PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island’s capital city has been recently lauded as “America’s Renaissance City,” with several new downtown development projects — upscale hotels, a high-end shopping mall and a handful of relocated corporate offices. City planners have aimed to transform Providence into an international tourist destination and to bring more wealthy residents and businesses back into the city.

The luster of marble floors in the halls of commerce, the shine of skyscraper windows that look down on the bustle of traffic, and the fluff of down pillows that ease the tourist’s sleep — all these are maintained and renewed every day by the sweat and toil of low-wage immigrant workers.

Instead of resting on Labor Day, hundreds of these janitors and hotel workers — joined by labor, community, faith-based and student allies — took over the city’s main downtown artery to stake a claim to the wealth they create.

The day began with a rally in front of City Hall, where janitors from SEIU Local 615 and hotel workers from Unite Here Local 217 gave speeches describing the difficulty of their work. They called for a Providence Renaissance that benefits families in all neighborhoods.

The Rev. Duane Clinker of Hillsgrove United Methodist Church urged those who sit in the top floor offices of the city’s financial buildings to “come down and join our family,” and called for “those at the bottom to stand up” to claim their rightful place.

City Council President John Lombardi honored the organizing tradition of previous generations of immigrant workers in the region, and connected their struggle for fair working conditions to the fights of more recent generations of immigrant workers.

March co-sponsors R.I. Jobs with Justice and DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality) fired up the crowd with chants and songs, and led the group into the streets, where marchers blocked traffic and snaked around the city, past the offices of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, which ran a successful campaign several years ago against a proposed living wage ordinance.

The march ended in the shadow of the Providence Place Mall, a development project that received millions of dollars in tax subsidies from the city, but created only low-wage retail and service jobs that offer few benefits. About 25 activists, including City Council member Miguel Luna, were arrested for sitting down in the intersection in front of the mall.

The Providence City Council — under pressure from this coalition – recently passed a Displaced Workers’ Ordinance that protects janitors’ jobs when landlords of downtown buildings change cleaning subcontractors. It is unclear if the mayor will sign the ordinance.

One thing, however, is certain: the workers are fired up, can’t take it no more!

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