Seattle – Something Greater Yet to Come

By David Bacon
The Progressive, December 4, 2019

This story was originally published by the Pacific News Service as “Seattle – Something Greater Yet to Come” on December 1, 1999.

Those who marched or stood or sat in the streets of Seattle this week made history, and they knew it. And like the great marches against the Vietnam war, or the first sit-ins in the South in the late 50s, it was not always easy to see just what history was being made, especially for those closest to the events of the time.

Tear gas, rubber bullets and police sweeps, the object of incessant media coverage, are the outward signs of impending change — that the guardians of the social order have grown afraid. And there’s always a little history in that.

Poeina, a young woman sitting in the intersection at the corner of Seventh and Stewart, waiting nervously for the cops to cuff her and take her away in her first arrest, knew the basic achievement she and her friends had already won: “I know we got people to listen, and that we changed their minds.” It was a statement of hope, like the chant that rose Tuesday from streets filled with thousands of demonstrators as the police moved in — “The whole world is watching!”

The Seattle protests put trade on the roadmap of public debate, making WTO a universally recognized set of initials in a matter of hours — what it took a year of debate over NAFTA to accomplish.

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MARRIOTT WORKERS: “ONE JOB SHOULD BE ENOUGH!”

Photographs by David Bacon
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HONOLULU, HI – 16MAY18 – Hotel workers in Hawaii are protesting low wages that force many workers to work an additional job besides their job at the hotel. Copyright David Bacon

On June 27 thousands of union and non-union Marriott workers organized demonstrations in San Francisco, Oakland, Honolulu, Boston, San Diego, Seattle, Philadelphia and San Jose. Workers carried signs saying, “One Job Should Be Enough!” About 20,000 Marriott workers are represented by Unite Here. As contract negotiations get underway, some 12,000 of those employees have contracts expiring later this year.

Marriott is the largest and richest hotel company on the planet, earning $22.9 billion in 2017. Profits have gone up 279% since the recession, while hotel workers’ annual income only increased 7%.

According to D. Taylor, International President of UNITE HERE, “Too often workers welcome guests to Marriott hotels and deliver an unforgettable experience to them, just to leave their shift and go to a second job because working full time for Marriott isn’t enough to make ends meet.”

Marriott became the biggest global hotel chain when it acquired Starwood for $13.6 billion in 2016. The company’s 30 brands include Ritz-Carlton, Westin and Sheraton, accounting for more than 1.2 million rooms in over 6500 hotels in 127 countries and territories. It opens a new hotel every 18 hours.

Technology is transforming hotel work, with self-check-in kiosks, robot room-service delivery, and mechanical bartenders. In negotiations, workers want guarantees that jobs will not only pay enouogh to live on, but will last during this period of change.

Meanwhile, hotel work is not just underpaid, but is dangerous. In Chicago the union found roughly half of hotel housekeepers had been the victims of sexual misconduct from guests. One man assaulted housekeepers in DC eight times over eight years. A Florida Marriott worker was assaulted in a hotel bathroom. In San Francisco a man committed suicide after attacking and critically injuring a housekeeper.

In negotiations Unite Here is not only demanding increases in wages and benefits, but greater protections, including panic buttons. This year the Chicago union won them for workers with a campaign, Hands Off, Pants On.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – 8MAY18 – Hotel workers at the Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco are protesting low wages that force many workers to work an additional job besides their job at the hotel. Copyright David Bacon

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We Can Change an Unjust Immigration Policy

Testimony given by David Bacon at the People’s Tribunal at the West County Detention Center in Richmond, CA
By David Bacon
48 Hills, 6/4/18

RICHMOND, CA – May 5, 2018 – Imam Abu Qadir Al-Amin testifies at a tribunal at the West County Detention Center, where immigrants are incarcerated before being deported.

It came from two centuries of colonialism, from the announcement of the Monroe Doctrine, when this government said that it had the right to do as it wanted in all of the countries of Latin America. It came from the wars that turned Puerto Rico and the Philippines into direct colonies over a century ago.

It came from more wars and interventions fought to keep in power those who would willingly ensure the wealth and profits of U.S. corporations, and the misery and poverty of the vast majority of their own countries.

Smedley Butler, a decorated Marine Corp general, told the truth about what he did a century ago:

“I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism,” he said. “I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.”

When people in El Salvador and Guatemala and Honduras and Haiti tried to change the injustice of this, the U.S. armed rightwing governments that made war on their own people. Sergio Sosa, a combatiente in Guatamala’s civil war who now heads a workers’ center in Omaha, says simply, “You sent the guns and we buried the dead.”

Two million people left El Salvador in the 1980s and crossed the border to the U.S. How many more hundreds of thousands from Guatemala? How many more after the U.S. overthrew Aristide in Haiti? How many from Honduras after Zelaya was forced from office, and the U.S. said nothing while sending arms to the army that uses them still today against Honduran people?

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