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May Day March and Rally in San Francisco Spotlights Essential Workers and Social Justice Demands

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- A May Day march honoring union workers filled Market Street in San Francisco Saturday morning and, while the focus was on labor, other social concerns were highlighted as well.

"When I say union, you say fight!" yelled one man with a bullhorn.

Unlike Labor Day, which usually features afternoon picnics and speeches from politicians, May Day has become a day for workers to make their voices heard.

"I think, for a lot of us, it will always be a workers' day that's different from Labor Day -- which is really a holiday created by the government to honor workers but different from us demanding our own day for workers," said marcher Fernando Marti.

There were a lot of demands, from immigration rights to prison reform to racial justice but, primarily, it was about workers demanding respect for the jobs they do -- especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It makes jobs that were invisible, visible -- janitors, security officers, home health care workers, nursing home workers and the public finally understands," said SEIU president Mary Kay Henry. "So, essential workers need government and corporations to act and invest in these jobs and make them jobs that people can feed their families on."

After higher-paid professionals abandoned their offices, it was up to the so-called "essential workers" to keep the country running. Now, those who may have been taken for granted in the past are wearing that title with pride.

"I do hope it changes some of the thinking, the mentality, to say that we're not just essential through the pandemic. We were essential before, we're essential through the pandemic and we'll be essential after," said Joseph Bryant, president of SEIU Local 1021.

As marchers filed into Civic Center Plaza for an afternoon rally carrying signs displaying myriad causes, Trent Willis, head of ILWU Local 10, reminded them that, from the nation's beginning, workers have always been at the forefront of every social concern.

"The labor movement started when Black people were brought over here as slaves," he told the crowd. "That was the labor movement back then also. And, when you stand up for the labor movement, you're standing against slavery, you're standing against systemic racism and, most of all, you're standing against systemic oppression!"

City officials estimate that more than a thousand people participated in Saturday morning's march and rally.

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