Today, We March for Dignity

On Friday morning (February 17th), hundreds of people rallied and marched with workers recently fired from Pacific Steel in Berkeley after a federal immigrations crackdown on their workplace.  Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents audited their factory in December and demanded the firing of all workers without social security numbers.  The company terminated the livelihoods of 200 workers for no other reason than that they are undocumented, in a country where it is virtually impossible to get residency or citizenship for most immigrants.

The rally began at Berkeley City Hall at 10am, full of chants, colorful signs, dancing, and megaphone-amplified speeches.  Some signs made specific policy demands: “STOP THE SILENT RAIDS” referring to ICE raids and “END E-VERIFY.”  Others appealed to a deeper part of our humanity: “THE WORLD HAS SO MUCH WEALTH, THERE SHOULD NOT BE MISERY,”  and “WE ARE NOT CRIMINALS, WE ARE WORKERS.”  All in spanish.  One girl held a sign declaring, “MUERTE AL CAPITALISMO” (“Death to Capitalism.”)

Speakers zeroed in on the Obama administration’s dehumanizing, anti-immigrant policies that have resulted in a record number of people deported and families torn apart.  In fiscal year 2011 alone, 397,000 uncles, fathers, mothers, and cousins were deported from neighborhoods in cities and towns all over this country.  Because Obama’s Orwellian-titled “Secure Communities” program (S-comm) integrates local police records with ICE, the vast majority of deportees are originally arrested for non-violent crimes, and many for something as simple as a traffic violation.

“Today,” one of the speakers declared, “We march for dignity.”

Before noon, the march took over University Ave parading west through the sunshine.  A huge banner at the front declaring “MARCHA POR LA DIGNIDAD” kept everyone organized into a solid mass of jubilant protest.   At the front, a fierce young girl and a couple of adults held down the chants: “Obama! Escucha! Estamos en la lucha!” (“Obama! Listen! We are in struggle!”), or “No cruzamos la frontera! La frontera nos cruzo!” (We didn’t cross the border! The border crossed us!).  Farther back, the Brass Liberation Orchestra gave the march a vibrant soundtrack. 67 suenos, an organization of migrant youth, went particularly hard, a one point getting the front of the march so hyped everyone was jumping up and down in unison.

The long march ended at the Pacific Steel and Castings Factory in Northwest Berkeley near the 80 freeway, where a huge banner proclaimed, “Local Union Labor at Work, Products Made in America.” A rally was held once more, complete with guitar-led sing-alongs, religious leaders, and countless red construction paper hearts to be sent to Janet Napolitano, the head of Homeland Security, which controls ICE.

Workers expressed their appreciation for the solidarity and turnout at the rally, saying that it gave them great hope in their struggle moving forward.  At the very least, they are demanding retribution of the pensions they paid into, which are held by their former union, GNP Local 164B, which has cut off all contact.

While many felt invigorated by the action, not everyone was.  A friend told me she’d been at a rally last year with the same workers after they’d been striking for just wages and working conditions.  Two-hundred and fifty people, all workers and their families, had attended.  ”How many workers are there today?” she said.  ”A dozen?”  It was clear that many of the 200 workers were not in attendance on Friday.

The action was bolstered by people power and resources of Occupy Oakland among many other groups.  If you’d like to join Occupy Oakland’s Labor Solidarity Committee, which meets weekly, you can email them at