SOLR hosts May Day event to celebrate campus workers, spotlight intersectional activism efforts

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Illustration by Avani Kalra

Student activist groups called for intersectional advocacy at the event.

Joanna Hou, Campus Editor

Hundreds of students and workers gathered in the Multicultural Center Monday to celebrate May Day, which recognizes the struggles and gains of international labor organization efforts. 

On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers from around the U.S. went on strike for an 8-hour workday. Three years later, an international federation of socialist groups and trade unions commemorated it with the observance of the first May Day. 

Monday’s celebration, hosted by Students Organizing for Labor Rights, featured performances from student groups Mariachi Northwestern, NU Undertones and Dale Duro. Students could purchase foods, including tacos dorados and chocoflan, and partake in a raffle. According to SOLR member and SESP senior Neva Legallet, all proceeds went toward SOLR’s mutual aid efforts. 

Legallet said the goal was to celebrate workers’ contributions on campus and promote a sense of community between students and workers. She said the University imposes “hierarchical structures” between students and workers, which causes members of each group to see the other as a separate entity. 

“Students can really contribute a lot (to worker advocacy) just by getting to know workers in the first place, and showing the workers in the day-to-day interactions that they have that they value them as well people,” she said. “We have a lot of platforms at this school … we can and should leverage them in order to make sure that every single community member is treated the way they should be.” 

SOLR hopes workers will be treated with dignity, Legallet said. 

The event also featured student activist group booths where attendees could learn about advocacy efforts around campus. SOLR, Fossil Free NU and the NU Graduate Workers union passed out flyers, pins and sign up sheets.  

Communication junior Jordan Muhammad, a Fossil Free member who uses ki/kis pronouns, said activists from these different groups engage in intersectional support efforts because the individual issues they advocate for share the same roots. By working together, ki said the groups’ successes become more widespread. 

Ki said students should engage in activism because it allows for students to think about solutions. Activism does not always have to occur on a large scale, Muhammad added.

“We need students to recognize that when we don’t take any type of action, when we resolve to be aware of the problems and not doing anything about it, that is exactly what the powers that be want us to do,” Muhammad said. “They want us to feel hopeless, that nothing can happen. But I think there’s a lot of hope in the little actions.”

Second-year Ph.D. student in political science Summer Pappachen said NUGW needs intersectional activism “more than anything else.” Community organizing means recognizing that you have little power as an individual, but “more power than you could ever imagine” as a collective, Pappachen added. 

Pappachen, a bargaining committee member, said university campuses have historically been a place to organize demands. 

“They’re celebrating in every country, the power of workers to fight for their rights, get what they’re due and what they deserve,” Pappachen said. “As a union of graduate workers, May Day is everything.” 

Third-year Ph.D. student in sociology Teke Wiggin said the University would not be able to function without graduate student labor. Though NUGW officially unionized on Jan. 12, Wiggin, who is also the NUGW organizer for the sociology department, said the union wants to focus on other issues graduate students care about, including graduate mental health. 

Weinberg sophomore Abhi Nimmagadda attended the celebration because he wanted to support campus workers. He said he enjoys interacting with workers on campus because they offer “insightful” perspectives. 

He said he also finds community with the workers because he grew up in a working-class family. 

“The people that I’ve been meeting here are some of the best I’ve ever met on this campus,” Nimmagadda said. “I definitely do want to get involved with these specific clubs a lot more (now) that I’ve been looking at them a bit more.” 

Legallet said May Day is ultimately about uplifting worker power in the community. 

“We are not fighting for workers. We are fighting side by side with workers,” Legallet said. “We are not speaking on behalf of them. We are helping amplify their voices.” 

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Twitter: @joannah_11

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