Report of May Day demonstrations from some selected places around the world – Editors.
International Workers’ Day has been celebrated throughout the world by millions of people on the left for almost 130 years, in memory of the martyrs of the Haymarket massacres in Chicago in 1886. 2019 was a year when we could witness how several May Day demonstrations grew and became bigger than previous years, while some decreased in size and others saw changes in their composition. A snapshot from some of the demonstrations follows.
São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
In São Paulo, all of the Brazilian union confederations (TUC) united with the parties of the political opposition (the Workers Party [PT], and the Socialism and Liberty Party [PSOL]) and together made up as many as two hundred thousand participants in their May Day march. A general anger against Jair Bolsonaro’s government, his cuts in public education, his persecution of social movements, and his disastrous international policies, united unions and political parties in a common protest.
In Rio de Janeiro, fewer people participated, but a significant number of activists demonstrated in downtown Rio, especially against Bolsonaro’s cuts to the pension system. Bolsonaro’s cuts will lead to more privatization, lower pay for those who already are the worst off, and an increase in the retirement age to sixty-five. This higher age for retirement is outrageous, considering that the average life expectancy drops down to fifty-five years of age in the favelas. May Day in Rio saw a whole day of cultural and political activities, which also united the labor unions with the opposition political parties. United for the first time in a while, they came together to build a nationwide general strike on June fourteenth.
(The Portuguese translation of IMHO’s May Day-statement can be found here)
In Manila, thousands of workers went out onto the streets on May Day to protest President Rodrigo Duterte’s policies. The workers demanded higher wages, the implementation of a better Maternity Leave Act, and the abolition of a tax reform that has resulted in increased inequality. The workers primarily came from the Federation of Free Workers, and a trade union which belongs to the Nagkaisa Labor Coalition. The workers slogans especially targeted what they called the “anti-poor and anti-worker” stance of Duterte’s government.
Probably the most violent confrontations between protestors and police took place in Paris this year, where up to forty thousand marched from the Montparnasse Metro station to Place d’Italie. Both the Yellow Vests and the Black Bloc (a group of anarchists and anti-capitalists) had a major presence in the march.
The leaders of France’s trade unions distanced themselves from these militant actions, but they also expressed understanding concerning the anger and frustration expressed by the protests, which were triggered by President Emmanuel Macron’s policies, especially his failure to address the declining living standards.
Indonesia there was also experienced violent clashes between protestors and state authorities at this year’s May Day march. In the city of Bandung, the police detained more than 400 protestors. A significant amount number of the protestors were students and very young activists, many of them teenagers and children. A local anarchist group which had an important presence in the march, stated, “We are a generation that is taught how to be slaves and to be turned into ready-made products for industry.” The statement continued, “We are prospective workers, replacing our parents who lost their dignity, who feel inferior due to being labeled stupid, working hard under the demands of production, long work hours, low wages and high-risk work environments. We are the future. We have started a new page for a different era. An age without oppression and slavery.
We are your children.”
More than 300 000 people demonstrated in Turkey on May Day. In central Istanbul, the police cordoned off Taksim square, where they feared that many protestors would show up. Taksim square has been the main gathering point for leftwing movements since 1977, when 34 protestors were killed by the police.
Malmö and Kungälv, Sweden
The Left Party’s May Day demonstration in Malmö this year increased significantly in size compared to last year’s, gathering between 4500 and 5000 people. That meant that this year almost twice as many chose to march with the Left Party, as with the Social Democratic party, currently in a coalition with liberal parties. Recent polls have shown that the Swedish Social Democratic party has never in its more than hundred-year-old history garnered as little support as its currently has. To be sure, it did not improve the Social Democrats’ support among the working class when they, one week before May Day, announced that they were going to study how the right to strike could be restricted.
At the same time as the Social Democrats are losing in support, the Left Party has during the last years steadily increased its number of supporters and is now at a record high.
Among those who marched together with the Left Party was a trade union for transport workers, one Marxist-Humanist participant reported. A trade union leader, Linda Svensson, gave a talk about the rightwingers’ (and the Social Democrats’) attacks on workers’ rights and the urgent need for organizing. Other participating organizations included immigrants’ rights, LGBTQIA+, and climate activist groups, etc. Some of the slogans concerned stopping racism and deportations, and stopping deterioration and privatization of welfare institutions.
On the same day in the city of Kungälv, north of Göteborg, a group of about hundred neo-Nazis marched with the protection from the police. Especially in Sweden, and to some extent in Germany as well, neo-Nazi organizations have recently tried to co-opt May Day demonstrations. This year in Kungälv, somewhere around a thousand anti-Nazi protestors showed up to protest. The situation sometimes got heated up, but no serious injuries from either side where reported.
(The Swedish translation of IMHO May Day statement can be found here)
Los Angeles and Chicago, USA
In Los Angeles the Left has during the last two and a half years had to come out to so many emergency protests against Trump’s policies on everything from the Muslim ban to child kidnapping, that many where simply not able to take time off to come to this year’s May Day demonstration. Only about 2000-3000 showed up. The recent dissolution of the International Socialist Organization and the current crisis in the Democratic Socialists of America – Los Angeles (DSA-LA) might also have contributed to the low attendance.
