Guest Column

Respect!/¡El Respeto: Workers' Memorial Day March Fosters Community, Respect

Marchers travel through the streets of New Brunswick, calling for a brighter future for workers and their children. Credits: Amy Barenboim

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ -- In a room aglow with orange, the color of the pro-worker nonprofit New Labor, a large and diverse crowd gathered at Anshe Emeth Synagogue. The sense of community was palpable as children, parents, workers and supporters gathered. Everyone seemed to know each other as people hugged and smiled.

This was not like some other rallies, filled with anger and discontent. As children marched beside their parents, it became clear that this was about hope for the future.

New Labor and other organizations, such as the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and United Steelworkers, came together to raise awareness for worker’s rights at the Workers' Memorial Day March on a Sunday in late April.

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The first Workers' Memorial Day occurred on April 28, 1971. It celebrated the creation of OSHA, a move made in response to public demands for safer work places. The day honors the 5,000 workers who die each year on job sites.

New Labor advocates for workers' rights, specifically for safe working conditions. The organization operates under five core values: working together, respect, equality, capturing and sharing power.

Many impassioned speakers presented testimonials, all of which were translated into Spanish by a live interpreter, a testament to the inclusive and democratic nature of New Labor. Lou Kimmel, co-founder of New Labor, said solemnly, "People don't go to work to die. They go to make a living."

In a sober moment, Pat Jones of OSHA listed the names of 45 workers who died on the job in 2016. A representative from United Steelworkers said every other week someone in his industry dies on the job. The statistics helped to anchor the need for the rally.

But despite those tragic statistics, the most gripping part of the rally was the sheer diversity of the crowd. The number of children was shocking, yet strangely fitting. The issue of labor rights is inherently cross-generational. That was made clear by a quote from one man who died on the job: "I work to help get us out of the poverty our parents grew up in."

It is poignant that at an event about economic advancement, those who will be most affected by that advancement--children--were overwhelmingly presented. And it is children who will eventually take up the mantle. They handed out fliers and T-shirts. They seemed genuinely invested in the movement. The event, after all, was not only about preserving the safety of loved ones in the work force, but ensuring a brighter future for the kids.

In the crowd assembled outside the synagogue, each person held orange signs. The march proceeded through residential areas of New Brunswick. The crowd cheered, "Ni una muerte más!” and "Not one more death!” They drew families out of their homes and into the streets. Several men pushed forth a coffin, symbolizing the death that has taken place--and that the organizations hope to end. The march culminated on George Street, bringing issues of the working people of New Brunswick to the commercialized, Rutgers-heavy downtown.

The march not only brought together workers, but the entire community. It made sense. After all, New Labor is about "working together,” and "sharing power.” These are values not only in name, but are represented by the actions of its members, and the community it has created.

They are values that our children will carry forth.

Amy Barenboim, a New Jersey native, is an English major at Rutgers University. She is also interested in theater and philosophy. On most days you can find her reading a book under a tree. She writes a regular column for TAPinto New Brunswick.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer. Click here to submit a Guest Column.

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