Hundreds of thousands were in the streets of Istanbul. Caracas saw an impressive rally of strength of the workers’ movement. Strong demonstrations took place for example in the US, with 100,000 in the streets of Milwaukee, see article of Socialist Alternative (CWI supporters in the US).
May Day 2011 showed some of the fighting traditions of over 100 years of celebrating this day as one of international solidarity, struggle and commitment to achieving a socialist future.
We already published a report about Tunisia, ‘Militant Mayday march calls for continuing the revolution’.
As we also reported, Kazakhstan’s May Day was marked by attacks on CWI activists and supporters, and comrade Ainur Kurmanov was hospitalized. An international solidarity campaign followed.
In Russia, the Moscow May Day march saw "Socialists harassed by nationalist “left”". Despite this attempts to intimidate socialists, the CWI in Russia continue to fight against the reactionary, nationalist nature of much of the “official” so-called Russian ‘left’.
However, in many countries, particularly across Europe, this year’s May Day’s was sometimes marked by low participation and weak political content, which emphasises the urgent need to rebuild the workers’ movement and its socialist traditions.
In other countries, like Sri Lanka or Nigeria, different forces, even capitalist governments, tried to take over and misuse this day in their interests.
Here we give some examples of the participation by members and sections of the CWI during May Day, from all around the globe. More detailed reports can be found on many national CWI websites.
The CWI May Day Statement 2011 can be found here.
Sri Lanka: For a workers’ May Day against attacks and communalism
The USP (CWI in Sri Lanka) was forced to organise its own, independent May Day rallies to show a clear distance from all the nationalist and capitalist forces. The USP condemned the Sri Lankan government for trying to use the international workers’ day for their agitation against the recent UN report documenting the slaughter of Tamils in the recent civil war.
The USP and organizations in close collaboration with the USP celebrated May Day by linking it to the struggle against the introduction of a so-called pension scheme in Sri Lanka, which was demanded by the IMF. Through this bogus pension scheme, the Sri Lankan government is trying to sell employees’ provident fund (EPF) to international big business.
In this situation, the USP is appealing to all trade unions to form a block to fight against the introduction of anti-workers policies by the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime.
Unfortunately, some trade unions held joint May Day celebrations, but without any programme to fight against these cuts. They allowed workers to go home without posing a programme to defeat these anti-working class measures. They even want to continue with this “joint May Day” in 2012.
The USP May Day demonstration was held under difficult conditions. The Rajapaksa government is mobilizing communal forces to divert attention from their neo-liberal economic agenda, launched on behalf of the World Bank and the IMF against working class and poor people. Siritunga Jayasuriya, Srinath Perera, Dhammika de Silva, Asoka Adikaram,Murugasu Chandiran and S. Sathyakeerthy from Jaffna all spoke at the USP rally.
Nigeria: For a real fight for a minimum wage!
This year international workers’ day was, unfortunately, another attempt to hold a non-political jamboree on 1 May in Nigeria. The historic essence of the event – a day to put forward the demands of workers for real improvement in living and working conditions - has been lost. “The Labour leaders chose only to offhandedly demand implementation [of these demands]”, reports Peluola Adewale (DSM - CWI Nigeria) to socialistworld.net, “This is apparently not to spoil their merrymaking and social partnership with the federal and state governments which have defined the May Day events in the country. Most Labour leaders choose the day to cement their relationship with these governments with expectation or demand for more largesse from the state coffers.”
For instance, in Delta state, South-south Nigeria, while the state Chairman of the National Labour Council (NLC) passively mentioned non-implementation of the minimum wage and casualisation in the Council for Arts and Culture, the thrust of his speech was to congratulate the state governor on his re-election and thank workers for helping return the governor to office.
In the federal capital, Abuja, where there the central “rally” was jointly held by the two trade union federations, the NLC and TUC, it was the Vice President of Nigeria who received the “salutes” of workers. In most of the states where the DSM participated, there was no union carrying placards or banners with any demand centred on living and working conditions.
However, in Lagos, a worker with Lagbus, an operator of the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) scheme which the state government supports with public resources for private profit, as part of Public Private Partnership, managed to raise a placard that denounced the dehumanizing working conditions in the company with inscription: “Stop Modern Slavery in Lagbus”.
Also in Osun state, some teachers were seen while on the march past, chanting the slogan: “minimum wage, N18, 000” which was echoed by numerous other workers. Incidentally, those that led the chanting were the same workers whom we had seen earlier discussing about how to negotiate with state government for at least N15,000. This was because, according to them, not all states have the capacity to pay N18,000. But then DSM comrades discussed with them and sold our paper, Socialist Democracy. No doubt, the consciousness and confidence of these workers were aroused from reading the paper with a front page article calling on workers to fight for the immediate implementation of N18, 000 minimum wage.
