May Day 2009: Workers and youth mark May Day in Israel and Belgium

More reports from around the world

Israel: May Day protests – We won’t pay the price of the crisis!

Neta Neharde`a, Socialist Struggle Movement (CWI in Israel)

Socialist Struggle Movement (CWI Israel) members participated in marches to mark May Day in Tel-Aviv and Haifa, emphasising working people’s international solidarity, the need to struggle against racist and nationalist division, and a resolute rejection of the attempt to make workers pay for the global crisis of capitalism

With the growing effects of recession, and under threat by massive neo-liberal attacks by the new unpopular government, new layers of workers and youth in Israel found the May Day events to be an important point of reference and an opportunity to protest against the failing capitalist system and the catastrophic future it promises for working and living conditions.

The General Workers’ Histadrut – main trade union federation – doesn’t mobilise workers for May Day events. Its predecessor, yellow federation, (reformed in 1994) used to mobilise, but did so as the biggest employers’ body in the economy, under the control of the ruling elite’s traditional parties, with a pro-establishment, nationalist agenda. These days, instead of bringing out the workers, the Histadrut only assists its sponsored nationalist youth movement organisation to mark the day with a symbolic non-political march. Around 3,000 of these youth marched on the streets of Tel-Aviv this year.

Pro-worker and socialist organisations, and among them the CWI, recognise that the strong trade union consciousness of the past, when 85% of the workforce was organised – as opposed to around 25% today – still needs to be rebuilt, along with the organised labour movement itself. But it must be rebuilt on an independent class basis and on strong solidarity between Jewish, Arab and immigrant workers. May Day events should reflect this, and the Socialist Struggle Movement (CWI) and other organisations have collaborated in recent years to mark May Day in its true spirit, striving to create a new tradition.

May Day coalition

The May Day coalition in Tel-Aviv this year included Socialist Struggle Movement, Hadash (Communist Party front), “Power to the Workers” (a democratic workers’ organisation, which CWI participates in and leads along with), “Our Future” (opposition formation inside the social workers union, lead by students and workers), some students’ formations, and also, despite strong opposition on our part, the liberal pro-capitalist party, “Meretz” (“Vigour”).

The Hadash/CP leadership has invited this failing party as part of its campaign to “build a new left”, meaning to gather together with all those who merely call themselves left-wing. This case is particularly outrageous, as Meretz was not only part of past neo-liberal governments, but is currently part of the neo-liberal coalition in the Tel-Aviv municipality, and has supported categorically the latest onslaught on the Gaza Strip. We explained our aim is not to adopt a ‘purist’ stance, but that having Meretz on the demonstration acts as a barrier in the attempt of the different participating organisations to reach wider circles of workers and youth with our ideas. This applies even if Meretz is willing to hypocritically subscribe to the message of the event, as this elitist party is justifiably despised by Jewish workers and is seen as an establishment party by Arab workers. Unfortunately, with Hadash being the largest organisation present (electorally they’re bigger than Meretz today), they gave Meretz an opportunity to exploit this event, even allowing one of their MPs to make a speech. We intend to further raise our criticisms on this issue, to explain the risks that it involves for the building of a movement.

While “Meretz” wanted to keep the demonstration as “neutral” and non-political as possible – an attitude partly supported by "Hadash" at first – we insisted that the demonstrations’ main slogan would be “No to the off-loading of the price of the crisis onto workers and youth”. Some of our slogans against layoffs and cutbacks were also on the main podium banners at the rally.

Marchers in Tel-Aviv

On the march

Around 1,500 people marched on the main event in Tel Aviv (more than 3 times bigger than last year), with thousands among them workers and workers’ representatives – including representatives of the Open University junior faculty, unionised by “Power to the workers”, who are currently on a militant strike for a collective contracts and improved conditions. Hadash had a big block of Jews and Arabs, and Meretz brought a few dosen of activists.

The Socialist Struggle Movement block marched along with the blocks of “Power to the workers” and “Our Future”, practically merging along the march into a general block, shouting the slogans of each other, and chanting: “The First of May, The First of May – I ask – why the Rule of Capital is still alive?!”

Our main slogans were: "Let the tycoons pay for the crisis they’ve created", "We won’t pay, we won’t pay – The price of the crisis!", "Jews and Arabs fight against layoffs", “Solidarity of workers – Jews and Arabs”, “Jews and Arabs – smash the racists!”, "Struggle is the answer to the government’s attacks", "Socialism is the solution – dismantle the Rule of Capital", “Dismantle the system – that creates unemployment”, "The Histadrut belongs to the workers, get rid of the careerist “go-getters”, “`Eyni [Histadrut chairman] is a traitor!”, "The answer to lay offs: strong unions", "Money for education and jobs – not for occupation and wars".

Additional slogans, among many, initiated by “Power to the workers” and “Our Future” included "We won’t be exploited – all power to the workers", "Enough with sexism, enough with discrimination, there’s no such thing as a family secondary income" (referring to the low pay of the social workers, a profession which in Israel occupied mainly by women).

In Haifa, a few hundred Jews and Arabs marched on Mayday, under the slogan "the crisis – not at our expense". We participated in organising it and marched along with the block of “Power to the workers”, and one Socialist Struggle Movement comrade spoke at the final rally.

Repression of Palestinian demonstration

While recognising the progress in this year’s protests, we stand alert to the brutal crushing of Palestinian demonstrations in the West Bank, including on this May Day. A protest was organised by the popular committee in the Bethlehem district and by the local branch of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), to mark May Day and the struggle against the separation wall. It was completely smashed by the Israeli military, with rubber-coated steel bullets, tear gas, and sound bombs. Members of the local popular committee were arrested and are still being held. This is part of an intended escalation in repression of Palestinian protests by the Israeli regime, particularly since the recent slaughter in Gaza.

May Day serves as a reminder to the critical need of international working peoples’ solidarity in order to bring about significant change.

May Day in Belgium

LSP/PSL (CWI in Belgium)

Thousands gather in Brussels

The left-wing socialists of LSP/PSL intervened in May Day demonstrations in 20 cities around the country. On the eve of May Day, we organised our own activities, with public meetings in different cities. The biggest meeting was in Gent with 80 present. We distributed our electoral leaflets. We are standing in the regional and European elections. In the French-speaking region of Belgium, we have a joint list with the LCR (Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire) for the European elections. In Brussels, we participate in a left alliance for the regional elections, under the name PC-PSL-LCR-PH (Parti Communiste, Parti Socialiste de Lutte, Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, Parti Humaniste). For the Dutch-speaking European elections and the other regional elections we are standing under our own name.

Our electoral campaign is a very political one, with slogans such as “Nationalise to save jobs, not their profits. For a 32-hour working week without loss of pay”. Our main electoral poster was also the front page of our paper on the day. On the traditional May Day demonstrations, the social democracy pursued its own electoral campaign, yet there was an open attitude towards us amongst many present at the demonstrations. This resulted in a good response, with 763 copies of our paper sold around the country.

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May 2009