Activists’ May Day rallies confront turbulent times, call for greater labor rights

May 1, 2024, 12:17 PM | Updated: 6:09 pm

Image: People take part in a May Day march in Seattle on Wednesday, May 1, 2024....

People take part in a May Day march in Seattle on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. (Photo: James Lynch, KIRO Newsradio)

(Photo: James Lynch, KIRO Newsradio)

Workers and activists around the world have marked May Day with largely peaceful protests Wednesday over rising prices and calls for greater labor rights. Pro-Palestinian sentiments were also on display.

Seattle-area May Day demonstrations

Wednesday morning, over 100 people gathered at Westlake Park for the annual May Day demonstration and march. The event is to show support for workers, workers’ rights and immigrant rights.

Other issues such as the Israel-Hamas war were also on the agenda.

“It’s important and stand united with all workers all around the world. Palestine, there are Starbucks workers organizing all over. Amazon workers. There are a lot of fights locally, so it’s just our day to stand together,” Demonstrator Marie Scott said.

Following an initial rally at Westlake Park in the morning, demonstrators took to the streets and marched through downtown. It was a peaceful march but very disruptive as demonstrators used vehicles, bicycles and, at times, their bodies to block traffic.

Photo: A May Day march took place in Seattle on May 1, 2024.

A May Day march took place in Seattle on May 1, 2024. (Photo: James Lynch, KIRO Newsradio)

Organizers said their intention was to cause disruption to bring attention to the plight of workers here and around the world.

“Today we gather here, not just to support international workers and our local workers, but also to shed light on the different causes that are going on and the different struggles that are going on in our city, in our state and, also globally,” Yesenia Gonzalez with the May 1st Action Coalition said.

Public safety is always a big concern on Mayday, the safety of the community and demonstrators alike.

“We are taking care that our folks are safe and that we have procedures in place. We are not foreseeing any issues this day,” Gonzalez said.

Seattle police in uniforms and in plain clothes were on hand just in case things went bad. Park rangers and private security were also in the crowd.

Demonstrators said this is a cause that affects us all, in one way or another and we all should show support.

“Just to support labor rights, internationally, here in Seattle. To support gig workers. What they’re talking about here, in the Philippines, labor internationally,” Demonstrator Bob Finley said.

Fortunately, there was no violence, no property damage and no arrests.

UNITE HERE Local 8, a union that represents about 4,000 workers in the hospitality industries of Oregon and Washington, and other ally union members from King County accuse hotels of keeping COVID-19-era service cuts in place, like ending daily housekeeping, while profits keep rising.

In a press release, the union stated that since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, “many hotels nationwide have scaled back services and staffing, while the hotel industry’s gross operating profit was 26.63% higher in 2022 than in 2019. Hotel room rates have reached record highs as these service cuts linger.”

“The cost of everything we need every day is going up. I own my house, but my wage is not enough for me to be able to keep it alone. I’ve had to have family move in with me,” said Westin Seattle room attendant Rosemary. “We will fight for a contract with wages that keep up with the cost of living.”

Hotel workers in Seattle are calling for the hotel industry to “Respect Our Work” and “Respect Our Guests” by raising wages and staffing sufficiently to avoid painful working conditions. Nationally, hotel workers report heavy workloads, loss of hours, and jobs that aren’t enough to afford the cost of living.

According to the press release, “This is the first national contract fight in the hospitality industry since the recent resurgence of labor, including record-setting strikes in 2023.”

“This fight will set the standard for millions of Americans and Canadians who work in cooking, cleaning, and customer service,” UNITE HERE International President Gwen Mills said in the press release. “Jobs in hospitality are growing faster than in any other sector of the U.S. economy, and hospitality workers – overwhelmingly women and people of color – are determined to win good jobs, safe workloads and respect.”

Other gatherings and marches are planned in the area throughout the day.

Image: People take part in a May Day march in Seattle on Wednesday, May 1, 2024.

People take part in a May Day march in Seattle on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. (Photo: James Lynch, KIRO Newsradio)

Workers’ May Day rallies around the world confront turbulent times

Workers and activists around the world marked May Day with largely peaceful protests Wednesday over rising prices, low wages and calls for greater labor rights. Pro- Palestinian sentiments were also on display.

Police in Istanbul used tear gas and fired rubber bullets to disperse thousands of people who tried to break through a barricade and reach the main Taksim square in defiance of a ban. Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said at least 210 people were detained.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has long declared Taksim off-limits for demonstrations on security grounds. In 1977, unidentified gunmen opened fire on a May Day celebration there, causing a stampede and killing 34 people. On Wednesday, a small group of trade union representatives lay a wreath at a monument to victims.

May Day, which falls on May 1, is observed to celebrate workers’ rights. It’s also an opportunity to air economic grievances or political demands. “Tax the rich,” one banner in Germany read. “Don’t touch the eight-hour workday!” another read in Sri Lanka.

