May Day: World protests target capitalist austerity

May 1, 2015
Thousands of Japanese workers take part in May Day demonstrations to protest the government's attacks on workers' pay.

People around the world took to the streets on May 1 to mark May Day, the international workers' day.

The day started in the United States in the late 1800s, when unions first called for an eight hour work day, but countries throughout the world soon followed suit in demands for better working conditions.

Although some victories have been won in various count over the years in terms of labour rights, millions of people around the world are still underpaid, overworked, or forced to work under harsh conditions. Over the years, protesters have begun using the iconic day to speak out against other issues such as austerity, racism and other social issues.

A list of some main actions this year:


In Greece, more than 13,000 people took part in three different anti-austerity marches in Athens, and another 13,000 took to the streets in the northern city of Thessaloniki, according to news reports.

The people of Greece have been victim of harsh austerity measures over the past years that have contributed to major unemployment in the country and the loss of pensions for thousands. Yanis Varoufakis, the finance minister from Greece's new anti-austerity SYRIZA-led government, also joined the protesters later in the day.

Several thousand people gathered in the German capital Berlin on the eve of May Day in anti-capitalist protests, which were calmer than previous years, according to officials.

Peaceful demonstrations also occurred in London, after trade unions and other London-based workers' communities organised a march through the city.

In France, three Femen activists bombarded a speech by leader of the right-wing National Front, Jean-Mari Le Pen, who was trying to use the holiday as a way to oppose immigration and Islam in the country. The three activists appeared on a balcony opposite Le Pen's stage with “Heil Le Pen” and “Stop Fascism” painted on their bare chests.

Events took a more hostile tone in Turkey, where thousands gathered in Istanbul Friday to take part in demonstrations, even though their requests to protest had been denied by the Turkish government.

Clashes broke out between protesters and the the Turkish police, who have already detained some 136 people, particularly around Istanbul's Taksim Square, which is currently in lockdown.

More than 100,000 Russians took to the streets in Moscow, marching through Red Square, waving banners of Vladimir Putin's ruling party and proclaiming the supremacy of workers' rights.


In the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka, thousands of workers took to the streets to demand better working conditions, especially for those working in garment factories. Bangladesh is the world's second biggest exporter after China, while most are forced to work under oppressive, sweatshop conditions.

More than 2000 people rallied in Taipei, Taiwan near the Presidential Office before marching through the streets, demanding better working hours.

Meanwhile, more than a thousand activists gathered in the Philippines – where more than a quarter of the population is under the poverty line – demanding the government raise the minimum wage due to the rising cost of goods in the country.

Thousands of people also demonstrated in South Korea's capital city Seoul Friday, in ongoing protests against the government’s new labor policies – which labour groups believe will cut wages, job security and retirement benefits for state employees.

They were joined by others protesting the government's handling of a ferry disaster last year that killed more than 300 people. Sporadic clashes emerged as police attacked protesters, who occupied several downtown streets through out the day.

Even though May Day is not recognised as a holiday in Japan, thousands of people demonstrated nation-wide. In Tokyo alone, several protests were planned across the city, with the largest one attracting about 28,000 participants, say media reports.

The protesters gathered mainly to speak out against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's proposed reforms on labor policy, which include banning overtime pay and deciding wages based on performance.

Middle East

In Iran – where unemployment is running at 10% – protesters gathered in the capital city Tehran to demand improved labor conditions.

The Lebanese Communist Party and workers' unions in Lebanon launched demonstrations in downtown Beirut, rallying against class inequality, corrupt politicians, and the country's sectarian government. The protesters also attacked the government for failing to pass a long awaited wage hike bill, since public sector workers have been fighting for better wages for over four years.

[Reprinted from TeleSUR English.]

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