Speaking out in Seattle on May Day

May 7, 2015

Caroline Gonzales reports from Seattle on May Day demonstrations.

THE MORNING of Seattle's May Day began with a rally in defense of University of Washington (UW) custodian Salvador Castillo, who has been threatened by management with firing due to his union activity.

Organized by Washington Federation of State Employees Local 1488, the action highlighted Salvador's longtime union activism and his leading role in various fights for custodians and students. Reclaim UW is one of the groups promoting this.

After the rally, protesters delivered a stack of petitions in support of Castillo to interim UW President Ana Mari Cauce. Chanting "We are Salvador," students, union reps, community members and fellow custodian staff delivered letters of support with the petition. Coworkers of Salvador described how the university has fired custodial staff, yet still expects the same amount of work to be finished faster. This has led to a workforce that is chronically underpaid and overworked, regularly facing disciplinary measures for not finishing on time, and suffering injuries on the job.

A solidarity rally at the University of Washington
A solidarity rally at the University of Washington (Rick Barry)

As Paula Lukaszek, President of Local 1488, said:

Salvador's case is the same case of all the other custodians on campus. They are forced to do their regularly scheduled jobs, and then when they can't, they get written up. One of their directors says he only expects people to do what they can in an eight-hour day, and yet he's letting his managers and supervisors write up people because they can't do the impossible.

AFTER THE morning rally for Salvador, Outside Agitators 206 organized an event around the theme of Black Lives Matters, featuring speakers as well as musical performers, including Mark Cook, Dorian T, Bypolar and Santonio Bandanaz. This was a family-friendly event, with "green zone" and "orange zone" areas. Organizers explicitly connected police brutality and racism to capitalism. After the performances, participants joined the "Marcha y manifestación anual del 1o de mayo" (May Day march and rally) to forge solidarity with those fighting for immigrant rights.

Organized by El Comité, this year's event incorporated new themes alongside demands of justice for immigrants:

Among our concerns is the use of institutional violence against poor people of color, whether in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City, or recently, Pasco, Washington. Likewise, the disappearances of student teachers in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, also impact our communities since it is our tax money and foreign policy that is being used as carte blanche for corrupt politicians to suppress and violate the human rights of communities advocating for their rights.

Local tribal members of Idle No More, an organization of First Nations people based in Canada, held a ceremony to bless the rally. They spoke of how indigenous people on both sides of the border have had their lives and culture distorted by colonialism, reminding the crowd that our ancestors recognized no divisions between our peoples as we do today, and as such, we must connect together our struggles not only in solidarity, but as one people.

The march to the federal courthouse showed the strength of oppressed and exploited peoples. Together, anti-capitalists marched with unions, Sakuma workers, OA206, GABRIELA Seattle (a Filipina community organization), and students for immigrant justice, Black lives matter and workers' liberation.

When it was Seattle Mayor Ed Murray's turn to address the crowd, he expressed his support for Obama's immigration policies, prompting boos and shouts from the audience that the policy does not address the root problem, nor does it change the record number of deportations during Obama's presidency.

After the mayor spoke, organizers reinforced the point that immigrant workers have spearheaded the revival of May Day celebrations in the U.S. and that their struggle to have their humanity recognized is an issue that the entire working class should take up.

Further Reading

From the archives