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Bag the Tea: Workers Rights' Parade on May 1


One day last spring an oversized puppet made to look like the former Virginia Commonwealth University president, Eugene Trani, was shepherded down Broad Street by a band of children dressed as bulldozers.

It was Richmond's first May Day parade in recent memory and grass-roots groups are gearing up for a second march May 1. A rally will begin at Abner Clay Park at Clay Street and Brook Road in Jackson Ward, with a march down Broad Street at 5 p.m. Organizers expect a turnout bigger than last year's 200 or so participants and have commitments from out-of-towners, including Brandon Collins, secretary of the Socialist Party of Central Virginia.

“The economic crisis was a crisis before all this mess,” Collins says. “Poor people were already in crisis, so it's nothing really new to people, but they're more motivated.”

International Workers Day, May 1, commemorates the establishment of the eight-hour workday in 1886 by the group that eventually became the American Federation of Labor, still one of the biggest players in national union politics.

The event will look beyond labor to a spectrum of issues that the group believes rise from inequalities inherent in capitalism. Participants are invited to attend a series of workshops during the weekend before the march, says one of the organizers, Breanna Armbrust. Practical matters such as flier design and organization building will be addressed, as well as the larger issues of public housing, voting rights restoration and, of course, labor organizing.

“This is a pretty big event,” Armbrust says, “especially with Virginia being a right-to-work state,” meaning that state law makes strong unions difficult to build. Armbrust adds that the wake of the financial crisis is a natural time to talk about workers' rights.

“I just think it's kind of a sign of the times,” she says.

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