PV Vancouver Bureau

May the First, International Workers' Day, was celebrated around the world, with marches, rallies and other events, large and small, in literally hundreds of cities. In most places, May Day actions were organized by trade unions and progressive political parties and movements, in keeping with the historical roots of this date. Police repression was used against some of the protests.


Thousands of Communists were among the May Day demonstrators in Moscow and St. Petersburg, calling for improved social programs and labour rights in Russia.


Turkish police detained demonstrators trying to march toward Istanbul's Taksim Square. The symbolic square has been declared off-limits by authorities on May Day, ever since 34 people were killed by police during a 1977 rally. Groups chanting "May Day is Taksim and it cannot be banned," managed to break the blockade, facing arrest.


In Paris, police attacked stone-throwing protesters as thousands of people gathered for May Day rallies under tight security. About 165 arrests were made. Police repeatedly used tear gas to try to control the crowd gathering near Paris' Montparnasse train station for the main protest, which included many wearing yellow vests or waving union flags.


In Goteborg, Sweden's second-largest city, protesters threw cobblestones and fireworks at police, included mounted officers, who were trying to keep them away from preventing a neo-Nazi rally.


Ahead of May Day rallies held across Germany, the DGB, the country's biggest trade union group with almost six million members, urged voters to participate in this month's European Parliament elections and reject nationalism and right-wing populism.


Wearing traditional headbands with labour slogans, protesters in South Korea's capital of Seoul rallied near City Hall, marching under banners denouncing deteriorating working conditions and demanding equal treatment and pay for temporary workers. A major South Korean umbrella trade union also issued a joint statement with a North Korean workers' organization calling for the Koreas to push ahead with joint economic projects, despite lack of progress in nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.


Union rallies in Greece paralyzed national rail, island ferry and other transport services. Hundreds of people gathered in central Athens on Wednesday for three separate marches to parliament organized by rival unions and left-wing groups.


Spain's workers marched in several major cities to make their voices heard days before acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez starts negotiating with other parties to form a new government. Trade unions are pressing Sanchez to roll back business-friendly labour and fiscal reforms that have remained in place since the conservatives were in charge.


In Bangladesh, hundreds of garment workers and members of labour organizations rallied in Dhaka, the capital, to demand better working conditions and higher wages. Nazma Akter, president of one of Bangladesh's largest unions, said female garment workers were also demanding six months of maternity leave and protection against sexual abuse and violence in the workplace.


In the Philippines, thousands of workers and labour activists marched near the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila to demand that President Rodrigo Duterte's government address labour issues including a minimum wage increase and the lack of contracts for many workers. One labour group said its members would not vote for any candidate endorsed by Duterte in upcoming senate elections and burned an effigy of the president.


Construction workers, bus drivers, freelancers and domestic workers from outside the country joined a Labor Day march through central Hong Kong. The protesters marched from Victoria Park to the main government offices, some carrying banners reading "Maxed Out!" The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions is demanding a maximum standard work week of 44 hours and an hourly minimum wage of at least 54.7 Hong Kong dollars ($7).


Thousands of low-paid workers took to the streets in Indonesia in Southeast Asia's largest economy. Laborers in Jakarta, the capital, gathered at national monuments and elsewhere, shouting demands for higher wages, better benefits and improved working conditions.


In North America, where May Day had its origins with the massive working class protests of 1886, demonstrations took place in dozens of cities. The largest rallies in Canada took place in Montreal, but hundreds of labour activists and allies also took to the streets in Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, Winnipeg, and elsewhere. Many of the events in Canada referenced the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike of May-June 1919, which also saw important solidarity strikes across western Canada and the USA.


(The above article is from the May 16-31, 2019, issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading socialist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.)