A general work strike called for May 1 has business leaders playing a wait-and-see game, making contingency plans on one hand while sizing up whether the protest will actually disrupt commerce in Southern California.
The call to strike comes from the March 25 Coalition, the group of immigrant rights advocates that organized a demonstration in downtown Los Angeles that attracted an estimated half million people. Through flyers and Web sites, the coalition has called for May 1 to become a virtual "Day Without Immigrants."
Both the March 25 rally and the May 1 strike protest the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act, also called the "Sensenbrenner Bill," now in Congress.
But so far, the May 1 boycott lacks the widespread support enjoyed by the March 25 event. Besides the no-show of the AFL-CIO, which provided logistical support on March 25, Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has recommended that people avoid the boycott. Finally, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a speaker on March 25, has urged children to stay in school.
Martha Ugarte, spokeswoman for the coalition, said the action is designed to demonstrate the economic impact that immigrant communities exert in the U.S. economy. In addition to a work stoppage, the group wants supporters to boycott school and refrain from buying anything for a day.
"We're trying to simulate what would happen if those 11 million people (the estimated number of immigrants in the United States) were to suddenly disappear," Ugarte said. "Even if we have a 20 percent success rate, you will notice the difference."
One flyer, circulated by The Los Angeles Troquero Collective, an advocacy group for the mostly Latino truckers who work at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, calls for "strikes until the ports and rails enter into collective bargaining agreements." The flyer seeks amnesty for all immigrants, the right to form a labor union, and an immediate 25 percent salary increase for troqueros. In addition, it asks truckers around the country to join in the work stoppage.
But because the truckers are contractors rather than employees, they don't have an official union, said Art Wong, assistant communications director for the Port of Long Beach. As a result, they can't call on members of other unions for support such as refusing to cross picket lines.
"It's hard to gauge how widespread this may be," said Wong, assistant communications director for the Port of Long Beach. "These truckers are owner-operators, sort of independent contractors, so they don't earn any money if they're not working."
In the past, the truck drivers have limited their demonstrations to brief periods at lunch time, early morning or late afternoon. They typically have stopped work, gathered to rally at nearby parks, or staged driving protests through the port. Based on that pattern, "we are hoping for something that won't overly disrupt traffic or movement through the port," Wong said.
Labor Opts Out
Mary Gutierrez, communications director at the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, confirmed that her organization does not support the general strike for May 1.
"We want to be respectful of all the strategies of all groups on this, but we are not promoting a boycott," she said.
However, the AFL-CIO has organized an event for May 1. A march will start at 3 p.m. at MacArthur Park and follow a path to Rancho La Brea Park, a distance of about 4 miles. A rally will start at the park around 6 p.m.
"People can join the march or just show up for the program," Gutierrez said. "But we don't want people to feel that to support this they have to not work or not go to school."
Beyond the port, businesses have assumed a waiting strategy to see how the strength of the protest develops, with few foreseeing a repeat of the March 25 event.
"I think it's still in the early stages and each day we're learning more about what the scope of this may be," said Marie Condron, director of marketing and communications at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. "We respect expressions of freedom of speech, but this might not get the same consequences the organizers want."
Many companies have made only tentative preparations. For example, RREEF Funds, a real estate firm that's a substantial landlord in the county, has circulated a memo to office tenants warning of potential problems if workers at service companies decide to stay home. While basic services such as trash removal and restroom cleaning will be maintained, possible glitches include security. Moreover, "inevitable traffic delays around the building and the city will probably impact your employees and guests," the memo states.
For protest organizers, the May 1 date may pull some heart strings. It is a traditional time to celebrate worker power around the world and coincides with Labor Day in Mexico and International Workers Day in some European countries.
Mahony remained committed to advocating for a humane immigration reform, especially through influencing members of Congress, but said that "sometimes, boycotts could even work against positive reform."
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