According to the police about 1.3 million French people demonstrated on May Day to protest against Le Pen and the Front National. The real figure will be a lot higher, which makes the protests the biggest in decades. Some commentators were even talking about the biggest demonstrations since May ‘68 or even since the liberation of France by the allied troops in the 1940s. In Marseille there were 120,000 on the streets, in Grenoble and Lyon 50,000, in Toulouse 45,000, in Bordeaux 40,000, in Lille and Marseille 30,000, and elsewhere the protests were huge.
More than 1.5 million demonstrate!
Belgian comrades went to Amiens to assist the comrades of Gauche Révolutionnaire (French CWI section) during the local May Day demonstration. Around 7, 000 were on the streets. An official of the CGT (Communist Party led trade union federation) said that last year only 200 demonstrated!
The GR also had a lively contingent, largely made up of young people and immigrants on the 13,000 strong Rouen May 1 march.
Massive turnout in Paris
On the afternoon of May Day it seemed as if Paris was one big demonstration in opposition to Le Pen. This was much different to the morning demonstration of the supporters of Le Pen. The Front National announced it would mobilise100, 000 to commemorate Joan of Arc. However, according to the police, there were only 10,000 supporters of Le Pen on the streets of Paris. Traditionally, many right wing skinheads from all over Europe attend, including the so-called ‘national-revolutionary’ group, ‘Nation’, from Brussels. As the people in the streets showed their opposition to the march the stewards of the FN had to organise security around these groups of skinheads to avoid riots
The demo in the afternoon was a completely different picture. A lot of families showed up and there was a strong feeling of solidarity in opposition to Le Pen. For the first time in years all the main trade unions, the PCF, the youth organisation of the PS, and the radical left organizations, were united in one demonstration. People had to wait several hours to be able to demonstrate. We arrived with 4 buses from Amiens at 15.00hrs, the moment the demo was starting. When we got at the Place de la République it was filled with people and nobody could move. The demonstrators were mainly unorganised people who brought along homemade placards or banners. Everyone was waiting patiently, some until 18.30 hrs, to be able to demonstrate. A big part of the demo had to follow other roads because people were everywhere, from the Place de la République to the Place de la Nation, where the demo ended. In this huge sea of people it was impossible to move forward and to find our stall. We had some literature from Amiens, a few papers, leaflets, which we sold on the demo. We campaigned in the side streets as still more people were arriving. Many youth waiting to take part in the demo shouted slogans like, "Et F comme fasciste et N come Nazi, A bas, à bas, le Front National" (F like fascist, N like Nazi, down with the National Front) and "Nous sommes tous des enfants d’immigrés" (We’re all children of immigrants).
In the past days there has been continuous protests, which was mainly carried out by youth. According to a report in Libération, 66% of those between 18 and 24 years old, say they have got more involved in politics since 21 April (first round of the presidential elections). In most towns, the school students and students spontaneously took to the streets. On May Day, the trade unions tried to make a closer link between the mainly unorganised youth and the trade unions and political activists. In Amiens, there seemed to be few young people. On the Paris demo there were more youth, but also whole families.
From the massive youth protests a real strong opposition can be built. The radical left, which had a very good result in the first round of the presidential elections (the Trotskyist candidates got nearly 10.5%), is intervening in the movement but they do not seem to say how the movement can be built in the coming days and weeks. How do we continue the protests after the 5 May? How do we build a strong opposition in the June parliamentary elections? Those questions do not seem to be answered by the biggest organisations of the Left. Yet a continued protests in the run-up to the June parliamentary elections, combined with a united radical left list, could have a huge impact.
Continuing the protests
The Gauche Révolutionnaire intervened in the demonstrations, calling for the struggle to continue after 5 May, as this is the only way to really fight Le Pen and neo-liberal politics. A continuation of the protests would be an important step forward and could have an important impact on the June elections. However, the retreat of LCR towards the position of PS (social democrats) and PCF (communist party) and call for a vote for Chirac ("vote against Le Pen") and the refusal of LO to discuss a proposal by the LCR to have joint lists in June (the LO claims the letter of the LCR on this issue must have got lost in the post…) show us that these organisations do not offer a clear answer to the present situation.