In Lagos, the solidarity speech of Segun Sango, the General Secretary of DSM, to massive applause, revealed that workers were not comfortable with the handling of the minimum wage in the state. He argued that with jumbo pay of the top government functionaries, no state government has an excuse not to pay the new minimum wage, and called on workers to be prepared to fight for full implementation.
DSM comrades participated in May Day events in nine centres across the country, namely: Abuja, Lagos, Osun, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti, Delta and Edo states and sold 991 copies of May/June issue of “Socialist Democracy”. We found that of much interest to workers were the articles on the history of the May Day celebration, which pointed out the root of May Day in the 8-hour working day movement, and there was also interest in an article on the minimum wage, which calls on workers to prepare to fight for its implementation.
Venezuela: People hungry for ideas
Caracas saw one of the largest May Day marches in recent years. Despite the high levels of political polarisation and confusion arising from what was, originally, to be four different marches, the Chavez Government and its party, the PSUV, were able to mobilize tens and thousands of supporters from around the country to fill the main avenue of the city, Avenida Bolivar.
The marches took place this year in an environment that could only be described as pre-electoral (the Presidential elections will take place in 2012). It was also on the back of various pay increases announced by the government the previous week. These pay increases are made yearly by the Chavez government for many workers, although it always covers those on the minimum wage (around 50% of the formal workforce, the majority of these workers are in the public sector).
The difference in the announcement, this year, is the background of high levels of labour and community conflict with the government, including nurses, teachers and other public sector workers. The announcement of the increases came before May Day and not on May Day, as is traditional. Chavez also announced the day prior to May Day that the government’s new social programme- to build millions of houses to cover the huge deficit that exists (a deficit of more than 2 million).
These announcements, in turn, enable the Chavez supporters to rally support for the march, with some calling it a ‘celebration’ of the pay increases. Obviously, while we welcome such increases, this years’ increase of 25% (the same as the previous year) may only just cover the rate of inflation, which currently stands at around 29%.
The May Day marches this year also showed the deeper divisions that exist within the already fractured trade union movement. As stated previously, there were originally four marches called for May Day. The right wing Trade Union confederation of the CTV, along with Fadess (Autonomous Front for Employment, Wages and Unions) led by Orlando Chirinos (C-CURA and USI) joined forces and marched together and held their own demonstration.
The Unete, originally the trade union confederation of the left, called a march to join up with the government demonstration. This march, which we participated in, was relatively small, reflecting the divisions and polarization that currently exists.
Then, of course, there was the march of the PSUV and supporters of the government, which despite being overwhelmingly the biggest of all the marches, lacked significant trade union representation and had more of a carnival celebratory atmosphere.
As the Venezuelan section of the CWI has found at several demonstrations recently, people are hungry for ideas. The absence of political material and analysis is not a result of decreased need or interest in it. During our participation and intervention in this years’ May Day, we found resurgence in interest in Marxism from most of the people we meet while running our information street stall. We raised the demands of independence for the trade unions, for unity of the left and for collective contracts among other things.
This May Day proved that, despite huge obstacles and polarization, there is still space for genuine revolutionary socialist ideas and analysis and that enormous opportunities exist for Socialismo Revolutionario and the CWI in the Venezuela.
Hong Kong and Taipei: Protests over low level of minimum wage
Comrades of Socialist Action (CWI) intervened in May Day demos in Hong Kong and the Taiwanese capital, Taipei.
Hong Kong: Over 3,000 took part in HKCTU demo
Over 3,000 took part in the May Day demonstration of the HKCTU - the pro-democracy union federation in Hong Kong. The demo was dominated by migrant women workers from Indonesia and the Philippines, who easily accounted for two-thirds of the overall turnout.
Socialist Action’s banner demanded a HK$40-an-hour minimum wage and a struggle against unscrupulous bosses who are sabotaging the minimum wage. We also called for an emergency programme to build 50,000 public housing units, and nationalisation of the banks and property developers.
Taipei: Nurses union in 5,000-strong May Day demo
In Taipei the CWI intervened in two demos: A 100-strong protest organised by the campaign group RCAN and later a demonstration of around 5,000. The RCAN rally was more radical and called for “No confidence in KMT or DPP [main bourgeois opposition, formally calls for Taiwan independence]” and for people to take “political and economical power”. The big demo’s slogan was “Against exploitation and poverty”!
Social workers and nurses have set up “pre-unions” as part of their struggle for union rights, and both groups brought a lot of young workers to the march.
