Seattle marches on May Day

May 7, 2014

Steve Leigh reports from Seattle on the city's actions on May 1.

ACROSS THE U.S., immigrant workers, labor solidarity organizations, immigrants rights coalitions and activists of all sorts organized actions on May 1 to commemorate May Day, the international workers' holiday.

At events large and small, organizers highlighted issues of workers' solidarity and immigrant rights in commemoration of the 1886 struggle for the eight-hour workday spearheaded by working-class radicals in Chicago.

In Seattle, the day's activities started with a rally at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Tacoma, 30 miles south of Seattle. Nearly 75 people gathered to show solidarity with immigrant detainees languishing in inhumane conditions while awaiting deportation.

The detainees have been organizing a hunger strike, which at its height included hundreds of prisoners. In response to continual pickets and other outside support, the GEO Corp., the private company that runs the facility, had to back away from its harsh treatment of protesters, recently ending the solitary confinement of organizers. But conditions remain deplorable. Prisoners as well as family members and other supporters addressed the rally, and all speeches were given in English and Spanish.

Demonstrators gathered for Seattle's May Day march
Demonstrators gathered for Seattle's May Day march

One woman recounted a recent run-in with police in Bellingham, north of Seattle. When she reported her car stolen, she was the one who ended up getting arrested because as an immigrant she's automatically "under suspicion." Her husband is one of the detainees in Tacoma.

After rallying for an hour, participants caravanned to Seattle for the annual immigrant rights march. Hundreds gathered in the majority Black neighborhood of Judkins Park and then marched downtown. By the end of the march, several hundred more had joined the procession, and 1,000 people rallied at Westlake Mall.

May Day has been a day of immigrant rights activity in Seattle for years, especially since more than 10,000 turned for a 2006 march. Rallies have varied in size since then, but have generally been one of the three largest marches in Seattle each year.

The march this year had a dual theme--immigrant rights and the movement to raise Seattle's minimum wage to $15. Signs and banners calling for "15 Now" were prominent throughout the crowd. The issue had special importance because of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray's recent announcement of his plan to achieve $15 per hour.

With a phase-in of up to seven years and no cost-of-living increase until the end of the phase-in, many criticized it as a far cry from what is needed and as a maneuver to water down a stronger version supported by many activists in the city.

City councilor and socialist Kshama Sawant echoed the sentiments of many in the crowd when she described the mayor's plan as a response to pressure from the grassroots movement and called on activists to continue to mobilize for an undiluted $15 minimum wage.

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