We continue to defend the need for a strong united anti-capitalist list, as a first step to win over to a socialist programme those who voted for the FN, and those who are in opposition to the capitalist politicians. That could offer a political instrument for the youth movement and assure that the fight will not stop after the 5 May. In the struggle against Le Pen we can only trust on our own power, and as the demonstrations on May Day proved, there is huge power in the actions of the workers and youth. This can lay the basis to really beat Le Pen and Chirac. As many youth chanted on the demonstrations: "Le Pen, t’es perdu, la jeunesse est dans la rue"!
Other May Day reports from around the world:
Thousands of protesters took to the streets of London on the anti-capitalist May Day demonstrations this year.
There were demonstrations in Mayfair throughout the day and the trade union demonstration, which was supported by a number of anti-capitalist organisations that marched to Trafalgar Square.
International Socialist Resistance (ISR) held a demonstration outside British Aerospace headquarters at 10am. This was to protest at the international arms trade and the millions that are spent every year by governments, including in Britain, on the sale of arms that are used in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine. The demonstration had over 30 participating and was lively, with chants such as ‘Stop the massacre of Palestinians – stop the arms trade killing millions’.
There were ISR and Socialist Party members on the Mayfair demonstrations and the trade union demonstration where we sold 250 copies of the Socialist and gave out thousands of leaflets. All demonstrations had many young people who were there for many reasons, mainly against the Bush and Blair led “war on terror” and also many were there to protest against the election results of the far right presidential candidate, Le Pen, in France. But generally, many were there as anti-capitalists, and although the media tried to play up the very minimal amount of violence that took place, what May Day proved was that the anti-capitalist movement is not dead. That there are many young people, who have never been on protests before, taking part in the demonstrations, as well as young people that have been to many of the past anti-capitalist protests.
Twenty people signed up for the ISR and a dozen names are in, so far, the Socialist Party.
Clare James, London.
Comrades in the CIS had a good intervention in the May Day Demos throughout the CIS, selling nearly a thousand papers overall. Particularly significant was the demo in Moscow, where after the recent removal of the communist party (CP) from all its parliamentary committees, the leadership have tried to present a more radical face. The comrades had a very lively youth intervention, headed by a group of foreign students protesting against racism and fascism in the capital. Due to the liveliness of the contingent they seized the initiative and many of the other youth on the demo followed their lead.
In Kiev, nearly 200 papers were sold. In Russian Yaroslavl, where a new branch of our organisation has recently been formed, comrades were involved in leading a joint demo with the independent trade unions in the city. This proved far more left wing than the elderly CP demo. The trade unions came with red flags and placards demanding a new workers’ party. The march set off singing the international. We sold nearly 50 papers on a demo of 300.
Although the Tel Aviv May Day demonstration was small (less than 500 people) Socialist Struggle comrades were very visible with over 20 members present.
During May Day public meetings, comrade Eli injected a sense of the realities of life to the panel on ‘Social Struggle and War’. Shay Gali’s workshop on ‘Marxism and the National Question’, introduced our ideas to youth. Later in the day, at the closing rally, comrade Shimon’s brilliant speech was an inspiration to all present.
Ashdod workers’ leader, Shlomo Shimoni, attended the rally at our invitation, and was the only Israeli workers’ leader to attend. He made it clear in his speech that he had come as a result of the support we gave the dockworkers during the dockers’ dispute.
25 of the new Maavak T Shirts were sold. We also sold other literature, including about 10 copies of the Communist Manifesto, two copies of Socialism Today, and about 80 copies of our paper.
Of the left organisations present, we were the largest (apart from Hashomer HaZair), the most youthful, and the most visible.
We have received four email messages from people who want to join us. 15 people signed up for more information.
By Amnon, Tel Aviv.
International Workers Day was celebrated through out Kashmir, in both the Pakistani and Indian occupied areas.
In Pakistani Occupied Kashmir (POK), the NAP-Kotli, the NSF (National Students’ Federation) and FFEC (Fight for Free Education Campaign), organised the May Day rally from the post-graduate degree college in Kotli.
