Increased turnout, reports of violence at worldwide May Day demonstrations

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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Organized labor advocates worldwide held Friday demonstrations commemorating International Workers' Day, May 1st. Increased unemployment and financial hardship consequent to the ongoing global financial crisis led to larger demonstrations than in 2008, but violent incidents in some world cities marred the day of celebration.

Demonstrators rally in support of socialism and communism in Berlin on May 1st, 2007.
Image: Miraceti.

In Germany, 57 were arrested as young protestors threw bottles and set fire to cars in the capital, Berlin. Scattered violence also took place in Hamburg. 48 police and an unknown number of demonstrators are said to have been injured throughout the country, which is facing its deepest financial slump since the end of the Second World War. Trade unions in the country estimate that 484,000 people took part in the protests, some of which were deliberately violent; Class Struggle Bloc spokesman Marcus Berndt told the London Times, “The system is violent and now violence is being met by violence.” Meanwhile, 700 anarchists took part in an attempt to disrupt a neo-Nazi march through Berlin while the anti-immigrant National Democratic Party was preparing a demonstration that left police wary of further violence. Overall, though, German police characterized the events as "largely peaceful" compared to the 2008 demonstrations.

The eight major French trade unions joined forces for rallies in that country, with between 65,000 and 160,000 taking to the streets in Paris in mostly peaceful protests. France has faced continued popular unrest over the economic and labor policies of President Nicolas Sarkozy, but the half-million taking part in the May 1st demonstrations are few compared to the estimated three million who rallied against Sarkozy in March.

Industrial action by transport workers disrupted travel throughout Greece. Police used flash grenades and tear gas to disperse demonstrators in Athens. The violent encounters were between Greek police and 300 self-described anarchist university students in Athens; 6,000 had earlier marched peacefully, with no reported arrests, through the city.

Outside the European Union, record demonstrations also took place across Asia.

Marchers in Istanbul, Turkey, where the government has this year agreed to make May 1st a public holiday under pressure from increasingly-influential trade unions, were pushed onto side streets by water cannons before a pitched battle between them and demonstrators broke out, with the protestors pelting the police with missiles and police responding with tear gas. No serious injuries have been reported from the demonstrations in Istanbul, but a number of arrests have taken place.

Stability in Indonesia was on the line as 8,000 demonstrated in Jakarta for the Alliance for Workers Demands. The Alliance, which groups together 33 Indonesian labor organizations, and represented 700,000 people, said through a spokesman that if the government did not listen to their demands for reform of the Indonesian employment system, they would reject the results of the upcoming elections.

Demonstrators carry a banner saying "Long live May Day" in a rally in Mumbai in 2004.
Image: Soman.

A record 12,000 turned out in Taipei, Taiwan, largely organized by labor unions; the crowd booed Taiwanese labor minister Wang Ju-hsuan as he attempted to address them from atop a van. Taiwan faces a record 5.8% unemployment rate as the financial slowdown hurts the island's export-driven economy.

Industrial action in India was highlighted by a one-day strike in the Malayalam film industry, which has undergone continuing wage disputes with management in the state of Kerala. A march against pay cuts and job losses were also staged in Delhi by the Indian Federation of Trade Unions

And 36,000 rallied in Tokyo for Japan's 80th May Day celebration organized by the Trade Union Confederation.