Alex Foti on Sat, 3 May 2014 20:32:03 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> mondo may day 2014


The right to May Day was conquered in blood on Chicago???s Haymarket square
in 1886. In 2014, it is still fought in blood in Istanbul, in the roads
leading to Taksim square, where on the 1st of May 1977 scores of left-wing
workers were massacred by state security agents, and where the Occupy Gezi
Park movement was met with harsh police repression by the increasingly
authoritarian Erdogan government on May Day 2014.

More than 125 years after it was launched to obtain the 8-hour workday, May
Day still resonates from Dhaka to Seattle. Its founding reasons, enshrined
in anarcho-syndicalist and socialist principles, are current as ever. As
the wobbly martyr Joe Hill put it: ???Workers of the world, demand your
rights!???. And in the global economy, the fight for labor rights is very
much needed to reverse the neoliberal trend that has squeezed the share of
the pie going to workers as reward for their toil.

Global sweatshop workers and largely immigrant service laborers have been
the protagonists of this year???s May Day. In several Asian countries, May
Day acted as a catalyst for radical democratic movements on the style of
those hobbling the Taiwanese government in recent months. In Dhaka, garment
workers and survivors of the Rana Plaza carnage marched in droves demanding
the sweatshop owners be hung. The parade was headed by a sea of women
waving red flags. In Indonesia, this was the first time May Day was
officially allowed, and demonstrations saw hundreds of thousands demanding
wage increases in the of the many Asian labor-intensive economies where
Western companies offshore the manufacturing of their branded products. In
Phnom Penh, the democratic opposition to the government rallied around the
struggles of factory workers for better wages. As in Turkey, the Hun Sen
regime ordered a heavy-handed quelling of the protests, with severe
beatings and injured workers. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the cuts in
subsidies of food staples have fueled unrest, with protesters demanding the
political reinstatement of the opposition leader who marched with them in
defiance of government orders. In China, Hong Kong held a very strong May
Day demonstration to demand the establishment of a maximum hours law and
the end of abusive contracts. Few weeks ago, the nearby Guangdong was
theater of a massive strike in the shoe industry, where thousands of
workers temporarily brought to a halt the production of Adidas and Nike
sneakers. Filipina maids demonstrated on May Day in Rabat, Morocco???s
capital, asking for wage hikes, papers and the end of repeated humiliations
(one of them died because of the tortures inflicted by her employer). While
in Manila, opposition to the Benigno Aquino government was expressed in the
denunciations of low wages and the growing proportion of temp labor. The
end of ???labor slavery??? was a common cry heard across Asia, the heartland of
the contemporary global economy. Informal, casual, precarious labor as
modern slavery has also been at the center of recent Vatican rhetoric.

In the U.S., the ongoing fight for a $15 an hour and the end of poverty
wages was major highlight of this May Day, with the recent news that
Seattle was the first city in America to set the fifteen-dollar minimum
wage as the pay standard for its workers. The struggle against inequality
still gives May Day its significance in the country of its birth. For
several years now, the focus has been on the predicament of undocumented
immigrant workers and the never-ending threat of deportation. Immigrant
workers demand easy access to residence and citizenship and end of
persecution and detention centers. This is something that plays an
important role also in May Day demonstrations and labor struggles across
the EU.

May Day 2014 in Europe has however focused around two major themes. The
first is the end of austerity policies imposed by the so-called Troika
(IMF, ECB, European Commission) on Southern European economies at the cost
of soaring youth unemployment, currently 60% in Greece, 50% in Spain, and
40% in Italy. Repeated EU summits on youth unemployment have just been
showcases to hide the harsh reality of the Maastricht constraints that
limit countercyclical social spending when it???s most needed, while banks
that caused the crisis are awash in cheap liquidity courtesy of Frankfurt???s
central bank. The second is the looming threat of fascist and xenophobic
movements on a European scale, as right-wing populist movements seem well
posed for the upcoming May 25 elections for the EU parliament, where
impoverished voters may well put ballots for the Front National in France
or Geert Wilders???s party in Holland, and similar right-wing movements in
Austria, Hungary, Scandinavia, and elsewhere. Islamophobia and
tziganophobia abound in the EU west and east, and the political aftermath
of the Great Recession is a return to nationalism and nativism in all
member countries. Nazi hoodlums have returned to plague Europe. In all
German-speaking countries antifa May Day rallies where held starting with
Berlin, where riots are a tradition, and Hamburg, where the city???s
autonomous spaces and movements are fighting a bitter battle against the
city for their very survival.

In Milano, a 50,000-strong May Day Parade has put precarity and the
struggle against the nefarious effects of EXPO 2015 at the center of its
concerns. The parade ended with the occupation of a large building where
three days of seminars and workshops will be held. Established in 2001, and
with the Euro prefix since 2003, this highly creative and communicative
parade of young precarious women and men has become a city tradition and
has extended its influence to many other cities in Europe and Japan, indeed
wherever precarious workers??? collectives have formed for media and labor
activism targeting the worst effects of labor precarization, social
discrimination, and political exclusion. After 2009-2010, the European
projection of the issues put forward by the Milanese May Day and the San
Precario collective (basic income, minimum wage, immigrant rights, union
rights, queer rights) declined, while the fight has gone on in Brussels and
Frankfurt, thanks to no border and Blockupy movements and alliances of
students, public workers, and farmers trying to blockade EU institutions
and lobbies. While Milan was playful and peaceful, Turin and Bologna were
not, as antagonistic movements clashed with the official union and
political left over police repression and the exploitation of immigrants in

Labor rights against inequality, austerity, precarity: the international
workers??? day is alive and well in the 21st century. But remnants of
the 20thcentury, when May Day participation was mandatory in communist
(still is in North Korea, while in China it???s a shopping holiday), were
revived in Moscow, where a pro-Putin parade of 100,000 people celebrated
the recent acquisition of Crimea. Yet Russia is not all lost, because in
St. Petersburg LGBT activists succeeded in celebrating the first queer May
Day free of intimidation from police and nazis.

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