Hundreds join in May Day rally, march


Members of the community, including the Radical Cheerleaders, gather to celebrate the workers of the world on May Day at the Bo Diddley Plaza in Gainesville on Tuesday.

Erica Brough/Staff Photographer
Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 9:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 9:47 p.m.

It started in a grassy field off University Avenue and 13th Street with speakers that included the Green Party candidate for president.

It then moved to the streets — with an afternoon rush-hour march down University toward downtown.

Next came the festival on the Bo Diddley Community Plaza — with music, speeches from labor union representatives and free food for the crowd hundreds.

As rallies and protests around the world marked the annual May Day call for workers' rights, Gainesville again saw its downtown square crowded — a noticeable resurgence after the dwindling numbers that the Occupy Gainesville movement has seen on the plaza of late.

The overarching message was support for workers and labor unions mixed with distrust of corporations and elected officials — Democrats and Republicans alike — that these corporations influence with campaign contributions.

"We are here because we have conquered the eight-hour work day — at least on paper — but employers and bosses continue to take advantage of workers all the time," said Jane Pollack, with the Gainesville branch of the International Socialist Organization.

During the rally just off one of the city's busiest intersections, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein expressed disillusionment with President Barack Obama — describing the 2009 stimulus package as a tax break for corporations and the wealthy that did little to create jobs for the working class.

Stein, who was in Gainesville on a campaign swing, called for the elimination of tax cuts for the wealthy, higher corporate gains taxes, a financial transactions tax on Wall Street, a sharp reduction in military spending, universal health care and a jobs and infrastructure construction program akin to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal.

In America, the May Day — or International Workers Day — movement was born with an 1886 massacre in Chicago's Haymarket Square that ensued after a bomb was hurled at a crowd of police during a protest for an eight-hour work day.

Some 126 years later, support for unions and the labor movement was front and center in Gainesville on Tuesday.

"Unions gave us the eight-hour work day," Atalia Lapkin, treasurer of the Gainesville International Workers of the World, told the crowd. "Unions have us the five-day work week."

During the event, tents for Occupy Gainesville, the Alachua County Green Party and labor organizations stood around the plaza's perimeter.

Under one tent, Jen Ambrose stood among baskets of colorful flowers. Ambrose was there with the burgeoning Flowers in Their Hair movement, offering flowers to members of the crowd as part of an awareness campaign against non-consensual sexual activity.

Ambrose said it fit in perfectly with the message of May Day.

"The labor movement exists because it fights against privilege and entitlement, and we're doing the exact same thing," she said.

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