On May Day 2022, workers and their organisations gathered in many countries around the world – with many exceptions this year: in many countries, war, repression, and restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic – prevented workers from gathering. Conversely, in some countries where workers are on the offensive, such as Sri Lanka (photo), some of the May Day rallies called by labour organisations were extremely massive.
Where trade union and political initiatives did take place, the rejection of war was sometimes expressed among the demands. Present in these demonstrations and marches were the activists who took part in the International Emergency Meeting against War on 3 April. They circulated the meeting’s appeal, which had originally been signed by labour activists from 50 countries, and translated into some twenty languages, to make it known and to get it signed.
This appeal, titled « Workers of the world, labour organisations, oppressed peoples, unite against war and exploitation », echoed far and wide. The appeal states: « These ongoing wars, the destruction and barbarism they unleash against workers and peoples, are the fruit of the capitalist system based on private ownership of the means of production and its decay. (…) The war unleashed by order of President Putin on 24 February 2022 in Ukraine is no exception to the rule. Nothing can justify this intervention. (…) Having stated that, we cannot ignore the fact that the great capitalist powers led by the US Biden administration, the European Union and the capitalist countries that make up the E.U. (…) – had done everything yesterday to provoke this conflict. They are doing everything today to stir it up. (…) We must reject any form of sacred union / national unity with warmongering governments, with the multinationals and the capitalists that provoke wars. The only union that is consistent with the cause of peace and social justice is the union of the workers and peoples of the whole world.”
This issue of the IWC newsletter provides an overview of the international campaign against war in the May Day demonstrations based on correspondence from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Benin, Burundi, Canada, China (including Hong Kong), France, Hungary, Mexico, Moldova, Palestine, Peru, Portugal, Russia, Rwanda, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey and the USA.
This joint effort, bringing workers, young people and labour activists of all tendencies together in the same struggle and throughout the world, is an encouragement to ensure the success of the World Conference against War and Exploitation, for a Workers’ International (Paris, 29 and 30 October 2022), which will open with the International Conference of Working Women.
In London, the demonstration was organised by the Greater London Association of Trade Union Coun-cils and the regional trade union organisations Unite, CWU, PCS, RMT, ASLEF, GMB, UNISON, FBU, etc., as well as several migrant workers’ organisations and political organisations. Signatures were collected on the call by the International Emergency Meeting against War among trade unionists and students at the rally outside the Marx Memorial Library.
The call for the emergency meeting was generally well received and opened up discussion: some members of the European Left Party refused to acknowledge Putin’s responsibility, but most agreed. On May 1st, in a provincial town, a group of fifteen activists from a Roma association from five municipalities expressed their agreement and signed the appeal « We don’t want war, but peace at all costs« . We are not giving up the fight to end this war.
Referring to « the martyrs of Chicago who gave their lives for the 8-hour day« , the activists of the Bangladesh Workers’ Democratic Party, signatories of the call for the emergency meeting against the war, recalled the relevance of the May Day struggle for shorter working hours: « We send you this photo which shows the elderly forced to work in our country because there is no retirement pension system. »
Under the yoke of the Taliban regime’s terror, workers obviously have no right to assemble or demonstrate, neither on May Day nor on any other day of the year. Despite these terrible conditions, activists of the Left Radical of Afghanistan inform us that on the occasion of International Workers’ Day the call of the International Emergency Meeting against War was translated into Dari (the Persian dialect spoken in Afghanistan) and widely circulated, not only in Afghanistan, but also in Iran. The call was supported and endorsed by dozens of workers, young people and activists. Because of the Taliban regime’s repression, « workers, youth, women and activists celebrated May Day in small groups across the country. During these clandestine meetings, workers expressed their condolences to the families of the seven miners shot dead last week in Samangan province (northern Afghanistan). On this May Day 2022 in Afghanistan, the slogans were: ‘No to war and imperialist intervention’ and ‘Work, bread and freedom for all workers’« .
“The celebration of 1 May 2022 took place under the dual sign of the defence of workers’ demands and the rejection of war and exploitation, » says our correspondent. “Numerous events were organised, including the march, followed by a rally at the Cotonou Labour Exchange, the teachers’ meeting in Porto-Novo and the day of reflection among health workers in Cotonou. In addition to the workers’ demands linked to the high cost of living and the 26 April meeting between the trade union confederations and the President of the Republic, the question of war was at the centre of the reflections and exchanges around the appeal by the International Emergency Meeting. Especially since the RussianUkrainian war is being used by the government: on 26 April, it clearly told workers’ representatives that it was no longer in a position to raise wages, given ‘the negative effects of the war in Ukraine’, and postponed this possibility until November 2022. In addition to the demands for the ‘withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine’ and the ‘dissolution of NATO’, the workers also demanded the ‘withdrawal of all occupying and recolonising troops from the African continent’ and the ‘rejection of the deployment and installation in Benin of the French occupying troops expelled from Mali’. In total, 69 new signatures of workers and activists were collected.”
