Hundreds of thousands of workers across the world took part in celebrations and protests to mark International Workers’ Day on Thursday. The demands of the demonstrations were remarkably similar – no to privatisation, defence of public services and migrant workers, and higher wages to deal with the soaring price of food and fuel that is contributing to a decline in workers’ living standards the world over.
Some of the biggest demonstrations and events celebrating May Day were held in Europe. Public transport services, ships and flights ground to a halt in Greece as unions called a May Day strike to protest at privatisation and pension reforms.
In France up to 120,000 marched to demand higher wages and pensions and to protest against the rising cost of living. The French CGT and CFDT trade unions held a joint protest in Paris for the first time in four years. Demonstrations were held in many other cities, including Marseille, Nice, Toulouse and Lille.
Around 10,000 people turned out in Hamburg, Germany to stop a planned march by the Nazi NPD, which had to march between cordons of riot police to protect them from the protesters. Protesters also clashed with police defending the NPD in Nuremburg.
Protesters across Germany called for the introduction of a national minimum wage and drew attention to the growing divide between the rich and poor.
Some 25,000 marched in Madrid, Spain, where Candido Mendez, the general secretary of the General Workers Union, rejected the idea of cutting wages to fight inflation.
Some 10,000 people marched in Belgrade, Serbia calling for better living standards and protesting against privatisation.
Over 1,000 marched through London, Britain.
Concern over fuel prices was an issue for the 44,000 people who attended a May Day rally in Tokyo, Japan.
Protesters in Singapore and Bangkok, Thailand carried signs reading, “Expensive rice prices, cheap labour wages. How can labourers live?”
Manila in the Philippines saw thousands of workers march to demand President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s resignation for refusing to raise the minimum wage in the face of rising food and fuel prices. Protesters carried signs reading, “Jobs, Justice, Food” and “Lower food prices now”.
Thousands of people from many trade unions joined a May Day protest in Jakarta, Indonesia. People protested against the outsourcing of work and high food prices. Demonstrators marched from central Jakarta to the presidential palace.
Protests also took place in other big cities across Indonesia, including Medan, Surabaya, Bandung, Jogjakarta and Makassar.
Up to half a million people joined May Day protests in Turkey. They were met by violent repression by riot police using water cannon and batons. Hundreds were arrested and dozens injured.
Tensions were running particularly high this year after government plans to raise the retirement age and attack social security provision.
Around 10,000 marched through Beirut, Lebanon, on the eve of national strikes over the price of food and low wages.
Thousands of people in major cities across the US demonstrated on May Day, demanding rights for immigrant workers and protesting over the increased hardship workers are facing after sharp rises in food prices.
Hundreds marched through New York demanding an end to anti-immigrant raids on workplaces. Around 4,000 marched in Chicago demanding immigration reform. Workers rights and an end to war were major themes on the marches in Washington.
Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) led several hundred marches in Seattle to protest against the war in Iraq.
Dock workers in California, Oregon and Washington struck on the day to demand an end to the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan – involving 25,000 members of the ILWU.
May Day saw hundreds of thousands of workers take to the streets across Latin America. Major themes of the protests were food shortages and rising prices, unemployment and demanding better wages and conditions.
Around 70,000 workers marched in Mexico demanding that the government end food shortages and unemployment. In Ecuador over 15,000 protested against subcontracting and labour conditions.
Thousands of workers demanded an end to corruption and food price rises in Guatemala. Protesters marked the day in Nicaragua by calling on the government to stop food price rises and create more jobs. Police arrested 96 people in Santiago, Chile, after a May Day march.
President Evo Morales attended a May Day event in La Paz, Bolivia and demanded that the US withdraw troops from Iraq. President-elect Fernando Lugo took part in May Day celebrations in Paraguay, the first time an incoming president was invited to participate in May Day events.
Thousands took part in May Day events across Venezuela. And in El Salvador, thousands marched through the capital San Salvador to protest against price rises and demand higher wages.
Thousands attended a May Day rally in South Africa, where workers and speakers called for an end to poverty wages and an increase in land distribution and protested against rising food prices.
In Kenya, president Mwai Kibaki rejected a call from thousands of workers at a May Day rally for pay rises to cope with the rising cost of food and fuel.