chavez was the founder of the United Farm Workers union. These workers have been being treated unfairly for many, many years and though my uncle, my grandfather Richard Chavez, my parents and many others have struggled and won many important fights for justice, much more needs to be done and the struggle continues in the fields throughout this country.

Today, May 1, in most places around the world is a very important day for workers. May Day or International Workers Day began here in Chicago. Yet, most of us in Chicago and throughout the United States have never even heard of International Workers Day. On May 1, 1886, labor unions organized a strike for an eight-hour work day due to poor and dangerous working conditions and days lasting from ten to twelve hours and sometimes more, six days a week. On May 4 a peaceful rally was started at Haymarket Square in Chicago. A bomb was thrown by someone trying to give a bad name to the workers during the rally and later eight men, five of whom were German immigrants and one who was a U.S. citizen of German descent, were arrested. The U.S. citizen was given 15 years in prison while the seven others were sentenced to death. After many appeals, four of the men, three of whom were immigrants, were hung in front of a public audience. All eight were later proven innocent and those still alive were pardoned…in commemoration of these events working classes from many countries around the world [made] May Day a holiday. It is a celebration of the social and economic achievements of the international labor movement, and in most of the world today is marked by huge street rallies of workers led by their trade unions and various large socialist and communist parties.

The fact that most of the people considered criminals after these events were immigrants is not a coincidence and the fact that our government is trying to make immigrants criminals today is also not a coincidence. Immigrants, like all good workers are not criminals, they are people trying to work and make a living so they can support themselves and their families. People come to the United States because they see there is opportunity to make money to support their families here, when often times there aren’t jobs in their own countries. Criminalizing immigrants and telling U.S. citizens they will be criminalized and punished for helping immigrants will not change this fact. We need a better solution; one that our hard work and demonstrations are making a possibility. I guarantee you, we need something different from the Republican’s vile, mean spirited, un-American HR4437 that criminalizes hard working immigrants and anyone trying to help them. I could be charged with a felony for providing medical assistance to someone while I am pursuing my medical studies. Doctors, nurses, priests, social workers and any good Samaritan could be charged with felonies. Not since the fugitive slave laws of the 1840s has the federal government made it a felony to help a fellow human being seeking freedom and economic justice.

The road is long and hard but if we have courage we can and will succeed. We must have hope that one day we will see a country where we all have access to health care and fair wages. A world where people don’t have to leave their country of origin in order to make enough money to feed their families. A place were picking fruits and vegetables is not considered dirty work but a job of pride, one that allows you to have benefits and enough money to feed your family and live in a decent home. And finally traditionally in my family you end a speech at a demonstration or a strike rally by repeating, “Si se puede,” which means yes we can - it can be done.

Long live the workers!
¡Que vivan las trabajadoras y los trabajadores!