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 farm worker 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 in farms throughout the Skagit Valley. According to a 2014 study, migrant farm workers 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 farm workers in Skagit County, says that about 70% of farm workers in the county come from Indigenous communities in southern Mexico.
The 2017 US Department of Agriculture census of agriculture reported that more than 95 percent of farm owners in Skagit County are white.
Franks said that the demonstration hoped to highlight farm workers and their movement.
“We wanted to uplift the farm workers’ struggle here … farm workers 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 farm workers 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 — co-sponsored 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.
Read more of the May 4-10, 2022 issue.