Proudly, the workers of the world marched on May Day. Millions walked out of the factories, fields and offices to stand with their class sisters and brothers. As members of the global multinational, multigendered, multigenerational working class, they showed their strength and solidarity.
As capitalists the world over impose austerity programs, with layoffs, speedups and salary cuts — and try to weaken the power of organized labor — workers are standing up. Where imperialist companies super-exploit workers to maximize profits, paying semi-starvation wages, many are defying the bosses, demanding unions, livable salaries, permanent jobs and basic rights. Migrant workers, many of them women, confronted by racism and abuse, are making their voices heard.
May Day began during the period of labor militancy in the 1880s in Europe and the U.S., when workers demanded the 8-hour day. Unions organized a general strike; hundreds of thousands of workers joined U.S. rallies on May 1, 1886. Some 30,000-40,000 workers left their job sites in Chicago alone.
At Chicago’s Haymarket Square, police killed workers demonstrating for the 8-hour day. After the massacre, the movement picked up steam, as the call for the 8-hour day resonated at home and abroad. The First International Socialist Congress in 1889 recognized International Workers’ Day to commemorate the Haymarket massacre.
For many in the global workforce, the fight for the 8-hour day continues. On this May Day, labor unions, social justice groups, socialists, communists and other progressive forces organized and joined demonstrations. Some red flags, posters of Che Guevara and portraits of Karl Marx were visible. Notably, defiant workers rallied, despite police attacks. Here are highlights of global May Day actions.
‘No to austerity!’
Hundreds of thousands marched across France to protest pro-corporate Macron government austerity measures, attacks on public sector unions and transit privatization plans. Workers also marched across Germany to defend their rights against globalized capitalism’s ravages, protesting service cutbacks and demanding secure jobs and decent working conditions. The German Trade Union Federation said 340,000 joined 500 events.
Organized by major labor unions CCOO and UGT, tens of thousands opposed austerity in 70 cities across Spain. In Madrid, workers waved red union flags, demanding higher pay, secure jobs and pensions. Chants of “general strike!” resounded. Women held purple flags representing their struggles for gender pay equity and an end to misogynist violence.
Thousands of workers marched through Athens, Greece, in three separate marches, one organized by the Communist-affiliated PAME labor union, and in Thessaloniki. Work stoppages shut down museums and transportation systems. Protesters denounced European Union banker-imposed austerity policies and criticized the SYRIZA government.
Elsewhere in Europe, workers marched in Italy and Austria, carried red flags in Denmark, and rallied in former socialist countries, including Poland and Russia.
Enemy: ‘monopoly capital’
More than 7,000 members of the General Union of Tunisian Workers celebrated in Tunis. They hailed their union’s commitment to fighting for their right to secure jobs and benefits and its opposition to privatization, abuse and oppression. The union has 750,000 members from many industries and public sectors, and is organizing agricultural workers, mainly women.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions organized 14 marches, with a major rally in Nelson Mandela Bay. Speakers included COSATU President S’dumo Dlamini, SA Communist Party leader Blade Nzimandi and African National Congress President Cyril Ramaphosa. Dlamini asserted the workers’ enemy was “monopoly capital.” COSATU called for an alternative development strategy to tackle poverty, unemployment and inequality.
The South African Federation of Trade Unions held several marches and rallies. SAFTU’s statement deplored the country’s crises of unemployment and economic inequality.
‘Long Live May 1!’
Thousands of workers and activists rallied across Turkey, including in Ankara and Istanbul, for higher pay and improved working conditions — and denounced the Erdoğan regime’s repression. Left-wing unions protested privatization and other anti-labor policies. Sixty people were arrested as they chanted, “Long live May 1!” and attempted to defy a government ban by marching to Taksim Square, site of a 1977 police massacre of 40 demonstrators.
In Damascus, Syria, the General Federation of Trade Unions celebrated May Day, honoring workers, including martyrs of today’s civil war. Also honored were Syrian army victories in this war.
In Gaza, hundreds of Palestinians called for an end to the horrific U.S.-backed Israeli siege and the resulting “humanitarian disaster” — deteriorating economic conditions of their people.