The procession marched through the town, and included youth, workers, unemployed youth, and school students.
The protestors raised slogans like, " workers of the world Unite", "No to capitalism! Yes to a socialist world!" Banners read, ‘Socialism, national liberation, and world peace our struggle’ and ‘May Day -Workers of the world Unite!’
A public rally was held where speakers from NAP-Kotli (National Awami Party), FFEC, and NSF and others spoke.
Tributes were paid to the heroic struggle of the workers who laid down their lives for the interests of the working class and the masses.
Along with the 1886 Chicago workers struggle [which helped initiate May Day as an international workers’ day of protests and solidarity], glowing tributes were paid towards the struggle of the 1865 Weavers’ Strike in Kashmir. The feudal Maharaja of Kashmir butchered many of these weavers.
NAP-Kotli was represented by its secretary, Niam Khan, and and Shakoor Azeem (a member of the central committee NSF). Ali Asghar said that, "the world over May Day was being celebrated and the Weavers’ Strike of 1865 goes to show that the working class had fought back and laid the foundations for future struggles which won rights, including the eight hour working day."
Anwar Khan, president of NAP, commented on the continuous military build-up between two nuclear powers in South Asia, India and Pakistan. He said, "over 55% of the masses are living below the poverty line, while the ruling classes have amassed hundreds of thousands of troops on their borders including Kashmir, and have made the masses hostage to this stand-off."
He said the referendum in Pakistan held by the Musharaff Regime, where the turnout, according to media reports was around 6-7 %, was rigged by the establishment (one woman cast 60 votes).
The meeting passed resolutions including, condemnation of the communal riots in India which have claimed nearly 1,000 lives, and calling for the workers and trade unions to cut across this menace by their class solidarity. A call for unity and solidarity between the Kashmir, Pakistan and Indian workers, youth, trade unions and other left forces was also made and demands for the withdrawal of the India and Pakistani armed forces from their borders and from the LoC (Line of Control) in Kashmir.
0ver 25 papers of the first edition of ‘Socialist Liberation’, the paper of CWI members in POK, were sold in an hour.
By Jammal, Kashmir.
May Day in Australia was celebrated on the day itself for only the second time in 60 years. ‘M1’ in Melbourne saw 500 anti-globalisation youth blockade the federal Department of Immigration offices from 7am until 11am when two separate rallies of workers entered the city centre and a unity march continued to the Nike store and then to the offices of the Royal Commission, which is running an ‘investigation’ into the building industry [which is expected to be used to attack the militant building workers’ unions]. About 10,000 workers struck and marched.
Afterwards, around 100 activists left for the Maribrynong Detention Centre in the western suburbs of Melbourne and clashed with the police after smashing down an outer fence. Two protestors were injured and one arrested.
In Brisbane and Sydney the M1 protests were smaller, with less trade unionists, but there were more clashes.
In Melbourne, 20 Socialist Party members ran a stall and sold a new issue of our paper, M1 badges, and posters.
By Steve Jolly, Melbourne.
The demos were in general smaller this year. The social democratic and the Left Party (ex-communists) demos in Stockholm had around 25, 000 and 12, 000 participants.
We had our own demo and a rally/family day in Umeå. 80 marched on our demo and 200 participated in the family day (including 60 children!).
We used petitions against Sharon’s war and got a very good response. In Stockholm, we raised 950 euros in total, sold 335 papers, and got 10 paper subscriptions. We had a contingent on the Left Party demo. In Gothemburg, one comrade raised 100 euros, sold 54 papers, and got 13 subscriptions.
We raised 1,600 euros in total, sold 470 papers, and got 26 subscriptions.
By Marcus Kollbrunner, Stockholm.
We were part of the only sizeable Mayday Demo in the Netherlands, which takes place in Rotterdam. About 500 people took part, including anarchists, different kinds of socialist groupings (including Turkish and Kurdish ones), trade unions, the Dutch Socialist Party (a broad, left party), and even some members of pro-capitalist parties. This had obviously something to do with the victory of ‘Liveable Rotterdam’ under the leadership of the rightwing populist Pim Fortuyn in Rotterdam local elections during March. The demonstrators where mixed: young and old, immigrants and Dutch. The demo did not really seem to be bigger then last year’s.
