Hundreds of New Yorkers poured into lower Manhattan Sunday afternoon in a show of solidarity with immigrants and refugees seeking entry into the United States – and many of the city’s union workers were among them.
The rally drew federal, state and city lawmakers – including Mayor de Blasio, who addressed the crowd in Battery Park City with the outline of the Statue of Liberty behind him – who in speech after speech blasted President Trump for his travel ban on Muslim refugees.
The diverse crowd chanted pro-immigration and civil rights slogans in response as organizers lined people up to being the short walk to 26 Federal Plaza – site of the city’s immigration office.
Some marchers left messages at the grave site of American statesman Alexander Hamilton – who was born in Nevis, the British West Indies in 1757 – inside Trinity Church at Wall St.
“New York is for Everyone,” said one sign, decorated with hearts and placed in the wrought-iron gate guarding Hamilton’s grave.
Powerhouse progressive union 32BJ SEIU, whose members acted as marshals as well as participants, sent a large contingent in a show of force for the march it had helped organize.
Also present were members from the New York Taxi Alliance, whose yellow cab drivers had shut down fares to and from John F. Kennedy Airport Saturday night in act of support for the protesters who flooded the airport as Trump’s ban was enacted.
Also present, however, were some members from the city’s construction trades unions, as well as members of Teamsters Joint Council 16, which represents about 120,000 members in city locals.
“The union is supporting the march and will be there,” said spokesman Alex Moore.
NYC protesters leave messages at grave of Alexander Hamilton in Trinity Church on Wall St. on January 29, 2016.
(Ginger Otis / New York Daily News)
Historically, many of the more conservative building trades have not turned out in large numbers for rallies or protests around social justice issues – but another trade unionist at the march Sunday said that may all change now that President Trump is attacking immigration.
“Our union and many other trade and constructions unions were founded by immigrants who couldn’t get any other jobs – they weren’t welcome in other trades,” said Mike McGuire, political director for Mason Tenders District Council 9, which represents several laborers groups around the city and Long Island.
“Immigration has always been an issue we have cared about, since we were founded in 1904, and it still is – many of the city’s construction workers are immigrants and our attitude has always been that it’s better to welcome them in than try to keep people out,” McGuire said.
While trades and construction unions haven’t always seen eye to eye with social justice groups and progressive labor organizations around the city – one famous example came when big box store Wal-Mart tried to move into Manhattan – there is common interest in wanting to protect civil liberties and basic American rights, McGuire said.
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio waves as protesters gather in Battery Park and march to the offices of Customs and Border Patrol in Manhattan.
(BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
He’s also wary of President Trump’s divide-and-conquer tactics, which were on display last week when he met at the White House with leaders of construction, carpenters, plumbers and sheet metal unions.
Those who sat down with Trump were North America’s Building Trades Unions President Sean McGarvey, Laborers’ International Union of North America President Terry O’Sullivan, SMART sheet metal workers’ union President Joseph Sellers, United Brotherhood of Carpenters President Doug McCarron and Mark McManus, president of the United Association that represents plumbers, pipefitters, welders and others, according to Reuters.
The meeting – which also included several local labor officials – came on the heels of a meeting between President Trump and 12 CEOs of major U.S. companies. The topic was the revitalization of the U.S. manufacturing economy.
Trump also met in early January with Teamsters President Jim Hoffa and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. The labor leaders sat down with Trump privately in separate meetings in New York.
Trump has since given his approval to two controversial oil pipelines that were blocked under former President Obama.
The Keystone XL pipeline is now back in play, as is the pipeline in the Dakotas that’s has been the focus of major protests by Native Americans.
The resurgence of those sensitive projects could become a wedge that helps further splinter the country’s union movement, McGuire noted.
“When it comes to comparing social justice activism to trade unionists, we’re just more pragmatic,” said McGuire, noting that it was all about “jobs, jobs, jobs.”
That said, he added, most of the construction and trade unions nationally have traditionally gotten their work through large-scale government investment in the country’s infrastructure – meaning bridge and highway repair.
“As the Tea Partiers started stepping in and blocking that funding, those projects dried up and we saw a switch to pipeline projects. We’d much rather have our work be in American infrastructure, and we’re pushing to get it there,” McGuire said.
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