There was no rally on May 1st, as in other countries of the Maghreb and the Mashreq (because the feast of Aïd, which marks the end of Ramadan, fell on that day this year). But thirty-five new activists, workers and young people joined the appeal by the International Meeting, among them Amel Hadjadj, feminist activist and editor of the Algerian Feminist Journal; Hamid Bouhbib, worker activist and former member of the leadership of the Socialist Workers’ Party (PST); Adel Abderazak, worker activist, university teacher, co-founder of the PST; and Karim Bouadjaoui, former deputy of the Workers’ Party (PT) and president of the Workers’ Solidarity Committee.
At the Federation of South African Trade Unions (SAFTU) rally in Gauteng province, signatures were collected on the appeal by the emergency meeting. In the north-western mining province of Rustenburg, the President of the Republic (and of the ANC), Cyril Ramaphosa, was due to address the meeting of the trade union centre COSATU, a partner of the ANC and the Communist Party in the governing coalition. But Ramaphosa had to be evacuated by security forces when several hundred miners invaded the lawn and then the podium, booing the president of the Republic. They considered Ramaphosa to be an accomplice of their employers, the bosses of the gold and platinum mining company Sibanye-Stillwater, who are refusing their unions NUM and AMCU’s demand for a 1,000 rand increase. It should be remembered that in August 2012 the repression of the Marikana miners’ strike (in Rustenburg) left thirty-four strikers dead after the police intervened at the request of a certain Cyril Ramaphosa, then a shareholder in one of the mining companies.
In Brussels, our correspondents report, the May Day of the General Federation of Workers in Belgium (FGTB) was an opportunity for its leaders to express their « disappointment » with the Socialist Party ministers, who sit alongside right-wing parties in government, and to call on them to « get their act together », which did not convince many of the workers and union activists present. « The appeal of the emergency meeting against the war in a bilingual French/Dutch version was massively distributed and 42 signatures were collected: workers, trade unionists, students, often questioned and showing their agreement with the call’s slogans.”
As they did in the popular demonstration of 25 April (commemorating, as every year, the Portuguese revolution of April 1974), marked by the massive presence of young people, the activists of O Trabalho had a stand in the May Day demonstration (photo above) to get the appeal of the International Emergency Meeting against War signed: « Many interesting discussions took place with activists from the CP, the PS and others. Several hundred copies of the appeal were distributed.”
The Spanish State
In Bilbao (Basque Country), reports our correspondent, whether they demonstrated in the march of the pro-independence union LAB, or in the one called by the organisations ELA, UGT, CCOO, CNT, ESK, ESTE-EILAS, « the workers expressed their demands for the defence of their jobs and their working conditions, for an increase in wages and pensions, the defence of public health, against wage inequalities between men and women and for the repeal of the counter-reforms of work and retirement pensions » that the left-wing government (in which the Socialist and Communist parties as well as Podemos are represented) refuses to carry out. Workers and activists signed the call for the emergency meeting in the trade union march.
This year, May Day fell one week after Macron’s re-election.
Nevertheless, in all the cities there were large demonstrations where, on union banners and signs, workers and young people sought to express their determination to fight for their demands. Foremost among them was the refusal to postpone the retirement age. But also for increasing wages and retirement pensions and freezing of prices, etc.
On this « day of international workers’ solidarity », many workers and young people expressed their indignation over the increase in the military budget, while the demands were refused (photo above, in Marseille).
Activists from the Independent Democratic Workers’ Party took to the streets in 54 cities to publicise and sign the appeal. An appeal that attracted a certain amount of support among trade union activists, workers and young people: 1,961 of them signed it. 821 workers, activists and young people bought the newspaper La Tribune des Travailleurs.
According to our correspondent, « tens of thousands of workers marched in a procession in the Maltepe district of Istanbul. The police had arrested more than 160 people who had tried to defy the ban on demonstrations in the central Taksim Square in Istanbul. The Workers’ Own Party (IKEP) participated in the Maltepe demonstration as part of the procession led by the United Workers’ Front (BIZ), which has been campaigning for months for a workers’ government, for emergency measures for workers. The
United Workers’ Front organised a forum where workers from different sectors in which struggles for demands are developing were given the floor.” IKEP published a special May Day issue of its journal for the occasion, reproducing the call of the International Emergency Meeting.
China and Hong Kong
In mainland China, activists and groups have expressed their agreement with the appeal by the emergency meeting. Some have circulated the Chinese version on social networks, others have indicated that « a printed version will be circulated« . In Hong Kong, says a correspondent, « as in the rest of China, the crackdown (National Security Law) and restrictions related to a new wave of Covid-19 contamination did not allow for any mass public gatherings, with gatherings of more than four people being banned. However, several trade union organisations held a picket in front of the government headquarters (the cleaners’ union, the association of women workers, etc.) to demand, in particular, an unemployment insurance system which does not exist in Hong Kong and better protection for workers.”
