In addition to May Day marches in the U.S., millions of workers all over the world protested and marched on May 1, raising a range of issues important to them — from establishing a minimum wage in Germany to demanding the execution of a factory owner in Bangladesh who had been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of workers in a building collapse last year. (CBS News, May 1)
In Germany, 400,000 workers marched to demand a minimum wage and retirement at age 63. Michael Sommers, leader of the Confederation of German Trade Unions, called for a minimum wage of 8.5 euros an hour — around $12. Frank Bsirske, head of the Verdi union representing service workers, called for 10 euros — around $13.60. In Berlin and Hamburg, as the demonstrations were breaking up, cops attacked and the protesters energetically defended themselves.
In France, where the tradition of street protests is strong, over 220,000 workers took to the streets in hundreds of cities and towns, according to a press release from the General Confederation of Workers (CGT). The biggest protests were in Marseilles, with 20,000 workers, and Paris with 60,000. They focused on President François Hollande’s austerity package that aims to cut 50 billion euros (about $69 billion) from France’s public spending.
The French Democratic Confederation of Labor (CFDT), which has firm ties to the ruling so-called Socialist Party of Hollande, did not go into the streets. Instead, it held a sparsely attended symposium on the future of Europe, according to L’Humanité.
Unions in Greece called a general strike — the 37th since Greece began spiraling into an ever-deeper depression six years ago. Two-thirds of all youths under 25 are unemployed. Under the latest terms of its loan agreement from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, Athens has agreed to fire 15,000 more civil servants this year. Conditions in Greece are so bad that Life Line, a Greek NGO, estimates that 56 percent of all Greek pensioners are starving. By one estimate, 250,000 Greek citizens a day use soup kitchens to survive.
An April 30 free food distribution in Athens and other cities by some farmers and fishers upset at new government regulations turned disorderly as hungry people pushed and shoved to get fresh food. While despair over changing the government’s harsh austerity program might have lowered the turnout at the protests in Athens, the unions were still able to shut Greece’s economy down for a day.
More than 100,000 workers in the Spanish state, infuriated by austerity measures and the deep recession afflicting the country, took to the streets in some 80 cities at the call of their unions. The largest protests were in Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao.
In Barcelona, under banners reading “Fight for your rights,” union leaders Ignacio Fernandez Toxo of Workers Commissions and Candido Mendez of the General Workers Union called on the government to reverse its policy of austerity and agree on a plan aimed at creating jobs. (Guardian, May 1)
Some of the marches had a patriotic theme, like the one in Moscow, where 100,000 workers at the call of Russia’s Independent Federation of Trade Unions marched in Red Square for the first time since 1991. They carried placards proclaiming “I am proud of my country” and “Putin is right.” In Simferopol, a large city in the Crimea that just voted to join Russia, 60,000 people marched carrying Russian flags and portraits of Putin. Their banners said “We are Russians.” (AFP, May 1)
In Turkey, the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which had a big win in the recent municipal elections, thought it had enough legitimacy to block protesters from Taksim Square in Istanbul. In the face of 40,000 riot police, water cannons and baton charges, workers still demanded their democratic rights and stayed in the streets for hours.
Africa and Asia
In South Africa, where May Day is an official workers’ holiday, tens of thousands filled stadiums at the call of the trade union federation COSATU. President Jacob Zuma used the day to call for support for the African National Congress in the upcoming elections.
In Ghana, workers filled Black Star Square in Accra, the capital, to demand improved working conditions and more money. Negotiations between the government and unions representing public sector workers are underway to set a minimum daily wage of 2 euros ($2.77). (Deutsche Welle, May 1)
In Gambia, the National Sports Council in collaboration with the Trade Union Congress organized a big rally at the 22nd July Square in Banjul, with more than 50 organizations taking part. The purpose of the rally was to convince the government that rapidly increasing prices needed to be met with increased wages. (AllAfrica.com, May 1)
In Cambodia, workers gathered outside Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park, which had been closed off with barbed wire, to demand better working conditions and a raise to $160 a month from their current $61 a month. The cops beat up protesters as they were dispersing, putting at least five in the hospital. (Press TV, May 1)
In Australia, tens of thousands of workers came out to oppose a cut in the minimum wage from $16 (Aus) to $12 (Aus) an hour and the proposed privatization of electricity distribution.
President John Battams of the Queensland Council of Unions said a minimum wage cut “would result in a huge pool of working poor,” as in the United States. “About one-and-a-half million Australians depend on the minimum wage to actually make ends meet,” Battams said. (The Guardian, May 1).
Queensland is in northeast Australia and has about 5 million people.