In Paris, police fired tear gas as thousands of protesters marched through the French capital, seeking better pay and working conditions. Police said 12 officers were hospitalized after a homemade explosive was set off on the sidelines of the march and at least 45 people were detained after instances of scattered violence

A group of protesters set makeshift Olympic rings on fire to show discontent with the Summer Games that start in less than three months. France’s unions have warned of a strike during the Games if the government does not adequately compensate people forced to work during summer holidays.

Pro-Palestinian groups joined the Paris rally, chanting slogans in support for people in Gaza. There were similar scenes in other parts of the world. In Greece, pro-Palestinian protesters joined May Day rallies, waving a giant Palestinian flag as they marched past the Greek parliament. Others displayed banners in support of pro-Palestinian protesting students in the United States.

“We want to express our solidarity with students in the United States, who are facing great repression of their rights and their just demands,” said Nikos Mavrokefalos at the march. “We want to send a message that workers say no to exploitation, no to poverty, no to high prices,” he added.

Several thousand protesters joined the Athens marches as labor strikes disrupted public transport across Greece. The largest union demands a return to collective bargaining after labor rights were scrapped during the 2010-18 financial crisis.

In the German capital, around 11,600 people marched through the immigrant neighborhoods of Kreuzberg and Neukoelln, waving Palestinian flags and holding banners that read “No weapons for Israel” or “Free Palestine,” German news agency dpa reported.

Throughout Latin America, workers marched to protest austerity measures and demand higher wages. In Argentina, unions galvanized crowds to vent their rage over libertarian President Javier Milei’s economic policies, which they say benefit the wealthy while inflicting pain on the poor and middle class.

“Paying rent is difficult, buying rice is difficult, everything under this guy (Milei) is difficult,” said 40-year-old garbage collector Leandro Rosas, trailing protesters down the street with a broom because this May Day, he said he couldn’t even surrender a shift’s pay.

Meanwhile, Bolivian President Luis Arce joined the workers’ march and decreed a 5.8% increase in the national minimum wage, a bid to mobilize support as a worsening economic crisis raises the specter of social unrest. The thousands-strong protests in Santiago, Chile, turned violent in some areas as security forces unleashed water cannons and tear gas on corwds, drenching and dispersing protesters who vandalized shops and government buildings.

In Brazil, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva ratified a law that extends income tax exemptions to those earning up to two minimum wages per month, or about $544.

“In our country there will be no tax breaks to favor the richest, but to favor those who work and live off their wages,” Lula told a crowd sweltering in the sun at a soccer stadium in São Paulo.

In Nigeria, where inflation is the highest in 28 years, at over 33%, unions demanded bigger salary increases. In South Africa, pro-Palestinian demonstrators joined May Day events and in Kenya, President William Ruto called for an increase in the country’s minimum wage.

In Lebanon, pro-Palestinian marchers mingled with workers demanding an end to a miserable economic crisis. “Politicians do not feel the pain of the worker or the economic conditions,” said one demonstrator, Abed Tabbaa. In Iraq, protesters demanded better wages, the reopening of closed factories and the end to privatization of certain businesses.

Tens of thousands Sri Lankans paraded through the capital as the country struggles through its worst economic crisis, two years after declaring bankruptcy. Discontent has grown over efforts to increase revenue by raising the price of electricity and imposing taxes on professionals and small businesses.

In South Korea’s capital, thousands of protesters shouted pro-labor slogans at a rally that organizers said was meant to step up criticism of what they call anti-labor policies pursued by President Yoon Suk Yeol’s conservative government.

“In the past two years under the Yoon Suk Yeol government, the lives of our laborers have plunged into despair,” Yang Kyung-soo, leader of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, said in a speech. Union members criticized Yoon’s recent veto of a bill aimed at limiting companies’ rights to seek compensation for damages caused by union strikes.

In Japan, more than 10,000 people gathered in Tokyo, demanding salary increases to set off price increases.

Indonesian workers demanded protections for migrant workers abroad and a minimum wage raise. They gathered amid a tight police presence, chanting slogans against the new Job Creation Law and loosened outsourcing rules.

In the Philippines, hundreds of workers and left-wing activists marched to demand wage increases and job security amid soaring food and oil prices. Riot police stopped them from getting close to the presidential palace.

Past May Day demonstrations

An official May Day march organized by the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO) occurred in Seattle on May 1, 2023.

Annual May Day marches happen in various Washington cities, including Seattle, Olympia, Tacoma, Yakima, and Seattle.

From 2023: May Day rally hosted outside Federal Building advocating for workers rights

In the past, riots have broken out among protests in Seattle, but events in 2023 and 2022 remained mostly peaceful.

In 2021, the Seattle Police Department made 14 arrests of protesters for vandalism, obstruction, assault, and resisting arrest.

In 2015, two men damaged a KIRO Newsradio vehicle during the May Day protests on Capitol Hill.

Contributing: James Lynch, KIRO Newsradio; The Associated Press; Steve Coogan and L.B. Gilbert, MyNorthwest.

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Activists’ May Day rallies confront turbulent times, call for greater labor rights