Millions marched in 80 countries to commemorate International Workers Day — May Day. They united in protest of austerity policies and demanded vital benefits for workers.
Asian workers decry ‘race to bottom’
Masses of low-wage workers in Asia were on the streets decrying the transnational corporations’ “race to the bottom,” squeezing wages to maximize profits — at a time of raging inflation.
Because of the needless deaths of hundreds of garment workers at the Rana Plaza complex in Savar, Bangladesh, this May Day thousands marching in Dhaka called for justice for their fallen sisters and brothers and for better treatment for these laborers, especially women, the mainstay of apparel manufacturing.
In Phnom Penh, Cambodia, thousands of garment workers and others from 16 unions and associations expressed solidarity with their Bangladeshi sisters and brothers. They called for higher salaries for all workers. Half a million Cambodian garment workers toil for Western retailers.
By the tens of thousands, union members and their supporters closed down Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, denouncing fuel price hikes and proposed budget cuts, including decreases of public workers’ benefits. They want to end outsourcing and contract labor.
Thousands of contract laborers marched for wage increases, job security and better benefits in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. They seek protection of their legal rights since they’re denied unionization. They protested their government’s denial of salary increases and opposed tax increases. Some rallied outside the U.S. Embassy to protest the Philippines’ alliance with Washington.
In Taipei, Taiwan, more than 10,000 demonstrators objected to a government pension-cutting plan as part of austerity. Many tried to pull down a roadblock and struggled with police.
Labor rights’ activists joined workers, including striking dockworkers, to march in Hong Kong for higher pensions, wage subsidies and collective bargaining rights. In Singapore, site of few protests, 3,000 rallied against growing income inequalities.
Police sprayed tear gas and water cannons on protesters who tried to march into Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, where the government had banned entry on May Day.
May Day hailed in Latin America
In La Paz, Bolivia, President Evo Morales announced the expulsion of the U.S. Agency for International Development for organizing against the progressive government. He also proclaimed a wage increase for state employees.
In Mexico City, the capital of Mexico, working people, members of labor and civic groups marched for higher wages and objected to gas price hikes and education “reform” — really an attack on teachers. They deplored police repression, including on the march.
On the streets of Bogota, Colombia, marchers decried high unemployment and low wages, but were met by police firing water cannons and making arrests.
Thousands marched in Caracas, Venezuela, cheering the Bolivian Revolution and President Nicolás Maduro’s government and honoring their late President Hugo Chávez. They celebrated the new minimum wage and a labor law providing many benefits for workers as of May 7.
President Raul Castro of Cuba spoke to hundreds of thousands gathered in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolucion, with banners and flags supporting the socialist government. The day’s events were dedicated to Comandante Chávez. Everyone called for an end to the U.S. blockade of their country. The Cuban Five, whose freedom the crowd demanded, sent a revolutionary greeting to workers in Cuba and worldwide.
African workers want jobs, political independence
In at least four African countries, workers expressed their desire for better working conditions, full-employment and political independence.
In Zimbabwe the focus of the most militant workers’ demonstrations drew a direct line between the ongoing imposition of economic sanctions by the imperialist countries against this Southern African state and the struggles of trade unions.
The Zimbabwe Herald on May 2 noted, “Workers marking Workers Day at different venues yesterday castigated the West’s illegal economic sanctions regime which they blamed for the closure of companies and job losses countrywide.”
The Zimbabwe Industrial Revolutionary Workers Federation held a gathering at the Mbare Netball Complex where Secretary-General Pascoe Ekemu Chakanetsa spoke in support of the policies of the Zimbabwe African National Front-Patriotic Front. Pascoe stressed that the government policy of indigenization and empowerment was a proper response to the illegal sanctions.
“Workers should benefit from the empowerment policies,” said Chakanetsa. “We are fully supportive of the Zanu-PF policies to empower the people and to indigenize the economy.”
In neighboring South Africa there were also various workers’ rallies in honor of May Day. The Congress of South African Trade Unions, an ally of the ruling African National Congress, held gatherings at various locations throughout the country.
Secretary-General of the South African Communist Party Blade Nzimande called upon workers to defend the tripartite alliance of his organization, COSATU and the ruling ANC. “Stand and defend the unity of Cosatu and [the] effort to drive Cosatu out of the [tripartite] alliance,” he said at a rally in Kimberley. (news24.com, May 1)
In Morocco, May Day events were marked by sharp debates around the role of the ruling Islamic Party of Justice and Development and the monarchy. Some workers chanted for the downfall of the government and later scuffles erupted near the parliament building as thousands carried both national and Berber flags.
In the Horn of Africa nation of Somalia, security forces in the capital of Mogadishu blocked roads preventing people from going into the streets to commemorate May Day. These police actions were carried out under the guise of preventing possible bomb attacks, which have been occurring with renewed frequency in the last several months. (RBC Radio, May 1)
The government is backed up by 17,500 troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia, which is financed and trained by the U.S., other Western states and the United Nations.
Southern Europe’s workers confront austerity, misery
The bosses have proclaimed austerity as the only solution to the economic misery afflicting Europe, particularly the Mediterranean countries, including France, though to a lesser degree. Hundreds of thousands of workers used the traditional celebrations held on May Day to say an angry “No” to austerity and unemployment.
Overall, in Europe, 19.1 million people — about 12.1 percent of active workers — are looking for work, according to Eurostat, the European statistical agency.
In Greece, where the overall unemployment rate is 27.2 percent and slightly less than 60 percent of youth have no jobs, workers held a general strike. The ferry workers, who kept this essential part of the Greek transportation system in port, took part in the march under a banner that read, “The uprising of Chicago workers [in 1886] shows the way to struggle against modern slavery.” (L’Humanité, May 3)
In Athens, 13,000 people marched, and about the same number in Thessaloníki, Greece’s second largest city. The lead banner in both cities was “No to modern work camps.”
In Spain, where the unemployment rate at 26.7 percent is only slightly lower than Greece’s, the two main labor confederations called 82 demonstrations throughout the country, demanding more democracy and an end to the monarchy, while displaying opposition to the politics of austerity. Tens of thousands of people came out. In Portugal, which faces 18 percent unemployment, hundreds of thousands of workers marched.
All three of the major union confederations in Italy jointly called for actions on May Day, and tens of thousands of people came out. They focused on Perugia in memory of two local government workers shot dead in March by a bankrupt entrepreneur. (Financial Times, May 2)
In France, one major trade union confederation, according to Le Parisien, is linked to the Socialist Party, which has formed the government and is trying to impose an austerity policy while pretending to still be socialist. It held a small meeting in Rheims with a few hundred participants, mainly drawn from unions with more rightist politics.
The CGT, which is a large and more militant trade union confederation, along with some local allies and Solidaire, another group of trade unions, called 289 demonstrations in France that drew about 150,000 people. The main themes of these demonstrations were: “Opposition to austerity, for employment and social progress, in international and European solidarity.” (L’Humanitè, May 3)
The New York Times coverage of France’s May Day was entirely focused on a fascist celebration that drew at most 3,000 people in Paris, according to the cops, while ignoring the CGT’s demonstration of 17,000.
On May 5, the one-year anniversary of François Holland’s election, 180,000 gathered in Paris called by the Left Front. They demanded an end to austerity and bank bailouts and a new constitution for a more democratic, more socially conscious 6th republic.
Kathy Durkin, Abayomi Azikiwe and G. Dunkel contributed to this article.