From Moldova, a small republic located between Ukraine and Romania, where recent clashes threaten to import war, activists of the organisation Popular Resistance greet the workers of the world on the occasion of this International Workers’ Day against exploitation « and above all, against war« , they insist. In a leaflet, they « express their solidarity with the workers of Ukraine and Russia, victims of a fratricidal war, and condemn the ruling classes of these countries and the imperialists of the United States and the European Union whose policies have led to this bloodbath ».
In Russia, the unleashing of repression since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine has prevented workers from demonstrating their aspirations for peace and their demands. The only rallies that took place, called by the « Communist » Party or the State-integrated trade unions, merely repeated the chauvinist and patriotic propaganda of Putin’s regime.
One of our correspondents informs us: « On the eve of May Day, trade union activist Kirill Ukratsev was arrested. On the occasion of the International Workers’ Day, citizens wanted to express their support for Kirill and their solidarity with his trade union with this graffiti: The regime has proved that it will crush any attempt to fight for economic and political rights. It will not allow workers’ solidarity, it only needs their submission to the undivided power of the oligarchs. Strength and determination in the struggle of the working class!”
Under the title: « May Day for Palestinian workers: ongoing suffering, colonisation, occupation and apartheid », an activist from Gaza, signatory of the call of the International Emergency Meeting recalls that it is « in a difficult context, marked in particular by the continuation of the occupation, the maintaining of colonisation and the atrocious measures of the occupation that Palestinian workers are celebrating World Labour Day this May Day 2022.”
Despite this, « workers continue to work in the heart of the conflict. (…) They are exploited by racial discrimination, their Israeli employers take advantage of this context and refuse to give them guarantees. They are underpaid compared to Israeli workers. With minimal protection, Palestinian workers are forced to pay social security contributions and membership fees to the trade union of Israeli workers, without being represented in the union.”
Denouncing « the silence of the official international community« , he salutes « trade unions and workers around the world who are celebrating this May Day 2022 with Palestinian flags and banners, highlighting the courage, determination and resistance of Palestinian workers. »
Several thousand copies of the appeal by the International Emergency Meeting were distributed by activists of all tendencies who are preparing the World Conference against War and Exploitation (teacher and oil trade unionists, political activists) in the May Day rallies in Mexicali and Tijuana (Baja California), in the Zocalo Square in the federal capital, Mexico City, as well as in Tuxtla Gutierrez and San Cristobal (state of Chiapas).
Although it has its roots in the history of the labour movement in the United States, in the repression of the 1886 strike in Chicago, May Day has long been ignored by the leaders of the labour movement of the country. But for several years now, some trade union organisations have been reviving May Day.
In California, a demonstration was held in Los Angeles at the call from the Los Angeles Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO). In San Francisco, it was the Labor Council (which brings together most of the trade union organisations in the city) which called for a demonstration. Many signatures of union activists and officials were collected on the call for the emergency meeting.
In Sacramento, a march brought together farm workers affiliated with the United Farm Workers of America and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, the AFL-CIO’s central labour organization that advocates for Latin American workers. Demanding the regularisation of all undocumented workers, the march went to the Democratic Party (Biden’s party) headquarters in the city.
« The tomatoes you eat, I’ve been picking them in the fields for twenty years, » explained Gabriel, an immigrant worker who still has no papers. Like him, Xochitl, a farm worker, is revolted by years of unfulfilled promises by the Democratic Party: « This is my home. I am the one working in the fields, not the big bosses who employ us. But it’s me, not the bosses, who can be deported at any moment because I don’t have papers!”
Speaking after the rally, an activist representing the working class newspaper The Organizer concluded: “To our labor union leaders who have given approval to President Biden’s war plans and increased expenditure for arms production, we say you do not speak for us. These are our unions, and we stand against war and exploitation. To the Democratic Party, in front of whose headquarters in Sacramento we stand today, we say: Deepening exploitation and repression are all that you have to offer the working class and oppressed communities. That is why I call upon all of you gathered here to sign the appeal (by the International Emergency Meeting against War) and distribute it widely. Let us also join together to build labor and community coalitions that will be building blocks for our own political party, a working class party independent of the two parties of capital. (…) Let us speak with one voice to say: workers of the world, workers’ organizations, oppressed peoples, let us unite against war and exploitation.”
And also …
In Switzerland, activists had the appeal signed at the trade union march in Geneva. In Peru, signatures were collected despite the healthcare restrictions that hampered initiatives on May Day (the appeal appeared in the workers’ newspaper El Organizador). New signatures were also collected in Canada, Senegal, Rwanda and Burundi, including the signature of a leader of the Association of Single Mothers.