Seattle May Day rally and march tout new union strength

Backed by a series of successful and high-profile labor campaigns across the country, Seattle’s annual May Day March for Workers’ and Immigrants’ Rights enjoyed a resurgence on Sunday, drawing large and vibrant crowds.

After two years of reduced crowds amid pandemic shutdowns, more than 200 May Day marchers took to the streets, marching from Judkins Park to downtown Seattle. Their demands were far-reaching: immigration reform, an end to deportations, divesting of police department funds, and an end to sweepings of homeless encampments, among other reforms.

Fueled in part by recent union victories by workers at Amazon and Starbucks – two Seattle-headquartered corporate giants – some marchers attributed the crowd size to renewed optimism for workers’ rights .

“We are tired of living under the constant threat of losing our jobs,” said Stephen Hoth, Uber and Lyft driver and driver union member. Hoth moved from Nebraska to Kent four months ago after Uber abruptly disabled his account, he said.

“Imagine Uber being your only source of income and they getting rid of you,” he snapped his fingers, “just like that.”

Hoth and a group of drivers marched for the extension of protections for drivers. Other protesters participated in support of a wide range of progressive positions.

“It’s housing, it’s homelessness, it’s immigration, it’s a number of topics beyond work that drive this participation,” said Yesenia Gonzalez, program coordinator at El Committee, a social justice organization that sponsored the march to celebrate International Labor Day.

Yet organizers frequently highlighted worker victories during the march: a successful strike by farmworkers in the Skagit Valley ahead of the popular Tulip Festival; Seattle Starbucks workers voting to unionize; and mobilization efforts in a few local workplaces.

In speeches met with thunderous applause, organizers called for more support for the state’s most vulnerable workers whose fears have been stoked by inflation, economic uncertainty and an ongoing pandemic.

Marchers clutched signs that berated capitalism and the fight against corporate unions (such as a “Fight Bezos” sign berating the Amazon founder).

“Billionaires live a totally different life than the average worker,” said Vishnu Subramaniam, an organizer with the Washington branch of the Service Employees International Union. “That’s a huge determining factor: economic inequality.”

The group chanted, “Respect us. Protect us. Pay us. And “Si se puede”, the motto of the United Farm Workers of America. The protest began at 1 p.m. and participants reached Westlake Park in downtown Seattle around 5 p.m.

Although the turnout surpassed last year’s march – with dozens joining the crowd of 200 as they made their way downtown – it did not rival the size of the tight crowds that congregated in the pre-pandemic days, Gonzalez said.

And the havoc caused by groups of violent protesters in the last days of May was also absent this Sunday. In the past, anti-capitalist protesters have blended into crowds before breaking away to break windows of buildings and cars and commit other acts of vandalism. By noon, the display was largely peaceful, with Seattle police scattered along the road, swarming the marchers.

Police did not block streets for the protest, unlike how the city handled May Day marches in years past. Instead, organizers used cars and cyclists to stop traffic and make way for the march.

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