By Jim Genova
In the midst of the world economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s millions of workers poured into the streets of thousands of cities around the world on 1 May to celebrate May Day. Even the normally cynical capitalist media noted this was the largest and most militant turn out for May Day in many years. “Exasperation is rising. Why should the people pay for a crisis for which they are absolutely not responsible?” said New Anticapitalist Party spokesman Francis Viguie at a march in the southern city of Montpellier, France.
In a remarkable show of solidarity, the Associated Press (AP) reported that “French labor unions came together for the first time in decades to stage a joint march that ended at the Place de la Bastille [Paris]. … [P]olice said turnout in Strasbourg, Nancy, Metz and Besancon was many times higher than last year's May Day events.” “There are five to six times more protesters than on a normal May Day," said Francois Chereque, head of the CFDT union, according to the AP. The CGT, France’s largest labor federation, reported well over 1.2 million workers attended May Day demonstrations throughout the country.
In Russia, Pravda reported, “About two million Russians took part in May Day celebrations.” The paper noted that “May Day festivities took place in 1,057 cities and towns [around] the country.”
In an e-mail message, a source from Guantanamo, Cuba, said, “More than 680 representatives from 37 countries have confirmed attendance in the May Day celebrations here, which will include massive parades in all the country's squares.” She cited a report from the Workers' Central Union of Cuba (CTC) stating “that 476 of those coming are union leaders from 135 organizations and the rest are members of solidarity brigades. So far there are 272 from Latin America, and the most numerous delegations will come from Uruguay, with 104, United Kingdom, 100, Australia, 63, and Canada, 60.” Resident of Guantanamo observed that May Day celebrations in Cuba also were part of marking Cuba’s “50th anniversary of the Revolution and the 70th anniversary of the creation of the CTC.” She reports that “[a]mong the recognized union leaders worldwide [that attended the May Day celebrations in Havana were] World Federation of Trade Unions General Secretary George Mavrikus, as well as Dang Ngoc Tung (president of the General Labor Confederation of Vietnam), and Santiago Yagual (president of Ecuador’s labor federation),” among many others.
Elsewhere around the world, union leaders in Italy “shifted May Day rallies from major cities to the earthquake-stricken town of L'Aquila as a sign of solidarity with thousands who lost their jobs when businesses crumbled in last month's quake,” according to the AP. Spain also reported tens of thousands at May Day demonstrations.
In Turkey, labor activists rallied where dozens died during a May Day demonstration three decades ago. In Berlin, Germany, thousands poured into the streets to protest the capitalist economic crisis and demand social protections for workers who have suffered because of the greed of multinational financial institutions. The AP reported that “[a] group of 400 [protesters] blocked a streetcar line by sitting on the tracks.”
In Linz, Austria, police attacked a rally organized by the Communist Party leading to five arrests and more than 20 injuries. Greek police also attempted to break up May Day rallies in Athens, using flash grenades to force protesters to flee. As a result of the clamp down, workers in the transport sector went on strike, shutting down service on buses, trains, ferries, and Olympic Airlines.
In Mexico City, Mexico, hundreds marched despite a ban on all public gatherings, including the traditional May Day demonstration, presumably to prevent the spread of Swine Flu. The workers attempted to reach the legislative building, but were turned back by police.
Finally, the Daily Mail reported that thousands of workers marched in Brighton, England, focusing on an anti-war theme. The paper reported that, “At one point activists climbed up scaffolding onto the roof of a Barclays bank branch and unfurled a banner as part of the protest against an arms factory in the city”
This May Day represented a confluence of forces fighting to defend themselves from the rapacious attacks on living standards, wages, and employment launched by the global capitalist class in the midst of the current economic crisis. The millions who marched on every continent demanded aggressive reforms to reign in the greed that led the world economy into a tailspin as well as long-term policies designed to increase the leverage of working people in their places of employment as well as in the governance of their societies. As in the G20 protests in April, the global convergence on May Day marks a continuation of emerging international solidarity as people come together seeking a way past a system that benefits only the wealthy few and punishes the many for the crimes of the corporate elite.