Hundreds rally for immigrant rights, local union hires on May Day in Oakland

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International Workers Day, also known as May Day, was marked by marches and rallies around the world, but some prominent gatherings were held right here in the Bay Area. 

A Wednesday rally at Oakland's Frank Ogawa Plaza was followed by a march through downtown streets where hundreds of union workers, social justice advocates and their supporters asked for local union hires as well as immigrant's rights. 

The evening march compounded a 6 a.m. construction worker rally at 17th and Webster streets, urging Mayor Libby Schaaf to require law changes that would guarantee publicly-funded projects use locally hired union workers for those jobs. %INLINE%

They, along with the Alameda County Building Trades Council and Alameda County Labor Council, argued the economic boom in the city should be shared with the residents. 

The location of the morning rally was chosen because union representatives said it's the site of a construction project that isn't using union labor. A similar rally was organized at 13th and Jackson streets.  %INLINE%

"A  lot of developers [are] coming in from out of town but not using good union labor for these sustainable projects," said Andreas Cluver, secretary treasurer for  Alameda County Building Trades Council. "A lot of contractors are coming from the valley and getting paid $18 an hour. We should be offering better careers." 

Jeff Dixon, a organizer for UA Local 483, said he is strongly against any out-of-town developers coming into Oakland and paying substandard wages. He said, "We don't want people coming up here from LA, San Diego and Washington bringing their own people" and not paying prevailing Bay Area wages.

"A lot of people forget that America is built on union labor," Dixon said. 

Specifically, the unions called the Oakland political leadership to mandate that the city's public lands be used to build homes that Oakland residents can afford using a workforce who is paid a fair wage and sign a citywide agreement, mandating labor, material and safety standards.

In addition, International Longshore Workers Union held an 11 a.m. rally at the Port of Oakland. They are calling for attacks against immigrants and refugees to stop. Their slogan: “No ban, no wall, human rights and sanctuary for all.” 

Oakland teachers, who recently wrapped up tense negotiations with Oakland Unified School District, stood in solidarity with the ILWU, which is protesting the proposed Oakland A's stadium at Howard Terminal. 

Clarence Thomas, a 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," Thomas said. "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," said Thomas, a West Oakland native.

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," 
Thomas said.

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," Zampa said. "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. 

Historically, workers and unions have taken to the streets on May Day to demand better conditions for the working class. %INLINE%

"It's a historical day around the struggle against economic and social inequity," said Tova Fry, a member of the Anti Police-Terror Project and Oakland Sin Fronteras, social justice groups helping organize Wednesday's events.

The tradition of May Day marches for workers' rights began in the United States in the 1880s. It quickly spread to other countries at a time when industrialization pitted poorly paid employees who had few protections and little power against increasingly dominant factory employers and landowners.

Over the decades, the May Day protests have also become an opportunity to air general economic grievances or political demands.

In France, police clashed with stone-throwing protesters who set fires and smashed up vehicles as thousands of people gathered for May Day rallies under tight security. About 165 arrests were made.

In Russia, about 100,000 people took part in a May Day rally in central Moscow organized by Kremlin-friendly trade unions on Red Square. Opposition activists said more than 100 people were detained in several cities, including for participating in unsanctioned political protests.

And in Sri Lanka, major political parties called off the traditional May Day rallies due to security concerns following the Easter bombings, which killed 253 people and were claimed by militants linked to the Islamic State group.

Associated Press journalists from around the world contributed to this report as well as Bay City News wire service.