Party’s leaders called in for questioning
May Day event in Johor Bharu
On the morning of 1 May, 2007, the historic tradition of May Day rallies took shape at Dataran Bandaraya, a prominent landmark in Johor. This was the first time such a significant May Day event has taken place in Johor, which is often seen as the stronghold of the ruling front – Barisan Nasional. Until recently, this move to organise May Day in Johor was seen as a ’mission impossible’. Local activists were sceptical and the police force in Johor has its own history of stopping demonstrations after a few minutes.
Yet today, against the initial odds, around 600 people participated in this year’s May Day organized by the May Day Organising Committee led by JERIT (Oppressed People’s Network ) and its coalition partners – PSM (Socialist Party of Malaysia), DEMA (Chinese youth group), PRM (People’s Party of Malaysia), SUARAM (Human rights group) and many other groups. This year there was a decline in the number of participants and, according to the organizers, this is due to the event being held in Johor and because of the long break of holidays. Nevertheless, this year also saw the largest number of endorsers for the May Day Declaration. The 13-point declaration was endorsed by 94 organisations – a record in comparison with previous years.
Among key issues in the declaration were the calls to reject cheap labour policies, to enact a minimum wage act, equal treatment for migrant workers, housing rights for urban settlers and rejection of FTAs. The declaration was read out at the end of the event and followed by the signing of the Internationale.
Among the speakers who took centre stage were working class leaders. Speeches were delivered by a plantation worker from Perak, urban settlers from Kampung Berembang in Selangor, fishermen from Johor as well as performances from youths and children from Cheras Perdana, Berembang and the reading of a few poems. Also two sketches were acted out – one to launch the theme was done by DEMA and another, on the history of May Day, was performed by CDC (Community Development Centre).
Though the weather was pretty hot, even after it rained earlier in the day, the crowd concentrated in a tent facing the stage. Various banners were put out to decorate and create the May Day atmosphere.
Police try to spoil celebrations
The almost perfect event ended with some verbal exchanges with the police. The police summoned PSM leaders – Dr. Nasir Hashim, Secretary General S.Arutchelvan and Central Committee member V.Selvam – to their headquarters for questioning as well as the Master of Ceremonies for the day, Nasran, from PAS (Islamic Party) in Johor. Later they were released, but 112 witness statements were recorded from them. The District Police Chief had initially given permission for the event until 12 noon but later came to stop the event after what he described as directions from Bukit Aman (Headquarters of police force in KL).
The skilful handling of the negotiations by the PSM team had ensured the police did not disrupt the event but towards the end some police officers were seen harassing some sections of the crowd. The police were also not so happy about how such an event could have been possible in Johor and tried to create some confusion in relation to the event. Besides that, the event was clearly under the full control of the organisers.
The working class tradition of celebrating May Day is a significant historical event. The government does not support these events. In Malaysia, though May Day is a public holiday, the government refuses to organise any event on that day and has chosen another day to celebrate workers’ day. In the US, where May Day originated, it is not even a public holiday.
The police today became uneasy as they felt the speeches were hard hitting. Yes, while the ruling elites crow about 50 years of independence, the workers today shouted against 50 years of oppression.
May Day will continue to be cherished by the working class for its significance. It is a massive victory of the workers over the capitalist class to celebrate it. It is a day which we will continue to fight for, remember, cherish and celebrate. It is a day which belongs to all workers, all over the world.