Militant Journalism

Anti-imperialists at Seattle MLK march say no to gentrification

Anti-Imperialist contingent at 2018 MLK Day March, Seattle. Liberation photo: Lee Hessler.
Anti-Imperialist contingent at 2018 MLK Day March, Seattle. Liberation photo: Lee Hessler.

On the morning of January 15, thousands of Seattleites gathered to march in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A large and loud anti-imperialist contingent was there to remind the crowd that Dr. King had no kind words for the system of capitalism and the suffering that it causes. They pointed to his immortal words about the “three evils of society- racism, militarism and capitalism” and to the fact that all three are alive and well in this country today. Framing their message in an anti-imperialist context, they showed that all three of these great evils are propagated throughout the world, from Miami to Munich to Mindanao, by the U.S. empire.

Members the International League of People’s Struggle, Bayan USA, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Gabriela, Got Green, Asians for Black Lives, Women Of Color Speak Out, The Chinatown International District Coalition and other local activists marched together to highlight the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist radical that Dr. King really was, to counter the whitewashed and sterilized narrative that the bourgeois media has built up around him, and to bring attention to the anti-imperialist liberation struggles being waged today in continuation of the principles that Dr. King advocated and died for.

Fighting against New Seasons in the Central District

Banner opposing New Seasons at 23rd and Union along the MLK Day March route. Liberation Photo: Jane Cutter
Banner opposing New Seasons at 23rd and Union along the MLK Day March route. Liberation Photo: Jane Cutter

Gentrification and displacement of local residents from Seattle’s Central District were main focus points for the anti-imperialist contingent. They briefly held the corner of 23rd and Union in Seattle’s Central District, where a New Seasons store is currently in the process of being built. They listened to speakers from United Food and Commercial Workers Union 21 and other activists as they addressed the negative impact on communities that New Seasons has already had.

UFCW21 has spearheaded an effort to draw attention to the low wages and precarious job security that New Seasons is fighting so hard to protect. In particular, UFCW21 has highlighted the draconian attendance policies that force employees to show up to work when they are sick and contagious. In addition to the obviously harmful effect on the workers themselves, this also puts consumers at risk of contamination and illness through their contact with the food that these workers handle.

New Seasons recently hired Lupe Cruz and Associates, a union-busting firm which had previously been employed by none other than Donald Trump in an attempt to counter unionizing attempts in several Trump hotels. The consultant firm has also been hired by American Apparel, Conway, and Hilton Hotels to facilitate similar anti-union misinformation and intimidation campaigns.

New Seasons’ commitment to anti-worker policies has been repeatedly affirmed by these pitched battles, which have been fought by New Seasons in Oregon as well as in Washington state, in the name of maximizing the exploitation of their workers. New Seasons Market is a notoriously anti-union workplace, and these attacks on workers’ rights show us that their reputation is well deserved.

Employees who have been subjected to these intensive anti-union campaigns describe fear tactics and psychological pressure  being brought to bear on them by Cruz and Associates in “captive audience meetings.” These meetings are a forum where the firm’s representatives can bombard workers with anti-union lies and speculate about the hardships that might await their children if they were to find themselves “out of work.”

These representatives also threatened to fire and subsequently blacklist hotel employees who supported the union, should the unionization effort be voted down. Following the advice of Cruz & Assoc. representatives, Trump Hotels has asked the National Labor Relations Board to throw out the results of that vote, in which a majority of workers voted to endorse union representation. Now that Trump employees have won the fight for a union, they must now begin the fight to keep it, thanks to these exhaustive anti-union drives. These are the tools that New Seasons Market hopes to bring to bear on its own employees.

Chants of “No Displacement! No gentrification!” highlighted the leading role that businesses like New Seasons play in forcing working class people of color out of their longtime homes through the relentless increase in the cost of living, particularly in the cost of rent.

Jerry Chevassus, New Seasons’ Chief Development Officer, told The Oregonian that it “targets neighborhoods in the process of gentrification…Often, the addition of a New Seasons will push rents and home values higher, adding to that process.”

Shame on Uncle Ike’s: Irony on 23rd

At the same time, a steady chant of “Shame! Shame!” was directed toward the infamous Uncle Ike’s 21 + legal marijuana shop, which stands on the same intersection. The contingent left no room for doubt that they regard Uncle Ike’s with equal, if not greater, contempt than New Seasons. As a particularly egregious example of a gentrifying force in the Central District, Uncle Ike’s has been repeatedly singled out over allegations of racist hiring practices and wage theft.

The idea of a white-owned pot shop in the heart of the traditionally Black district of the city, which has been terrorized for decades through the racist war on drugs, and which is in fact built on the very site of countless life-ruining arrests for petty possession and sale of marijuana, strikes many in the CD as outrageous and unacceptable.

The marchers sent a clear message to these businesses: You are not welcome in our city!

Related Articles

Back to top button