Every Human is Essential: On May Day workers across all sectors give a working class response to COVID-19 pandemic

May 1, 2020

Organizers from AnakBayan, organize with the caravan in front of their caravan cars on International Workers Day

SEATTLE — “On International Workers’ Day, the COVID-19 Mutual Aid Solidarity Network, in partnership with community members and workers, organized a car caravan to recognize worker struggles across different industries under the conditions of this current global pandemic. In an effort to highlight the absolute failure of racial capitalism to prioritize people over profit during the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers and workers came together to demand safety.”

COVID-19 Mutual Aid Seattle

Organizers in Seattle have historically marched and rallied on May 1st every year to honor, celebrate and demand safety and security for workers everywhere. Due to the risk that essential workers are experiencing daily, a majority of whom are exploited and face very limited protections from their employers, community organizers and workers across Seattle partnered to create an action that followed social distancing guidelines. While May Day marches are usually in-person and on foot, organizers opted to encourage participants to stay in their vehicles and follow a Livestream of the car caravan as they visited each site.

Beginning at the University of Washington, the caravan travelled to Trader Joe’s, the SSA Marine office at the Port of Seattle, Cargill Sweeteners, King County Metro, Reynolds Worker Release and culminated at the Veterans Affairs Hospital. The sites were chosen to highlight — workers struggling for better conditions. 

Members of the COVID-19 Mutual Aid Solidarity Network published a collaborative statement entitled, “Every Human is Essential: People Before Profits – A Working Class response to COVID-19 Pandemic,” which includes a list of 21 demands that reflect the urgent situation workers face amidst the pandemic. 

We are facing an unprecedented situation in the history of workers’ struggles and the racial capitalist system of exploitation and expropriation. Amidst the chaos of COVID 19, the rich continue to prioritize profit, private property and control over our bodies and labor. The police and military surveill and criminalize our acts of resistance. They will gladly sacrifice human life to continue the relentless pursuit of profit.”

May Day collaborative statement: Every Human is Essential: People Before Profits – A Working Class response to COVID-19 Pandemic,

The statement served as a rallying call for protests and solidarity between worker struggles; for working people to come together and fight alongside each other during and beyond May Day.

The caravan exposed several employers that are actively exploiting and risking the lives of their workers. Veterans Affairs Hospital, Trader Joe’s and University of Washington are responsible for the exploitation of medical, service, grocery and custodial workers. Workers at each site are experiencing retaliation for speaking up about the lack of PPE, hazard pay, and lack of health insurance. Christie Harris, a UFCW21 member, shared passionate testimony with Trader Joe’s workers, “Our work together is what keeps the economy rolling…Not the stock market or the corporations. Not the news or the politicians. It’s us. We are the ones that keep the world turning.”

King County Metro workers are facing conditions where social distancing is literally impossible and are continuing to put their bodies and safety on the line in order to provide this essential service. “[In Seattle], over 3,000 bus drivers provide truly difficult services for people who depend on public transportation. [We are] here to thank workers for their essential service and to invite Metro management to do a better job supporting the health and safety of their workers and riders who take public transit”, according to bus driver Kelsen Caldwell.

Christie Harris, a UFCW21 member, has worked at Fred Meyer for fifteen years in the bakery department. They yelled into their megaphone, across the street from Trader Joe’s, to the positive response of TJ workers, “Our work together is what keeps the economy rolling…Not the stock market or the corporations. Not the news or the politicians. It’s us. We are the ones that keep the world turning.” Harris teared up when describing the difficulties of coworkers supporting each other during hard times. They exclaimed, “Our labor is dignified and it should be respected. Putting food on the table is sacred.” 

At the University of Washington, the caravan rallied behind the demands of exploited custodial workers.  A custodial worker at the University of Washington and member of Migrante Seattle recounted, “One month ago on April 1st, a custodial worker passed away from COVID-19 due to the neglect of the University of Washington” He continued, “The vast majority of [custodial workers] are immigrant Filipino and Ethiopian women. Layoffs, no PPE, management repeatedly dismissing their concerns…We need to listen to the workers.” 

At the Port of Seattle, Longshoreman and allies rallied behind the demand to prioritize medical shipments, demanded PPE and safe working conditions, as they delivered a letter with their demands to the SSA Marine office. 

Longshoreman with the ILWU share their demands including the demand to prioritize medical shipments through the Port above other merchandise for profit, before delivering a letter to SSA Marine.

Cars filed out to the next location, Cargill Sweeteners in SODO where organizers are ready to shine a light on one of the largest agribusiness companies in the world and a target of the  landless workers movement in Brazil. Yasmeen, an organizer with Uprooted and Rising said,  “Cargill is the largest private company in the United States and last year this company was one of a few agribusiness giants responsible for the burning of the Amazon rainforest”. Adding,  “Cargill is also a company that is invested in the breeding of GE salmon and lobbying for industrial fish farming in the deep ocean because they are investing in making soy the future of fish feed.” Ganesha, another member of Uprooted and Rising Seattle, emphasized,

“Colonialism has changed and compromised our environment forever. Indigenous peoples have practices prior to european settler colonialism that helped to fortify the land and the environment and all of its ecosystems. We want that way of life back as closely or similar to it as possible”.