Turkey / Istanbul: A sea of red flags
A sea of red flags covered Taksim Square, in Istanbul, report CWI members from Turkey. The re-awakening of the traditions of the Turkish workers’ movement and the Left, in the last years, was continued with another impressive May Day, with hundreds of thousands taking part in Istanbul, alone.
This huge demonstration of strength took place despite the fact that almost all trade union leaders try to put the country’s coming national elections at the centre of developments, arguing that workers should wait until the outcome of the polls before taking any other action. This has some effect on the overall situation. However, as different political forces in the workers’ movement have their own demonstrations, all ending on Taksim Square, the number of unorganised left youth who participated in the left wing demonstration, next to socialist groups and left wing trade unions, was significant higher than last year.
In Ankara, Izmir and the Kurdish area of Turkey, hundreds of thousands also took to the streets on May Day.
Spain: For a new general strike!
May Day in Spain was used by trade unions to highlight employment rights and against cuts. There were 80 protest organised across the country. El Pais newspaper reported 40,000 in Barcelona on the union march and that the ‘alternative’ march in the evening was possibly bigger. There were 10,000 in Valencia. It has been reported that 160,000 attended trade union organised Mayday protests. But numbers swelled to at least over 200,000, when other alternative marches are considered.
The mood in Barcelona was angry, due to cuts taking place there. About 1,000 people also attended a protest against cuts on the evening of Monday 2 May, in a local area of Badalona. On the 14 May, there is likely to be a massive demonstration.
In Murcia, the trade unions cancelled the demonstration so as not to cause ‘friction’ before elections on 22 May!
The CWI in Spain produced a short, punchy leaflet calling for a fight against the bosses’ attacks and to prepare for a new general strike.
Sweden, Denmark, Finland: ‘Wait-and-see’ mood on Nordic demonstrations
In Sweden, the Social Democrat party’s attempt at a face-lift, with a new leader, has, so far, not led to increased support. The new leader, Håkan Juholt, is more critical of the right-wing government, but gives no concrete promises to working people.
There is a certain wait-and-see mood amongst workers. The government and media present much propaganda about strong economic growth. In most cities and towns, the May Day demonstrations, including those of the Left Party, were smaller than last year. The Left Party demonstration in Stockholm was probably less than 10,000 people.
Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden) organised its own demonstration in Gothenburg, with 300 people, while in other places the party had contingents in Left demonstrations.
In Denmark, CWI members from south Sweden participated in May Day demonstrations in Copenhagen. The Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslistan) march was markedly smaller than previous years, although there is a big layer of left-wing youth taking part. A confused approach towards the imperialist intervention in Libya, as well as on how to fight racism and cuts in Denmark, weakened some of the participation of Left groups. Around 57 copies of the Swedish socialist Offensiv weekly were sold.
In Finland, a group of CWI members from Luleå, north Sweden, participated with CWI sympathisers in Oulu, on the May Day demonstration, shouting slogans in Finnish, Swedish and English. Five hundred people marched, as part of the Left contingent. The CWI held a public meeting after the demonstration. The CWI is becoming more well-known amongst the city’s Left.
Belgium: Reclaim the day of international working class struggle!
The LSP/PSL (CWI in Belgium) emphasised the need to reclaim May Day as a day of international working class struggle. Most traditional May Day demonstrations in Belgium were smaller than previous years. Many trade union activists do not see the need to turn up to events that have no real political content. We should not leave the rich tradition of May Day to the social democracy, as this would mean the end of 1 May as a day of international solidarity and struggle for socialism.
The trade union leadership barely raised any criticism of the Social Democrats. On the contrary, the national president of the ABVV/FGTB union federation, Rudy De Leeuw, defended his friends in the social democratic SP.a and attacked Erik De Bruyn for leaving the party. De Bruyn led a leftwing opposition current inside the SP.a, but has now concluded that this work has become impossible and that it is better to leave the SP.a to form an independent political movement, called Rood (Red).
LSP/PSL, the Belgian CWI section, welcomes this new initiative and agrees with De Bruyn and Rood that there is a potential for an alternative on the left of the tradition parties. We defend the need for a democratic and inclusive new workers’ party that is open to all those who oppose the rightwing policies implemented by the traditional parties and imposed by the EU and the IMF.
Members of the CWI participated in 17 cities during May Day in Belgium, distributing selling our newspaper, pamphlets, books and distributing our leaflet welcoming the decision Rood to leave the SP.a.
In Antwerp, our ‘Youth Fight for Jobs’ contingent was joined by a contingent from ‘Tamils against war and racism’, with some 20-30 Tamil activists with whom we work in solidarity actions.