May 1 was the 130th anniversary of International Workers Day. May Day was born out of the workers’ struggle in the United States for the 8-hour day in 1886. Its militant legacy has been commemorated for years around the world.
The millions of workers around the globe who took to the streets this year showed that the class struggle is alive and well. Organized and unorganized workers, immigrants, youth, retirees, socialists and other progressive forces marched and rallied. They protested against local companies and global corporations that are squeezing the workers in their “race to the bottom.”
From Indonesia to Bangladesh, and South Africa to Mexico, workers demanded livable wages and improved working conditions. Many workers objected to their government’s pro-corporate policies and obstruction of their right to unionize. In Turkey, the Philippines and elsewhere, activists fought for the right to demonstrate in the face of state repression.
However, in Venezuela and Cuba, masses of people turned out to support their pro-worker governments, laud their leaders and celebrate their gains.
Capitalist globalization deepens economic exploitation and inequality, impoverishment and unemployment — conditions which have forced millions of workers to travel to wealthier countries to find jobs. Often these migrant workers then face racism, abuse, starvation wages and terrible working conditions.
Workers decry corporate greed
Migrant workers in Taipei, Taiwan, joined thousands in labor unions on May 1 to denounce corporate greed and call for a higher minimum wage and shorter workdays. Chen Li-Jen of the Taiwan Petroleum Workers Union explained, “Hard-working laborers are being exploited by consortiums.” (Daily Mail, May 1)
Jakarta, Indonesia, was the site of a march by tens of thousands of low-paid workers who called for higher wages, and improved working conditions.
In Dhaka, Bangladesh, one week after commemorating the Rana Plaza disaster, where 1,138 garment workers died in 2013, thousands of workers celebrated May Day outside the city’s Press Club. In addition to calling for safer jobs, their main demand was for the unfettered right to unionize. That same day, two construction workers died at work in Dhaka.
The Korean Federation of Trade Unions brought out at least 30,000 workers in Seoul, south Korea, despite police attempts to block them, to demand better wages and working conditions, and an end to “temporary” labor and “easy layoffs.” Outside City Hall, activists and unionized workers chanted, “Let’s fight together to end the evil bill!” referring to the anti-labor legislation being pushed by the ruling, right-wing Saenuri Party.
Rallies were held throughout the Philippines. Protesters called for better wages and retirement benefits, lower taxes and an end to contract labor, privatization of social services and imperialist intervention. In Manila, activists struggled with police while trying to reach the U.S. Embassy; others danced around a burning effigy of President Benigno Aquino III at a rally near the Presidential Palace.
Police in Istanbul, Turkey, fired tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons at activists who defied a ban and tried to march to historic Taksim Square to show their opposition to the repressive, rightist government. Police arrested 52 people. As thousands celebrated this workers’ day in the Istanbul neighborhood of Barkirköy, police arrested members of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, who chanted, “Long live Kurdistan!”
Thousands of revolutionary socialist youth, workers and seniors, including Red Army veterans, marched through central Moscow, Russia, holding up red banners and flags. An Anti-Imperialist Action contingent carried flags of countries struggling against U.S. imperialism.
In France, workers continued their two-month-long protests against anti-labor legislation that is before Parliament. The CGT labor union reported that 70,000 marched in Paris.
Build solidarity with refugees!
The crisis of refugees is the worst since the end of World War II. Tens of thousands of desperate people are fleeing wars and occupations in the Middle East and North Africa that are led or backed by the U.S. They then try to reach European countries; while most populations have been friendly, far-right forces foment anti-immigrant hostility — and governments are putting up barriers.
In Berlin and Hamburg, Germany, thousands of people turned out to commemorate May Day and to show solidarity with migrants. Unions called for all to oppose xenophobia and “far right extremism.”
In Britain, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of that country’s Labour Party, addressed a rally of thousands in London and emphasized that his party opposes racism and anti-immigrant bigotry. “We stand in solidarity against the growth of the far right in Europe.” (Daily Mail)
On the Iberian Peninsula, thousands of workers in Madrid, Spain, called for higher pay and workers’ rights. Red banners flew in Lisbon, Portugal, in a march organized by labor unions with similar demands.
COSATU marks 30th anniversary
The Congress of South African Trade Unions, aiming to make participation easier for the lowest-income workers, organized 15 separate rallies, totaling more than 300,000 people, all across South Africa to celebrate its 30th anniversary. COSATU leaders said their goal is to unionize the unorganized 9.7 million workers. Those at the rallies affirmed that they want militant struggles and collective bargaining to defend their rights, as well as alliances with community organizations and other progressive groups.
In Latin America, hundreds of thousands of workers, students, teachers and farmers marched for improved wages, working conditions and services. In Mexico, thousands of union members marched in Mexico City. Others, in the city of Puebla, opposed labor reforms. Thousands more took to the streets in Peru, calling for a higher minimum wage of US$450 a month.
A rally in São Paulo, Brazil, supported President Dilma Rousseff, who is facing an undemocratic, parliamentary “coup.” Speaking to tens of thousands of supporters, she warned workers of coming right-wing attacks by forces that seek to “privatize everything.”
Workers cheer Venezuelan, Cuban leaders
Venezuela’s working class came out en masse on the streets of Caracas to show support for President Nicolás Maduro. Carrying pictures of Maduro and the late President Hugo Chávez, participants lauded the many gains for workers achieved through the Bolivarian Revolution
Maduro confirmed the good news that the national minimum wage and pensions would be increased by 30 percent and condemned U.S. intervention against this sovereign nation and the extension until 2019 of U.S. sanctions imposed against Venezuela’s leaders. Venezuela’s president called on the workers to rise up if he is ousted by the U.S.-backed right wing.
In Cuba, that island nation north of Venezuela and across the Caribbean Sea, millions of people of all ages, led by 40,000 teachers and students, marched to Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución on May Day, under the banner of “For Cuba: Unity and Commitment.” Some 2,000 international guests attended.
The masses of people honored the Revolution’s leader, Fidel Castro, on his upcoming 90th birthday, and carried posters bearing his picture, and photographs of President Raúl Castro and revolutionary Che Guevara. They denounced the U.S. blockade and its plans to destabilize progressive governments in Latin America, and demanded the return of the illegally U.S. occupied Guantánamo Naval Base.