Ganesha, Uprooted and Rising

Uprooted and Rising urges everyone to join the initiative called #WorkersOverKickbacks in support for campus workers, students, and food producers impacted by campus closures due to covid-19. #WorkersOverKickbacks petition bit.ly/WorkersOverKickbacks

Cars approach Cargill Sweeteners plant in SoDo to protest a Big Food corporation responsible for burning the Amazon Rainforest.

Over the zoom caravan organizers next targeted King County Metro. Robert, a representative with the Transit Riders Union tuned in to talk about their fight for accessible, affordable, and ultimately free transit. The Transit Riders Union is fighting for free Orca cards and organizing for a big business tax. Addressing the Union’s partnerships with international transit formations in the global south, Robert argued, “Right now is all about mutual aid and riders and drivers coming together.” As the caravan arrived outside King County Metro’s Central Base where, “[in Seattle], over 3,000 bus drivers provide truly difficult services for people who depend on public transportation.”

The caravan “is here to thank workers for their essential service and to invite Metro management to do a better job supporting the health and safety of their workers and riders to take public transit”, according to bus driver Kelsen Caldwell. They argued against the new policy of identifying houseless folks as “non-destinational riders” and security being used to criminalize and police poor people.

Kelsen Caldwell, Metro Bus Driver

They urge people to support the King County Metro drivers petition: https://www.change.org/SupportKCMetroDrivers

Next the caravan approached Reynolds Work Release, a department of corrections facility for people that are exiting the prison system who are placed here for some period of time, forced to work for low wages. JM Wong, a core member of the COVID-19 mutual aid and solidarity network, said “what we have heard from Reynolds is that there are many positive cases of covid cases in there and the department of corrections is not releasing people. This is a travesty because people are gonna die from covid in these conditions.” The next speaker who also spent some time inside of Reynolds, said“ When we talk about labor organizing we can’t separate that from all the labor organizing that has happened all the activism that has happened throughout history around our jails and our prisons.” 

A family member of someone in Reynolds highlighted that currently, “There are 80 individuals in this work release facility who have served their time and are ready to come home and be with their families and their loved ones. We are ready for them. 6 individuals in this facility have taken the corona virus test. And so far all of them came back positive.” She continued, ”It’s impossible to social distance in this facility. Due to its design all 80 men in this building share the same 4 bathrooms. So before we know it, every single person, if they haven’t been infected already, will have coronavirus due to the department of corrections. I am worried that folks will die.” 

Family member person incarcerated at Reynolds DOC Work Release

The COVID-19 Solidarity Network demands 1) More testing and an accurate reflection of the situation on official websites.We need everyone to be tested and we need them tested now. 2) That every individual in this building is provided with compassionate care and access to medical professionals that have helped battle this deadly virus. 3) We are demanding that DOC and governor Jay Inslee provide all individuals and staff with personal protective equipment. 4) Let them go. She finished passionately crying, “Their families are ready to embrace them. We want to free our people, free our people, free our people”. Protested joining her chanting, “we love you” and “free them all” and “we are coming back for you, we want you to be free” to individuals locked up at reynold who were watching and waving through their windows

The last speaker brough viewers to tears as he described how Andrea Circlebear, a 30 year old native american woman, died at Reynolds while cuffed up and pregnant, strapped to a ventilator, and despite her not posing a risk to anybody. As he tears up he shares, “It is only through the activism of people in the community that can highlight these issues. I was there for 6 months. Had I still been there I would be facing a death sentence right now simply because policy makers refuse to release people who don’t pose a risk to public safety and they will jeopardize the lives of these black and brown people and poor people simply to maintain the status quo of mass incarceration. This public health crisis has simply highlighted the sheer insanity of what has been going on for decades and everyone out there needs to do whatever they can.”

The final stop on the community caravan was at the Veterans Affairs Hospital. Cars quieted their horns so as to not startle the frontline workers inside. They highlight the demands: 1) PPE for all workers 2) respect and no retaliation for their workers and management to not act with impunity. There GABRIELA Seattle Chair Lori Penor and Migrante Seattle member Jenji Gumiran spoke about the conditions of workers in the Philippines who are forced through the Labor Export Policy to seek work abroad. Then activists performed a dance called One Billion Rising while VA workers delivered their letter and demands to the VA and a letter  Congressman Adam Smith.  to LINK LETTER? 

Where we go from here:

As the workers and community COVID-19 Mutual Aid statement concludes, “Now is a time to take action, organize with others, support the ones at greatest risk, and consciously fight for our lives. Let’s act boldly for the immediate realization of these demands! Let’s strengthen ourselves as a movement that can continue beyond this moment to affect the course of history and target the root causes of the present crisis: not only COVID-19 but the racial capitalist system itself.” 

Follow COVID-19 Mutual Aid for more information and to read the full statement and demands and get involved. 

#RacialCapitalismIsTheVirus #EveryHumanIsEssential #NoOneIsDisposable #COVID19mutualaid

Follow us online to view the full discussion and action

Details on IG: @covid19mutualaid

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/covid19mutualaid/

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