Hundreds of union workers, social justice advocates and their supporters rallied and marched through the streets of Oakland Wednesday to observe International Workers’ Day.
The annual May Day events are intended to draw attention to the need for union jobs, equity in hiring, support for public education and protection for “immigrants, refugees, workers and all people impacted by state violence,” according to organizers.
Tova Fry, a member of the Anti Police-Terror Project and Oakland Sin Fronteras, social justice groups helping organize Wednesday’s events, said:
“It’s a historical day around the struggle against economic and social inequity,.”
Fry’s groups are coordinating the day’s events with the International Longshore Workers Union, which hosted an 11 a.m. rally at the Port of Oakland.
Clarence Thomas, a West Oakland native, retired longshore worker and ILWU spokesman, said he was there to help protect union jobs:
“My family has been associated with ILWU since 1944. My mother now is 90 years old. … She has been the daughter of a longshore worker, the wife of a longshore worker and the mother of a longshore worker. My mother still enjoys receiving part of my father’s pension and health care benefits, and I want to make sure that continues.”
Thomas said the proposed new Oakland A’s baseball stadium at the port’s Howard Terminal will threaten the kinds of jobs that have supported his family for generations.
The project will disrupt normal port operations, lead to possible job losses and intensify gentrification in the West Oakland neighborhood, Thomas said:
“This really does provide a sterling example of the price of capitalism, when a billionaire wants to build a ballpark and housing at a location that … is the economic engine of the Northern California region.”
Port of Oakland spokesman Mike Zampa said that port commissioners have met extensively with maritime representatives and have heard their concerns about the proposed stadium:
“The Port of Oakland last year adopted a five-year strategic plan that calls for record maritime business growth into the next decade. … The port will not jeopardize that business.”
The port itself is closed for eight hours Wednesday as part of an annual May Day agreement between union leadership and the port’s terminal operators.
“Labor is not shutting down the port. … It’s not a strike.”
Oakland’s May Day events kicked off at 6 a.m. when hundreds of construction workers with the Alameda County Building Trades Council and Alameda County Labor Council picketed two non-union building sites near downtown Oakland, then marched to Oakland City Hall for a rally.
The unions are asking the city to require worker protections, including project labor agreements, for projects on publicly owned land, to “enact labor standards and public accountability for building in downtown Oakland” and to prioritize building affordable housing on city land, according to union leadership.
Andreas Cluver, secretary-treasurer of the Alameda County Building Trades Council, said:
“We really feel Oakland is a union town, was built on the backs of union men and women. … The Oakland teacher’s strike shows the level of support (unions) have from the residents of this city.”
While not addressing the unions’ requests directly, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf on Wednesday released a statement of praise for unions generally:
“Oakland celebrates May Day because Oakland values and honors our workers. … We work hard and champion social justice. Union strength is woven into Oakland’s DNA.”