Marching for May Day

IssueJune 2009
News by Polina Aksamentova

As the financial crisis continues to rage throughout the world, and unemployment rates climb ever higher, workers came together for this year’s May Day in a spirit of discontent rather than celebration. Although most demonstrations were peaceful, some violence was seen in Turkey, Greece and Germany.

Clashes with police broke out throughout Istanbul, as protestors threw rocks and were combated with teargas. Though the Turkish government had finally conceded to unions and declared May Day a public holiday only a few weeks before, it would allow only 2,000 protestors to march in Taksim Square. The square holds a symbolic importance since 1977, when an unknown gunman opened fire on the gathered workers celebrating May Day. Hundreds tried to defy the ban and join the demonstrators, but were driven back with water cannon. Dozens of people were injured and at least 20 arrested.

Although 6,000 workers marched without incident in Athens early in the day, later the Greek police used teargas and flash grenades to disperse a group of 300 students and self-described anarchists at Athens Polytechnic. The group was involved in the December riots, following the shooting death of 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos.

In Berlin and Hamburg, protestors torched five cars and threw bottles and rocks at police. Roughly 56 people were arrested and 48 policemen injured.

On a recommendation from health officials, activities were called off by the three main labour federations in Mexico City. More than 30,000 still marched throughout the country, chanting slogans such as: “More harmful than the influenza – the government without shame”.

In Puerto Rico, 22 unions organized a one-day general strike and a march of 30,000 people in San Juan, protesting governor Luis Fortuño’s plan to dismiss 30,000 to 60,000 public employees – his response to the global financial crisis.

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales used the holiday to announce the nationalisation of British aviation fuel supplier AirBP. He also extended worker’s benefits to include mandatory severance pay after 90 months of continuous work, and social security coverage for temporary employees.

A record number of 12,000 turned out for a demonstration in Taiwan, and throughout France an unprecedented 300 protests were planned, with all union leaders joining forces for the first time since the Second World War.

In London, hundreds marched in the traditional labour movement procession from Clerkenwell to Trafalgar Square. 200 people gathered later in the day to hold an anti-police-brutality street party outside the Bank of England.