May Day Protests For Essential Workers During Coronavirus

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Armando Franca / AP

Workers' unions keep a safe distance from each other and wear masks to help protect against the spread of the coronavirus during an event that marks May Day in Lisbon, on May 1, 2020.

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Essential workers led hundreds of protests on May 1 on Friday, including nurses calling for better protective equipment in hospitals and workers in the Amazon carrying out a strike to demand warehouses where employees are infected with COVID-19 to be closed.

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But how to protest during a global pandemic, when social distance is crucial and the lack of protective equipment is an essential part of the demands that workers are asking for?

May 1 is historically the biggest day of protest for the labor movement, with large demonstrations around the world. With more 30 million US workers claiming unemployment since the pandemic started and essential workers risking their lives for the company's profits, supporters say this year's protests were even more vital.

However, the protests looked different this year. On social media, thousands of people shared posts calling for a one-day boycott of Walmart, Instacart, Amazon, Whole Foods, Target and Shipt.

boycott Walmart, Amazon, Fedex, whole foods, target, delivery and installation tomorrow, May 1, 2020. stay with workers who deserve better wages and better working conditions.

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Fewer protests take place in person on the street, and those involving participants are five feet away from each other. Others are using caravan protests, which have become popular since the beginning of the pandemic for groups ranging calling for government blockades to endto supporters of rural workers in California.

"Some of these protests from social distance are quite dramatic and powerful," said Ray Brescia, a law professor at Albany Law School and author of The future of change: how technology shapes social revolutions. He compared the creativity of the May Day protests to the AIDS memory quilt.

Angela Gatdula, a nurse at the COVID-19 ward at Providence Saint John Health Center in Santa Monica, California, spoke with BuzzFeed News about the car horns organized by her and other union nurses from the National Nurses United and California Nursing Association .

Frederic J. Brown / Getty Images

Nurses employed at Providence Saint John Hospital and their supporters participate in a caravan in Santa Monica, California, on April 21, 2020.

"The traditional means of protesting, gathering friends, is not safe at the moment, so our protest looks like a caravan of cars," said Gatdula, who fell ill with COVID-19 when treating patients.

They had gathered in a nearby parking lot and planned to drive around the hospital honking their horns, with messages painted on the windshield and posters being kept on the windows.

"We can't get PPE," said Gatdula, referring to personal protective equipment.

California Nurses Association / National Nurses United

She noted that her hospital makes them reuse N-95 masks. A group of nurses from your hospital were suspended – and later reinstated – after refusing to treat patients without the masks.

They want the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to request a temporary emergency order to protect and provide optimal PPE to healthcare workers, and for the president to fully promote the Defense Production Act to increase the production of PPE .

"I am doing everything I can and I hope that it will push our hospital administrators, legislators and president to do the right thing and get the necessary protection to maintain security and the community," said Gatdula.

For weeks, nurses across the country have been participating in shift change protests asking for better PPE (personal protective equipment), where at the end of a shift nurses walk out of hospitals and talk to the media about the need for N95 masks as the new group. of nurses take care of patients.

Brescia pointed out the effectiveness of health professionals who posted videos on social media showing bruises from wearing masks all day and crying for the horrors of what they saw as a form of protest.

"I am totally confident that some of these images and messages from inside the hospital wards made people stay at home," he said. "People are using creative ways to connect and capture the reality of the terrain to many and disseminate it to people who will be affected by it and can advocate for change."

Make the Road New York – which defends immigrants and working-class communities – organized a caravan through the streets of downtown Manhattan, starting at Governor Andrew Cuomo's office, moving to Times Square, where they protested with suitcases and ending at the NoMad luxury apartments by Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, where a mariachi band played.

"This situation will require artists and creative types to adopt restrictions and find ways to communicate the need for change in new ways," said Brescia.

In 2019, Make the Road's May Day protest was a march through the downtown financial district. But the organizers realized that this year their normal plans would not work and tried to figure out "what we could do," said Jose Lopez, the organization's deputy director.

Make the road New York

Make the Road New York holds a May Day protest in Times Square

The group is calling for a $ 3.5 billion state bailout for excluded workers, including those who are undocumented, to cancel the rent and mortgage payment and to support the release of people from detention centers and immigration prisons. .

"We all kind of called a phone call and discussed some ideas and planned some plans that we thought would be creative and cool," said Lopez.

Car protests generally do not take place in New York City, an area with low car ownership. Lopez said he sent requests to employees and members to see who had access to vehicles to ensure that they had at least 50 available.

They then encouraged people to make signs and decorate their vehicles. They also provided guidance on how to maintain social distance when people stopped at the stops to play music and hold up posters, and included guidelines to ensure that cars stood in single file so as not to block roads and delay SME workers.

Make the road New York

A protester in the Make the Road New York May Day caravan.

Protesters were asked not to bring anyone with them who does not yet live in their home, "something we would never do for action on the streets," said Lopez. "It was the opposite of what I would normally do, which would be to say & # 39; bring your entire building with you! & # 39;"

They also organized a Facebook Live panel, run by two moderators at home, to ensure that even members who did not have access to a car or were at high risk of becoming ill could participate.

Former Amazon worker Christian Smalls, who was fired in recent weeks after organizing a stoppage of working conditions in the company's warehouse on Staten Island, he led a small socially detached protest with other essential workers in New York City.

The May Day protests look different in 2020, mainly because most essential workers are avoiding the tactics of armed protesters in Michigan's state capital this week, but they may just be effective tools for claiming workers' rights, Brescia said.

"If people could protest the federal government's response to the coveted, you would see … [rallies] several times the size of the Women's March in all cities, if people could demonstrate, "he added." You can still demonstrate and need to use the protections, and I think it’s very powerful when people do that. "

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