May Day celebrations during COVID: a global snapshot

Photo: Protest in Cali, Colombia on May Day. Credit — Remux (Wikimedia Commons)

COVID-19 changed the shape of political organizing and gatherings of all sorts. But the class struggle continues, and workers’ organizations have adapted to meet the challenges. Here is a snapshot of how the world celebrated this year’s International Workers’ Day, also known as May Day or Labor Day. For U.S.-based May Day events, read Liberation’s roundup here.

In Cuba, more than 80 trade union representatives from around the world, as well as political and social organizations of various progressive movements, held an online rally on April 30. Under the slogan “United We Make Cuba,” the Workers Central Union (CTC) paid tribute to health care workers, expressed their support to trade unions globally fighting neoliberalism and demanded an end to the devastating U.S. blockade that has sought to destroy their country’s economy. CTC Secretary Ulises Guillarte sent greetings to the workers remotely: “From this historic square of the Revolution and in front of the image of our National Hero José Martí, on the occasion of the celebration of May Day today, the World Proletariat Day, we send congratulations and congratulations to all the workers of our country.” Youth from across the country participated in a “virtual parade” to celebrate their participation in youth organizations and their home May Day celebrations. This was organized by the Union of Young Communists (UJC).

In Bolivia, where the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party just reversed a deadly right-wing coup, the government commemorated the day by launching new measures and a 2% basic salary increase. The Venezuelan government has similarly responded with action in favor of workers, increasing the minimum wage by 178% as it battles the economic crisis brought about by the economic war waged by the United States.

China celebrated May Day with a five-day holiday. The country is expecting to see 265 million total passenger trips across the country, about 53 million per day and almost twice the daily average. China dealt with the pandemic swiftly and decisively, allowing the country to avoid either large-scale lock-downs of the entire country or the mass deaths afflicting many capitalist countries. Thousands of citizens and visitors to Wuhan, now almost completely virus-free, enjoyed the first day of the Wuhan Strawberry Music Festival. Because China took decisive action to prioritize public health over private profit, hundreds of millions of Chinese workers are now able to take domestic vacations within the country and enjoy nearly a full week of leisure time.

Workers rise up around the world against capitalist oppression

In countries with governments loyal to the interests of the capitalists over the workers, May Day activities were as important as ever, but frequently experienced violent repression. Capitalist countries around the world faced massive protests against austerity in late 2019. In 2020, a massive uprising against police brutality shook the world center of capitalism — the United States — to its core. The struggle continues.

In France, thousands of people took to the streets in over 300 planned May Day protests. The French interior ministry estimated that 17,000 had protested in Paris and 106,000 protested nationwide, but the real numbers are likely far higher. Workers are protesting the government’s attempts to “reform” the unemployment system. Protesters were met with thousands of police.

Colombia had already been experiencing protests before May Day, as thousands of people took to the streets to denounce government austerity measures. Many have been killed in the brutal crackdowns by far-right president Ivan Duque, and hundreds injured.

Chilean workers engaged in a May Day general strike called by the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT) to reject the right-wing government of Sebastián Piñera.

Over 200 protesters were arrested in Istanbul for breaching coronavirus restrictions. While quarantine procedures and restrictions on public gatherings can play a vital public health role, right-wing governments have often held a double standard to impose a de facto ban on progressive and pro-labor gatherings while not enforcing these laws against reactionary or anti-labor ones. Police in the Philippines intervened to prevent hundreds of workers from gathering in Manila under the same pretense.

In Indonesia, about 50,000 workers from 3,000 workplaces took part in May Day marches across 200 cities. Most of these maintained strict health protocols, according to Said Iqbal, the president of the Confederation of Indonesian Trade Unions.

These are just a handful of actions around the world. Capitalist countries are facing cascading political, social and economic crises, which are now exacerbated further by a year of botched COVID responses. While resistance to these injustices took many different forms on this year’s May Day, what remains consistent is the spirit of international solidarity among all workers of the world.

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