When Patrick Hughes’ ancestors came to the United States, they came for opportunities they didn’t have in their native lands.
Hughes, president of Iowa City Federation of Labor, compared his ancestors’ story to immigrants today.
“With current immigration law, I wouldn’t be standing here. Most of you wouldn’t be standing here,” Hughes said Friday during the May Day 2009 celebration in Iowa City.
May Day is celebrated throughout the world, honoring workers’ rights. In the U.S., May Day also brings to light the struggles of immigrants, said Ryan Spurgetis, a member of the May Day Organizing Committee. The Iowa City event Friday in the pedestrian mall included speakers, music, food and activists groups’ tables.
Current immigration laws don’t work for the common people, Hughes said.
“We’ve got an immigration system here that is broke,” he said.
Hughes encouraged unionization for all types of workers, including recent immigrants.
“As a carpenter, I used to be angry at those folks,” Hughes said. “But you know what, a carpenter is a carpenter.”
All are working for the same things, he said, money to put their kids through school or pay for a home.
Union workers are three times as likely to have health insurance and four times as likely to have a pension as a non-union worker.
“We need decent wages in this country. We need to rebuild the middle class,” Hughes said. “Union wages and union benefits rebuild the middle class.”
Karen Kubby, former executive director of the Emma Goldman Clinic who now co-owns Dawn’s Hide & Bead Away, encouraged the more than 30 people who gathered for the noon hour program to think of May Day not only as a remembrance of workers’ struggles, but for the many meanings of the word “may.”
In statements such as “May I have an eight-hour work day?” may is a permissive word, she said. In other statements such as “We may have real change in this country to have health care for all” the word may is full of potential, she said.
Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, spoke about the conditions in meat packing factories.
“Animals are seen as unfeeling units of production,” Baur said. “On today’s factory farms, unfortunately bad becomes normal” for animals, employees and consumers, he said.
Baur encouraged the people in attendance to empower agricultural systems that do not exploit animals and people, such as farmers markets and community gardening.