Mayday Hayday in Guelph

Thursday, May 7, 2009

  • At the Mayday Dinner, community members intently listen to information

    At the Mayday Dinner, community members intently listen to information

Written by Alexandra Martellacci & MaryCarl Guiao

May Day (May 1st) is a annual day devoted to workers rights. Recently, it was declared International Worker's Rights Day in commemoration of the execution of four anarchists in Chicago on November 11, 1887 for their part in the struggle for an eight-hour working day. International Worker's Rights Day carries on their spirit of fairness for workers in a big way.

On May 2, a group of individuals from the City of Guelph piled into three vehicles and went to Toronto to make a difference. They were headed to the May Day of Action, Rally and March, co-organized by a number of groups including No One is Illegal –Toronto Chapter, Mujeres al Frente (literally Women in the Front Line, a support group for Latin American queer women) and Migrante Ontario, an alliance of Filipino workers. These people went to say "NO" to the largest immigration raids in Canadian history, which occurred under people’s noses this past April 2nd and 3rd. Following the raids, over one hundred immigrant and migrant workers were detained and forty-two were later deported.

They also went to say "NO" to government cruelty towards under protected workers such as factory workers, temporary workers, indigenous people, queer and trans folk, the homeless, refugees, women in shelters, migrants and caregivers. Unfortunately, this is nothing new; immigrants, especially ethnically marginalized ones, have often served as scapegoats in times of economic uncertainty.

Why did these people spend hours in the spitting rain, in a wave of crushing bodies, chanting and calling for fairness and compassion?  They had some inspiration in the form of a pamphlet blitz and a community potluck dinner

To raise awareness about the raids, deportations, and overall subordination of working class migrants in Canada, a local university group, Student Support for Migrant Workers, had organized a couple events last month.  On April 18, the day before the planned (and later, eventual) deportations of 41Thai workers, students gathered at information booths located at the Guelph Farmer's Market and at St. George's Square to distribute pamphlets with messages debunking the myths about migrants with or without status, and criticizing the criminalization and abuse of marginalized groups such as working class migrants and the poor.  Indeed, news of the Mayday potluck dinner coming up was being passed on too.

The potluck was held on April 30, 2009 at the 10 Carden Street Community Space in Downtown Guelph and it included a panel.  The panel featured speakers from many different associations: Janet McLaughlin, an academic researcher on migration and an Instructor in International Development Studies at the University of Guelph; Marco Luciano, a labour activist and coordinator of Migrante Ontario; and Craig Fortier, a community organizer with No One is Illegal – Toronto.   All spoke eloquently on the plight of marginalized workers in Canada.

People crowded the room, filling it to capacity. Some people stood. Others sat on the floor. Chairs could not be passed out fast enough. The response was large; more than 60 people to 10 Carden Street that night. Everyone listened intently as the speakers painted a picture of desperation among marginalized workers. Curiosity was piqued and minds were opened. People left with full bellies and full minds. Some even took to the streets in solidarity with those whose voices are often not heard.

Those voices rang out and melded with over a thousand others to create a sound that echoed off buildings and penetrated the walls of Toronto City Hall. It is a sound that will not soon be forgotten.

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