by Guy Oron
(This article originally appeared on Real Change and has been reprinted under an agreement.)
Across Skagit County and Seattle, hundreds of workers and their families marched and celebrated International Workers Day, popularly known as May Day. Organizers highlighted the struggle for better wages and conditions as well as a variety of other progressive causes.
In Skagit County, the march started on a sunny morning at Edgewater Park, Mount Vernon, and ended in Burlington. Organized by Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), a union which represents 300 farmworker families in Burlington, the march featured drumming, music, food, and speakers from solidarity organizations. Attendees varied widely, with babies, youth, and elders participating.
Edgar Franks, the political director at FUJ, estimated attendance at more than 500 people.
Families represented by FUJ are largely Indigenous migrant workers from Mexico who work on farms throughout the Skagit Valley. According to a 2014 study, migrant farmworkers face numerous structural barriers and often earn such low wages that they fall under the federal poverty line. Sea Mar Community Health Centers, which serves farmworkers in Skagit County, says that about 70% of farmworkers in the county come from Indigenous communities in southern Mexico.
The 2017 U.S. Department of Agriculture census of agriculture reported that more than 95% of farm owners in Skagit County are white.
Franks said that the demonstration hoped to highlight farmworkers and their movement.
“We wanted to uplift the farmworkers’ struggle here … farmworkers are part of that overall global worker movement,” Franks said.
“There was a big strike that happened here with daffodil and tulip workers and they were able to get a lot of gains from their employer,” Franks said.
“Strikes, marches … all of that helps uplift the voice of farmworkers and lets people know that we’re still here,” he said. “Letting the public know that there’s still farmworkers in the community that are working and working in dangerous conditions, but luckily there’s a union here that can change all that.”
The march also featured the presentation of a solidarity banner made by Filipino organizers based in the Seattle area, highlighting the joint struggle for workers’ rights and democracy in the Philippines and Skagit County.
The Seattle event — cosponsored by El Comité, UFCW 3000, MLK Labor, and the May 1st Action Coalition — began at Judkins Park in the Central District, within smelling distance of the sweet scents of the Franz Bakery. Groups representing different organizations lined up at 1:30 p.m. and began walking toward the water, through the Chinatown-International District.
Before marchers stepped off, a crowd gathered in a parking lot to hear speeches from attorney, artist, and activist Nikkita Oliver and Ken Workman, a member of the Duwamish tribe and descendant of Chief Si’ahl, for whom the city was named. It was a day of celebration of workers’ rights, particularly recent unionization efforts at Amazon and Starbucks, companies that have become synonymous with Seattle.
“We want organized labor, right?” Oliver said. “When do we want it?”
“Now!” the crowd responded.
They paused and gave space for a Spanish-language translator to speak to the assembly.
The march took off through the streets of Seattle, winding down the hills led by people engaging in call and response.
“One: We are the people! Two: A little bit louder! Three: We want justice for all people!”
Ashley Archibald contributed to the reporting.
Guy Oron is Real Change’s staff reporter. A Seattleite, he studied at the University of Washington. Guy’s writing has been featured in The Stranger and the South Seattle Emerald. Outside of work, Guy likes to spend their time organizing for justice, rock climbing, and playing chess. Find them on Twitter @GuyOron.
📸 Featured Image: (Photo: Guy Oron, courtesy of Real Change)
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