The Guardian May 9, 2001


May Day: Workers around the world mobilise

May Day marches, demonstrations and strikes have swept the world in a 
whirlwind of anti-capitalist and anti-globalisation struggle. Never before 
in history have the actions been so widespread and militant bringing fear 
into the cloistered sanctuaries of the big corporations. However, the focus 
on May Day in Australia was more subdued in some cities as alternative 
celebrations and bad weather stole the crowds.

In Brisbane a 5000-strong force of workers marched under the slogan of 
"Union members win!, in reference to recent statistics that show workers in 
unions receive better pay and conditions than the non-unionised workforce. 

T-shirts with the slogan "I'm for a workers' republic were extremely 
popular, along with those bearing "free public transport, and "shorter 
working hours with no loss of pay demands. 

In Perth 2000 workers and supporters marched through the city streets from 
the Fremantle Esplanade. 

Workers in Western Australia were particularly full of cheer at the ousting 
of the hated conservative Government of Richard Court several months ago. 

However, amongst their number was a large contingent of nurses who are 
continuing their struggle for better wages and staffing levels against the 
new Labor Government. They began strike action the next day to reinforce 
their claims. 

In Melbourne, the traditional May Day prevailed, despite a parade 
celebrating Australia's centenary of federation attracting massive public 
attention and the media spotlight. 

Torrential rain and strong winds brought about the last-minute cancellation 
of the May Day march in Sydney this year. In Adelaide, a strong crowd of 
trade unionists assembled on Victoria Square before being led to Rymill 
Park by a Scottish Pipe Band in full traditional costume. 

"This is the day we remember peoples' struggles! said Andy Alcock from the 
East Timor campaign during his key-note speech. 

Attention was also drawn on that day to the 20th anniversary of the death 
of Bobby Sands, elected member of the UK parliament, who was the first of 
the 10 hunger strikers to die in a Northern Ireland prison in 1981. 

International 

Around the world, May Day actions were up on previous years, highlighting 
growing public discontent with the anti-worker dictates of the IMF and 
World Bank. 

In France thousands marched in Paris, Marseilles, Lesquin, Montpellier and 
other cities and towns protesting at job losses and low pay. They stretched 
out along the banks of the Seine carrying banners demanding pay increases, 
better training and the end of the shedding of labour. 

Mass rallies in Athens, Greece, and throughout the country focused on 
demands for a reversal of the erosion of social security and for a 35-hour 
working week. 

Some 20,000 marched in Istanbul, Turkey calling for the government to come 
to terms with those political prisoners and their supporters on hunger 
strike  20 of whom have already died. 

In Isfahan, Iran, a group of workers from a textile factory resorted to 
violence during a May Day gathering in a local gym. The workers have not 
been paid for four months and they started to vandalise the gym after a 
speech by a reformist MP. 

In Berlin, Germany, 600 protesters were arrested during clashes with about 
10,000 police who used water cannons. Barricades were set up and ignited in 
East Berlin. 

Demonstrations were held in Spain, where unions united under the slogan 
"Stable, safe jobs and workers' rights. 

In Austria, where the presence of the extreme right-wing Freedom Party in 
the ruling coalition has galvanised support for left-wing parties, 100,000 
marchers gathered in Vienna to hear calls for greater job security. 

Tens of thousands of trade unionists and leftists marched through the 
streets of Moscow, with Communists demanding the government's dismissal and 
speakers fondly recalling the Soviet era. 

Communist Party leader Gennady Zuganov led a procession through the centre 
of the Russian capital towards a monument to Karl Marx beside the Kremlin 
that gathered up to 15,000 people, according to police. 

Elsewhere in Russia, more than 50,000 people took part in May Day rallies 
in towns and cities across Siberia and the Far East. They were demanding 
higher wages, better working conditions, improved pensions, price controls 
and abolition of a single social tax introduced at the beginning of the 
year. 

In Ukraine around 1000 Communists rallied on May Day in the capital Kiev to 
protest against President Leonid Kuchma, whom they accused of reducing the 
former Soviet country to misery. 

They went through the city centre, bearing red flags, portraits of Lenin 
and banners proclaiming: "All power to the workers,and "Out with the 
bourgeoisie. 

In China, the People's Daily published an editorial extending 
greetings to the working population and calling on them to make new 
achievements in the 21st century. 

