May 1 quickly approaches once again in the Emerald City. The day, punctuated by marches and calls for social justice, originated in the 1880s to honor the martyrs of Haymarket Square during the height of the American Labor Movement.
Systemic repression against radical labor, in tandem with the creation of Labor Day (set in early September), led to collective amnesia of our shared labor struggles. May 1 as a holiday was forced to the margins.
I first heard of May Day, or International Workers Day, from my father. It was a conversation steeped in nostalgia and every bit as abstract in my young imagination. My parents were very insistent on educating me about labor, as they taught me that a person’s worth isn’t solely based on the economic value of their production.
I remembered these conversations into adulthood, when I moved to Seattle and noticed that the city still had a strong labor undercurrent that celebrated the day for what it is: a celebration of working peoples and their struggles for a dignified existence.
The first May Day march I ever attended was in 2003, organized by “El Comite Pro-Amnistia General Y Justicia Social.” The march, one of longest continuously running May Day events on the West Coast, was heavily influenced by a call for immigrant rights.
It makes sense that the re-introduction of May Day has a receptive audience within the immigrant and, specifically, the Latinx immigrant community in Seattle. The first of these marches happened in 1999 to address the plight of workers displaced from their places of origin by adverse economic policy (North American Free Trade Agreement in Mexico) and U.S. proxy intervention in Latin America (Dirty Wars of the 1970s-1980s).
The march itself is also a reflection of its environment here in Seattle, especially because the WTO demonstrations of 1999 dramatically illustrated the need to fight for global economic justice. Workers displaced from Latin America bear the brunt of the same economic system that pushes budget cuts for social services here in the United States.
Given the intensity of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids the last two years, it’s clear that the immigrant community is in a state of emergency. Likewise, the continued push against middle- and working-class workers is making for adverse conditions for future generations.
Thus, it makes sense to stand together as workers of all backgrounds in support of our friends and allies who are relegated to the margins. All are deserving of basic human needs, including the need for peace of mind, and the opportunity to earn a dignified wage.
I’ll see y’all on May Day.
Oscar Rosales grew up in the Yakima Valley and works and resides in Seattle. He has previously contributed to HistoryLink.org and the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project.
Wait, there's more. Check out the full April 25 - May 1 issue.