The march this year began in the afternoon in MacArthur Park. In contrast to last year, it was now a mix of unions (mainly Teamsters), immigrants’ rights protestors, socialists (including Stalinists), and some anarchists, who marched together. In previous years, in contrast, the unions have held their own march in the mornings and then the more radical community and left-wing organizations have had another march in the afternoon.
The Los Angeles Chapter of IMHO participated in the march and had a literature table where several books, including on dialectics, were sold to young protestors and several hundred May Day statements, both in English and in Spanish, were passed out.
In previous years small groups of neo-Nazis confronted the May Day demonstrators. But this year none showed up. The Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) was very prominent at the rally and in the march, with large, colorful banners and posters. So were several socialist and anarchist organizations and individuals, among them IMHO.
In Chicago, the May Day demonstrations developed into a whole week of distinctive protests around the city, as a member of IMHO who participated in the events reported. These included campus workers at University of Chicago fighting better work conditions, women prisoners demanding an end to sexual harassment, and groups protesting police brutality, where some of those who protested (see a dedicated article on the Chicago demonstrations here).
One of the women protesting terrible conditions for women in prisons said during a march that “ninety percent of women in prison are raped or abused. I’m one. The correctional officers are part of the problem. Women in prison deserve a #MeToo movement as well.”
Another town were IMHO had a small presence was in Stavanger, Norway. There, more than 2 000 people turned up. According to an IMHO participant:
“In Stavanger, which is a rather small town in Norway, 2000 people turned up. This is a very positive development, but then we do not have a lot of other marches as you have in London and LA. At the moment we have a quite conservative government, and the political parties on the “left” (the Social Democratic Party, the Socialist Party, Rødt [the Red Party] and the Farmer’ party]), are trying to get rid of this government. They have decided to have a very peaceful attitude towards each other. This may be the reason why the May Day march had no critique of capitalism, or of NATO and US military forces in Norway. Before the march Rødt had its own arrangement with quite a few young people, and many Kurdish refugees as well.”
“Rødt called itself Red Election Alliance, which meant that it would cooperate with other parties on the “left” in connection to parliamentary elections and in the unions. The Farmer’s party is an independent party as well. Since the conservative party and the Christian party chose to make a coalition with the rightwing and anti-immigration party, the Farmer’s party chose the “left coalition.” However, it is important to add that the leaders in both the Farmer’s party and the Social Democratic party earlier refused to co-operate with Rødt, but the members of these parties have protested since many of these members cooperate with Rødt members in various unions.”
“Rødt has become a party very close to the principles of our organization. Just after May Day they had their national meeting, developing and changing very much of their present program. During the last year a lot of people have joined the party. Many of Rødt ‘s new members have left the Social Democratic Party and the Socialist Party. But Rødt has also gained a strong position among different groups of workers and the unions on the street level. The reason is that in Norway many of the street level union leaders are members or supporters of Rødt. As members of the party they have to follow their constitutional principles of taking no privileges, whether they are working in a union, the political party or in government. This kind of attitude has created a lot of trust, although many people do not support the political program of the party. At the present moment the development of Rødt and their membership gains are big news in Norway. Rødt ‘s new program contains a declaration that they are a revolutionary party whose members will contribute to the overthrow of capitalism in a democratic way, and will contribute to the development of a democratic, classless society. There are some very good debates at the moment, and suddenly a lot of people have started to discuss the issue of capitalism. These are very strange and interesting times in this very small country.”
From an IMHO participant:
“Oxford was fairly quiet; it is actually a place where a pagan May Day is still practiced! Still, friends and comrades of mine held a rally for a campaign for the Oxford Living Wage. Oxford is one of the least affordable cities in the UK and there is strong push for a living wage here, with good collaborations with unions, especially GMB and Unison that unionize zero hours and intermittent workers such as taxi drivers and delivery people. Yours truly is involved in this campaign, which is headed by Jabu Hartley and Martyn Rush, two local Labour Party activists.”
“Meanwhile, some of you have seen that just before May Day London was brought to halt with the environmental justice campaign of Extinction Rebellion, shutting down with sit-ins and peaceful protests some central travel routes such as Waterloo Bridge and Station, Westminster etc. The campaign was very wide reaching and effective in getting the message across. It was criticized widely for its whiteness (many people glorified their being arrested for peaceful protest, whereas people of color of course don’t have that privilege with racist police brutality paramount) as well as presenting environmental justice claims as a new articulation of their own— something that is hugely offensive to anyone with knowledge of anti-colonial and indigenous struggles. Moreover, there was wide critique within the left of the lack of a message beyond ‘we need to discuss climate emergency’—much of the protest was aimed to bring everyday movement to a halt, and it is unclear what beyond that. Actor Emma Thompson joined the protest in her private jet… so it was all a bit messy and unclear, and yet inspiring to see especially many young people join the sit ins.”
“I must say as a scholar of history it is fascinating to see the anarchist/socialist discussions arise again!!! I love Emma Goldman and her revolutionary dancing, but this all brought to me very clear determination to facilitate a clear message from the left that is inclusive of thinking of the environment and not let the pop-up anarchists capitalize on that (pun intended).”