May Day around the world
By Norm Dixon
May Day, the international day of workers' action and solidarity, was marked throughout the world on May 1. Some of the biggest actions took place where the class struggle is raging. Opposition to NATO's war against Serbia was a feature of many May Day demonstrations.
The largest demonstration — as usual — was in Havana, where more than 1 million people marched through the Plaza de la Revolución to support the Cuban revolution against Washington's continuing economic blockade. Handmade banners and posters refuted Washington's slanders against the revolution's human rights record, opposed the blockade and called for an end to NATO's bombing of Serbia.
In South Korea, around 500,000 workers mobilised around the country. In Seoul, more than 30,000 workers called for the government to end the "restructuring" of companies that has lifted the unemployment rate above 8%. They chanted, "Halt lay-offs. Reduce working hours."
Lee Kap-yong, head of the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, warned of an intensification of actions unless the government halted mass lay-offs. "We can no longer allow the government to threaten our right to live", Lee told the rally at the Seoul Railway Station plaza.
He warned that the fight will intensify with strikes by the Korean Metal Workers' Federation. The powerful KMWF has threatened to launch a strike on May 12 if negotiations over ending lay-offs and reduced working hours are refused.
About 100,000 riot police were deployed around Seoul station and along the march route to Myongdong Cathedral. Some scuffles broke out between students and riot police near the cathedral, where several union leaders are holed up in a bid to escape arrest for organising "illegal" labour activities.
In Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, more than 25,000 people marched despite the threat of state repression. Thousands of riot police were deployed along the route of the march, brazenly wearing ski masks and brandishing AK-47 rifles. Police helicopters hovered above while military snipers openly targeted marchers from rooftops.
The marchers chanted slogans denouncing the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP), which is set to form a coalition government with the ruling Democratic Left Party. "The MHP are fascists. Don't forget the murderers", they chanted.
The demonstration involved thousands of Kurds, who courageously chanted for the release of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan, who faces the death penalty when his trial for treason begins on May 31. Security forces detained hundreds in raids on Kurdish organisations, particularly the legal People's Democratic Party (HADEP), in an effort to prevent their involvement in May Day.
Thousands of workers joined May Day rallies in many cities in Indonesia. The rallies were organised by militant worker action committees, many led by the People's Democratic Party. The main demands were for increased wages, lower prices and freedom for Dita Sari, the chairperson of the Indonesian Centre for Labour Struggles, who is serving a five-year prison sentence for leading workers in struggle for their rights.
In Jakarta, student activists supporting the 1000-strong May Day demonstration were detained at the beginning of the rally at the University of Indonesia campus. They were released after the rally ended.
Intelligence officers and more than 10 thugs visited the Kapuk office of KOBAR (Workers Committee for Reform Action) to try to intimidate the workers into not joining the main protests.
There were three main marches in Manila on May 1: the Solidarity of Unions and Labor Organisations (SULO) march, which united some of the largest union centres and the majority of the left political blocs; the KMU (May First Movement) march; and the BMP (Solidarity of Filipino Workers) march.
The SULO march of around 25,000 people demanded jobs and job security, a living wage and preservation of the minimum wage law, no to contractualisation, for socialised housing and trade union rights including the right to strike and collective bargaining. The march included contingents from the Movement for National Democracy and its union affiliate Makabayan; the Socialist Party of Labor and PIGLAS, the urban poor confederation politically aligned with it; the broad democratic front Alab Katipunan; the National Confederation of Labor; and the Alliance of Progressive Labor, aligned with BISIG.
Trade unions in Nigeria marked May Day for the first time since the 1994 military coup. "This year's labour day is not only taking place on the eve of the exit of the military from the monopoly of power, with its attendant repression and tyrannical rule, but at the dawn of ushering in a democratically elected civilian government", said a statement issued by the Nigerian Labour Congress.
The military dictatorship is scheduled to hand power to an elected civilian government on May 29. The NLC said that this year's May Day showed "the determination of unions and workers to face the future with a new resolve to not only bark but bite. It is a signal that never again will the labour movement fold its arms and allow its organisation to be dismantled and tinkered with, never again will the labour movement allow the military and its political class to distort the socio-political process with fraudulent transition programs that only end up causing misery, pain and frustration to workers."
As if to underscore that message, Nigeria's public sector workers and teachers have launched strikes to demand the payment of the 3000 naira (US$30) a month minimum wage. Almost 40,000 primary school teachers have been on strike since January to demand better terms of service.
In many Latin American countries, May Day marches coincided with existing strikes and protests against governments' neo-liberal policies and the impact of the world economic crisis. In Brazil, workers hit out at unemployment. Despite rain, 10,000 people marched in the north-eastern state of Ceara. In Sao Paulo, Brazil's industrial centre, a union-organised concert and rally attracted 90,000 people. Speakers called for an increase in the monthly minimum wage.
In Ecuador, 15,000 people demonstrated in Guayaquil, Cuenca and Quito, the country's three largest cities. Ecuador has experienced almost continuous strikes since February, when the government allowed the currency to float.
Colombia's May Day demonstrations coincided with a strike wave that has gripped the country for most of April — some 30,000 campesinos began an agrarian strike in the southern department of Huila on April 19, 300,000 public school teachers began an indefinite strike on April 20 to protest privatisation of education, and 115,000 health workers began an indefinite national strike on April 27 to protest government cuts to the health budget and plans to privatise "inefficient" hospitals.
In Mexico, a 3000-strong May Day march in Xalapa, Veracruz, was subjected to an unprovoked attack by riot police. At least four marchers were hospitalised and six disappeared.
In Europe, May Day marches and rallies denounced US/NATO attacks on Serbia. Tens of thousands demonstrated around Greece. In Athens, 10,000 people mobilised outside the US embassy, and thousands protested outside the US consulate in Greece's northern port of Salonika. Salonika is being used to land NATO troops and supplies. Hundreds of people blocked the docks for 24 hours.
On April 28, demonstrators switched traffic signs, sending a NATO convoy into a market, where it was pelted with fruit. That same day, rail workers in northern Greece prevented a shipment of NATO supplies reaching Macedonia by rail. The workers have pledged to strike again if NATO supplies are sent by rail.
At a 12,000-strong rally in Bonn, the former German Social Democratic Party finance minister, Oskar Lafontaine, broke ranks with the ruling party to call for a halt to the NATO air strikes. Defence minister Rudolf Scharping was heckled by anti-war protesters during his speech to a rally in Ludwigshafen.
In China, the ruling Communist Party called on workers — who are facing growing unemployment, cuts to welfare entitlements and unpaid pensions as capitalist "reforms" bite — not to take action to defend their interests.
"Preserving stability and unity suits basic interests of the working class and broad masses", declared an editorial in the People's Daily. <>69>The broad numbers of workers must recognise the principle of stability above all else.<>70><>><>41559MS>n<>255D>