Offensief had a contingent on the demo. We sold 30 papers and handed out our leaflets for the broad anti-racist demo in Rotterdam at the 11 May. That demo has been called because of the elections on 15 May, when Pim Fortuyn is likely to enter parliament with over 20 seats. Offensief will be present at that demo, aided by some 10-15 Belgian CWI comrades, and we will organise a public meeting afterwards.
Ron Blom, Amsterdam.
As there will be elections this year in the Czech Republic, including parliamentary elections in June, for May Day we produced not only new issues of our paper and a translation of CWI May Day statement, but also special small pamphlets for elections.
We participated in the communist party KSCM (CP) rally. There were around 12, 000 people, mostly older, there. We sold 180 papers, 50 election pamphlets, 50 CWI May Day statements, and 17 pamphlets about Trotsky (all we had with us!).
There were more youth on the anarchist demo of around 200 people. But their demo marched through the town without any slogans.
The leadership of KSCM is moving further to right. Their vice-president has even advocated school fees at universities. Only after pressure from below did he change his position and talked about "financing of universities from several resources". The biggest opposition in the KSCM is from a Stalinist position. The KSCM youth are under the influence of a version of Stalinism/Maoism. There are only a few KSCM people looking forward.
There will be no enthusiasm for the elections. Social democracy in power has changed nothing for workers and youth and unemployment has grown by 2% to 9.3%. Workers only have one of three pro-capitalist parties to choose from (ODS – conservative Klaus party; Koalice – coalition of Liberals and Christian Democrats; CSSD – social democrats). The protest vote will largely go to the KSCM (CP). So there is no voice for youth and workers. We therefore explain that youth and workers need their own party.
Vasek Votruba, Prague.
We had comrades at May Day events in four cities. Around 100, 000 people marched in Vienna, 150 in Graz, 25,000 in Linz, and 900 in Salzburg. We sold 248 papers in Vienna, 39 Graz, 86 in Linz, and 32 in Salzburg (in total 405 papers), plus t-shirts, stickers, and pamphlets.
A visible part of the demos were made up of youth and fresh people. We had a very good response on the issue of fighting Le Pen and the extreme right.
In Vienna, in contrast to the last years, many homemade banners against the government were carried. In Salzburg and Graz we were the only radical organisation that was present. In Linz, only ex-comrades were also there.
The next big event in Vienna will be the 8 May demo, which will likely see a confrontation between protesters and fascist groups.
Salzburg will see events leading up to anti-war protests in September
Sonja and Franz, Vienna.
During April, the Socialist Alternative of Finland (CWI section) began its public activity by holding a public meeting in Oulu, the sixth biggest city in Finland, on the topic, ‘From Seattle to Rome – global capitalism and socialist alternative’. From this one new comrade joined us and a number of other people said there are interested in more discussions about our ideas. Shortly after this, we organised another meeting under the topic, ‘What is Socialist Alternative and the Committee for a Workers’ International?’
Socialist Alternative participated to May Day events in two cities. In Tampere, the third biggest city of Finland, one of our sympathisers participated in two different May Day meetings and distributed leaflets and the CWI May Day statements. The response was good among the few youth participating and also among older people. During the month of May Socialist Alternative will be trying to organise a public meeting in Tampere, to launch a new branch.
Socialist Alternative also participated I the May Day demonstration in Oulu, and campaigned against the rise of the far right and racism, in order to get more youth interested. Unfortunately, the starting place and time of the demo was agreed only a little over a week before May Day, leaving little time for preparations for the campaign. But we still managed to distribute dozens of leaflets and posters to schools and on the streets.
Only 50 people participated on the May Day demonstration in Oulu, and only a few of them were youth. Most of them came because of the Socialist Alternative campaign. A group of seven neo-nazis held a ‘counter-demo’ and to provoke the demonstration they tore down one May Day banner. We will collect names for anti-racist petitions in our campaign to resist the far right, and will also continue building support for socialist ideas.