Iraqi Communist Party members marched with red flags and hammers in Baghdad.
Communist parties organized workers’ meetings, marches and rallies throughout India. The All-India Central Council of Trade Unions mobilized, too. Banner slogans called for an 8-hour workday, jobs, higher wages and social justice.
Dhaka, Bangladesh, was the site of many demonstrations. Thousands of workers, backed by 14 organizations, demanded a monthly minimum wage of 18,000 TK ($213), unionization, an 8-hour day and workplace safety. The Communist Party of Bangladesh waved red flags. The government denies garment workers’ calls for higher wages in order to benefit profit-seeking global brands.
More than 10,000 Korean Confederation of Trade Unions members assembled in Seoul, South Korea, demanding a higher minimum wage and change of “non-regular employees” to “regular employee” status, with equal pay and treatment. A slogan was: “Rewrite the constitution based on labor rights!” The KCTU-Migrant Trade Union held a separate rally on April 26 for migrant workers.
In Hong Kong, 5,000 workers pressured employers to stop using their pension funds, set regular hours and provide paid maternity leave at a march organized by the Federation of Trade Unions; 200 subsidiary unions participated. Also addressed were migrant and disabled workers’ rights.
Thousands of chanting labor unionists and other workers, dressed in red and waving red flags, marched in Manila, Philippines, to decry President Rodrigo Duterte’s economic policies. They denounced short-term employment contracts, which deny workers decent pay and job security, as well as low wages, unemployment and repression of labor unions.
Elsewhere in Asia, workers rallied for their rights throughout Pakistan; garment and shoe factory workers marched in Yangon, Myanmar; thousands of union members were out in Taipei, Taiwan, while 10,000 unionists demonstrated in Jakarta, Indonesia, for better wages and working conditions, permanent jobs and free health care.
Haiti: ‘Holiday of Agriculture and Work’
Workers marched on May 1 through Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to demand a three-fold increase in the daily minimum wage from 350 gourdes ($5.38) to 1,000 gourdes ($15.36). The Confederation of Haitian Workers, the National Central of Haitian Workers and other unions led the demonstration. (Haiti Liberté, May 2) The Trump administration has intensified racism against Haitians in the U.S.
In San Juan, Puerto Rico, tens of thousands marched in the Golden Mile financial hub against drastic U.S.-imposed austerity measures and posthurricane neglect and abuse. Coordinated marches took place throughout the island. Police tear gassed and attacked young protesters. But the people vow to keep fighting local and U.S. attacks on their living conditions. (See WW, May 10; tinyurl.com/yal6tw6r)
In socialist Cuba, 1 million people honored workers, former Presidents Fidel Castro and Raúl Castro and their new leader, Miguel Díaz-Canel. (See article, page 9)
In Guatemala City and Mexico City, thousands demanded jobs and improved pay and working conditions. At the same time, the bigoted, anti-immigrant Trump administration stopped a caravan of Central Americans, mostly women, LGBTQ individuals and children, at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Police used tear gas and water cannons against demonstrators in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. In that city and two others in the country, workers protested the fraudulent Nov. 26 election of pro-U.S. President Juan Orlando Hernández.
Stop U.S. attacks on Venezuela!
Thousands of workers from throughout Venezuela gathered in Caracas for a massive march and rally supporting President Nicolás Maduro’s reelection and the Bolivarian Revolution. They said “No” to imperialist sanctions and interference.
Maduro hailed workers’ gains, particularly those outlined in the Organic Law of Work and Workers, and announced a 95 percent minimum wage increase. He vowed, “We are going to contain [imperialism’s] brutal economic war and we will move forward.” (TeleSUR, May 1)
Demonstrators in Curitiba, Brazil, yelled “Free Lula!,” while demanding the release from prison of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, jailed there on false corruption charges.
Union and social movement activists protested slashes in government services and energy subsidies (prices have soared 1,000 percent in two years!) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, under the Macri administration’s austerity policies. Similar forces marched peacefully through Santiago, Chile, opposing President Sebastián Piñera’s reactionary program. Riot police attacked them.