Bolstered by a series of successful, high-profile union campaigns across the country, Seattle’s annual May Day march for workers’ and immigrants’ rights experienced a resurgence Sunday, drawing a sizable and buoyant crowd.
After two years of slimmed-down crowds amid pandemic lockdowns, more than 200 May Day marchers packed the streets, striding from Judkins Park to downtown Seattle. Their demands were wide-ranging: immigration reform, ending evictions, divesting funds from police departments and halting the sweeps of homeless encampments, among other reforms.
Fueled in part by recent union victories for workers at Amazon and Starbucks — two corporate giants headquartered in Seattle — some marchers credited the crowd size to a renewed optimism for workers’ rights.
“We’re tired of living under the constant threat of losing our jobs,” said Stephen Hoth, an Uber and Lyft driver and member of the Drivers Union. Hoth moved to Kent from Nebraska four months ago after Uber abruptly deactivated his account, he said.
“Imagine Uber is your only source of income and they just get rid of you,” he said, snapping his fingers, “just like that.”
Hoth and a group of drivers marched for the expansion of protections for drivers. Other demonstrators participated to support a broad spectrum of progressive stances.
“It’s housing, it’s homelessness, it’s immigration, it’s a number of topics beyond just labor driving this turnout,” said Yesenia Gonzalez, a program coordinator with El Comité, a social justice organization that sponsored the march to celebrate International Labor Day.
Still, organizers frequently pointed to labor wins during the march: a successful strike by farmworkers in Skagit Valley ahead of the popular Tulip Festival; Seattle Starbucks workers voting to unionize; and mobilization efforts at a handful of local workplaces.
In speeches met with boisterous applause, organizers called for more support for the state’s most vulnerable workers whose fears have been fanned by inflation, economic uncertainty and an ongoing pandemic.
Marchers clutched signs that rebuked capitalism and corporate union-busting (like a “Fight Bezos” sign admonishing the Amazon founder).
“Billionaires are living 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 driving factor: the economic inequality.”
The group chanted, “Respect Us. Protect Us. Pay Us.” And, “S
Although turnout outpaced last year’s march — with dozens joining the throng of 200 as they made their way downtown — it didn’t rival the size of the closely packed crowds that have rallied in the pre-pandemic days, Gonzalez said.
And the havoc wreaked by groups of violent protesters during past May Days also was absent this Sunday. In the past, anti-capitalist protesters have blended into the crowd before peeling off to smash building and car windows and carry out other acts of vandalism. By midday, the display was largely peaceful, with Seattle police officers scattered along the route, hemming in marchers.
Police didn’t block the streets for the demonstration, a departure from how the city managed May Day marches of years past. Instead, organizers used cars and bicyclists to stop traffic and make way for the march.