It called on Chinese workers to support the Tenth Five-Year Plan period 
(2001-2005) and push forward China's socialist modernisation drive. 

It also called on governments at all levels to attach great importance to 
employment issues and make efforts to improve the living conditions of 
workers. 

In Cuba, more than a million people attended this year's celebration of 
International Workers' Day in Havana's Plaza de la Revolucion. The ceremony 
ended with a speech by President Fidel Castro, who then led the cheering 
crowd on a march to the US interests Section. 

In Venezuela, workers who support President Hugo Chavez held a counter 
demonstration in what they called a mobilisation against the traditional 
labour union mafias. 

The Bolivarian Workers Force called for a greater workers' participation in 
the management of firms, and for a redistribution of land to put an end to 
what is known as the "latifundio  the agrarian model based on large land 
holdings. 

In Ecuador, workers took to the streets of all the major cities to deplore 
an unprecedented emigration of Ecuadorians because of unemployment and 
underemployment. 

Between 1999 and 2000, one million Ecuadorians left the country according 
to the National Statistics and Census Institute, and that figure has 
increased in the first months of this year. 

In Chile, President Ricardo Lagos chose International Workers' Day to 
announce a job creation program amid predictions that unemployment could 
surpass 10 percent this year. 

In Brazil, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sao Paulo, Claudio Cardinal 
Hummes, lashed out at free market globalisation, calling on workers 
worldwide to mobilise in a fight against the effects of the current 
economic world order. 

Colombian workers launched May Day mobilisations with a call to set up a 
special commission to investigate the wave of assassinations of labour 
leaders, which this year alone has claimed 38 lives. 

That figure represents a four-fold increase in the number of labour leaders 
killed over the same period last year. 

The South African Communist Party conveyed revolutionary greetings to all 
the workers of their country and the world for their continued 
determination to wage an unceasing struggle against racism, gender 
oppression and class exploitation. 

Mobilisation for the recognition of May Day under apartheid became one of 
the most important platforms, which was effectively used to defeat 
apartheid. 

In North Korea (DPRK) a May Day pro-reunification meeting of workers from 
the north and the south of Korea, the first of its kind since the division 
of the country, was to be held on Mt Kumgang. 

The South Korean authorities however refused to allow the vice-chairman of 
the South Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and concurrently chairman of 
its reunification committee to participate in the meeting as a head of the 
south side's delegation. 

In Jakarta, Indonesia, thousands marched demanding wage increases and that 
May Day be made a national holiday. Decked out in distinctive red-and-white 
headbands, they called for the IMF to be dissolved. 

Defying government repression in Malaysia, about 2000 people gathered to 
celebrate May Day. 

They demanded country's wealth be distributed equally and justly among the 
population, equal and just pay and compensation for workers, rights to 
housing benefits, free quality health services, rights to fair and equal 
education and consumer rights. 

In Vietnam, the 26th anniversary of the liberation of south Vietnam on 
April 30 and the 115th anniversary of International Labour Day on May 1 
were celebrated at public meetings and cultural activities. 

Across the United States many demonstrations took place. In Los Angeles, 
among other cities, police arrested over 100 anti-capitalist protestors 
chanting "down with the police state. 

In New York, a spirited crowd rallied in historic Union Square and then 
marched to protests at the sites of sweatshop labour, and against the 
policies of the International Monetary Fund. 

Labour and immigrants' rights figured prominently in many marches. A 
coalition of organisations sponsored the festive "May Day Mobilisation for 
Workers' rights which demanded amnesty for all undocumented workers. 

International solidarity and workers' rights are the essence of May Day 
celebrations and actions. 

Trade union rights are under severe attacks in many countries  and this 
year's May Day celebrations were no exception. Many people have been 
detained during protests. In some countries arrests mean more severe 
punishment than in others. 

An appeal from Pakistani trade unions says, "We are appealing to you to 
help us in the campaign for the release of workers' leaders in Pakistan... 
Workers and trade union leaders all over Pakistan were arrested for taking 
part in May Day rallies. Some have since been released, but many are still 
being held. We urge you to send letters of protest to your nearest 
Pakistani Embassy or High Commission. 

In other words, May Day rallies, demonstrations and celebrations may be 
over for this year, but the global struggle continues.

Back to index page