In the United States, Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday of September, while the rest of the world celebrates it on May 1st. May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day, actually has its origins in the U.S. It is a workers’ holiday celebrating international solidarity, a day of demonstrations and organizing, a day for workers to rise up — but for over a century, this holiday has not been observed in the U.S. However, this lack of formal recognition, intended deliberately by politicians to weaken the labor movement, hasn’t stopped American workers from celebrating on May 1st.
Today, thousands of workers are rising up across the country to celebrate, demonstrate and demand change. One particular group of workers — gig workers, who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 — have organized a day of demonstrations and caravans led by rideshare drivers currently or previously working for companies like Uber and Lyft.
Oakland is just one of several cities across the country where gig workers are planning a caravan of drivers today. Today’s action is being co-organized by a coalition of over 25 groups, including Rideshare Drivers United, Gig Workers Rising, Workers World and the People’s Strike.
“In the last year with this pandemic and all of the things that have come with it, there are people from many different groups that are very angry about the state of our society,” Erica Mighetto, a former Lyft driver and organizer at Rideshare Drivers United, told Truthout. “So, I’m really excited for the action in Oakland, it’s really an uprising that’s happening and it’s really going to be a wonderful show of that solidarity.”
Throughout the day there will be pit stops at locations such as Whole Foods and City Hall where Amazon workers and gig-workers will address the crowd, trucks with flatbed trailers will carry floats, and organizers will hand out fliers and petitions.
“People are losing their housing, people like ourselves are losing their vehicles, some of us are even living in our vehicles,” Mighetto said. “We have a lot of legislation that’s working against people like me and people struggling for survival — so that’s why this event is so important to us, because there are hundreds, if not thousands of people just in the Bay Area that are in similar situations.”
In November of last year, Californians passed Proposition 22, a ballot initiative designed to strip so-called gig workers of many rights traditionally afforded to workers, such as a guaranteed a minimum wage, access to unemployment insurance or overtime pay, and paid sick leave or family leave. The impacts of Prop 22 were only exacerbated as the pandemic hit and countless drivers lost their income because of social distancing mandates.
“As it relates to economic exploitation and unsafe working conditions, I know what it’s like to work long hours with no guaranteed wage and no work and no restroom facilities, no overtime,” Cherri Murphy, a former Lyft driver and organizer at Gig Workers Rising, told Truthout. “I know what it’s like to be in the middle of a pandemic and have your corporation refuse to pay unemployment wages and have to wait for three months to get protection.”
Although the challenges faced by gig workers are a significant focus of the caravan, the coalition has made sure to broaden its focus to address a wide variety of interlinked struggles faced by marginalized communities across the country.
“We’re calling out police violence as well,” Murphy said. “Police violence and economic violence are all connected — they’re all part of the same systems that impact mostly people of color. COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter really pulled the curtain back and showed America’s rooted disease for which there still is no vaccine for.”
In addition to elevating the voices of low wage workers and speaking out against police violence, today’s action puts a spotlight on housing issues in the Bay Area — a region which is home to one of the most inaccessible housing markets in the country.
“People can’t afford to pay their rent and they need to be provided sustainable housing,” Mighetto, who was herself evicted from her apartment in Sacramento in September of 2019, told Truthout. “We really want to show that these are important issues and it’s not out of laziness that this is our situation — it’s out of social injustice and legislative shortcomings.”
Not only is the coalition in solidarity with low wage workers, folks struggling with housing, and communities facing violence from the police, but they’ve also chosen to include a focus on things such as climate change, education and immigration.
“We understand that oppression is intersectional,” Murphy said. “The majority of the workers that Uber, Lyft, and Doordash employ happen to be immigrants and people of color. And so we know that economic justice is racial justice.”
With surprisingly progressive policy proposals like the PRO Act winning the support of the Biden administration, we may be witnessing the beginning of a shift in how gig workers are treated in the United States.
Demonstrations and caravans such as those taking place today are an essential component in bringing about the sweeping structural reforms needed to address the many challenges of our time. The powerbrokers who defanged Labor Day in the United States knew that very well, but fortunately, as we see the beginnings of a broad and intersectional labor movement emerge in the U.S., it seems that their time may be coming to an end.