The Occupy movement made an impressive return on May Day, with marches held in most cities around the US—although it was by no means the national “General Strike” it had been billed as. Some marches were marred by violence. In Seattle, a Black Bloc smashed windows and the glass doors of the city courthouse, while in Oakland police used tear gas to clear a downtown intersection that had been taken over by protesters. The violence came days after Robert Warshaw, a monitor appointed to review Oakland police conduct by a federal court following a suit over brutality 10 years ago, issued a report decrying the “overwhelming military-type response” to last fall’s Occupy protests. Brief clashes with police were also reported from San Francisco and Los Angeles. But the worst debacle was in Cleveland, where media reported the May Day march was cancelled after five young men apparently involved in the Occupy movement were arrested by the FBI on charges of plotting to blow up the Route 82 Brecksville-Northfield High Level Bridge. The Occupy Cleveland website appears to make no mention of the bust, but also no mention of any May Day protests.
In New York, protests were large and for the most part peaceful—despite three envelopes containing an apparently harmless white powder being mailed to the city headquarters of Wells Fargo, JP Morgan, Citicorp and the Wall Street Journal. Police said notes were included reading “This is a reminder that you are not in control” and “Happy May Day.”
We have absolutely no idea if the people behind the Cleveland plot and the New York corn-starch letters were police provocateurs or extremoid wingnuts, and it doesn’t really make that much difference. If it was the prior: shame on you, you moral scum. If it was the latter: shame on you, you stupid idiots.
In Spain—where Barcelona really was shut down in a general strike in March—one million marched nationwide on May Day, by the estimate of the General Workers Union (UGT). The largest gatherings were in Madrid and Barcelona, which was again effectively shut down. The major trade unions joined with indignados (occupiers) to oppose the austerity policies of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his right-wing Popular Party.
In France, tens of thousands held boisterous rallies ahead of the second-round presidential elections this coming weekend, which a Socialist is projected to win for the first time since 1988. In Germany, unions estimated that 400,000 people showed up at over 400 rallies. The Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB) sharply criticized the EU for enshrining fiscal discipline and austerity across the continent, calling instead for a stimulus program to revive the 17-nation eurozone’s depressed economies. In the United Kingdom, members of Occupy London, who were evicted from a camp outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in February, gathered at the Liverpool Street rail station to release “flying tents”—lifted into the air by helium balloons—while union leaders addressed a larger rally in Trafalgar Square.
In debt-crippled Greece, the scene of repeated large and angry protests in recent months, the May Day actions were subdued, with some 2,000 marching through central Athens to oppose the country’s harsh austerity program.
Russia saw rival mobilizations, with over 100,000 turning out for May Day rallies that celebrated Vladimir Putin’s government. The Communist Party, the largest opposition to Putin’s United Russia, held their own Moscow rally, bringing out some 3,500 people.
Venezuela likewise saw rival May Day marches in Caracas—an official one praising President Hugo Chávez for signing a law that reduces the work-week to 40 hours, and another sponsored by the anti-Chávez National Workers Confederation (CTV).
In Peru, followers of the main CGTP trade union federation filled Lima’s central square, calling on President Ollanta Humala to honor his promises to increase wages and end child labor. After thousands marched in Santiago, Chile, some protesters hurled debris at closed businesses, breaking the windows of several banks and pulling out furniture to build a bonfire in the street. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons, and several were arrested.
In Argentina, a small explosion went off outside the EU headquarters in Buenos Aires before dawn, breaking windows, but causing no injuries. No one was arrested. The main General Labor Confederation (CGT) for the first time abstained from May Day mobilizations, while the rival Workers Central of Argentina (CTA) and such organizations as the Socialist Workers Movement (MST) and the Classist Combative Current (CCC) brought out their followers—reflecting differences over whether to support center-left President Cristina Fernández.
In Cuba, a mass official demonstration dedicated to “preserving and perfecting socialism” filled Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution, with President Raúl Castro and and his cabinet presiding.
Maghreb and Middle East
Thousands in Tunisia marked May Day by reveling in the new freedoms won by their revolution. While May Day gatherings were tightly controlled under the rule of ousted autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, this time people were free to celebrate. Some 25,000—from union members to Islamists to whole families—poured onto the capital’s main thoroughfare. The crowd was estimated to be even larger than the one that flooded Avenue Bourguiba on Jan. 14, 2011, the day Ben Ali flew into exile.
In Egypt, several hundred marched in Tahrir Sqaure to demand a new labor law. Presidential hopefuls Khaled Ali, an attorney who has long advocated for labor rights, and Hamdeen Sabbahi, a Nasserist opposition figure, were among those who addressed the crowd.
In Israel, 4,000 teenagers marched through Tel Aviv in a youth rally organized in part by the left-Zionist Dror-Israel movement, waving red flags and protesting “cruel government policy which prioritizes greedy tycoons’ interests.”
The tone was more grim in Pakistan, where an unemployed father of six set himself on fire in southern Badin district to protest unemployment. He suffered burns on 40% of his body but survived. Meanwhile in Karachi, hundreds of women held a candle-light march for higher wages.
In the Philippines, more than 8,000 union members clad in red shirts and waving red streamers marched under a brutal sun to a heavily barricaded bridge near Manila’s Malacanang presidential palace, which was surrounded by thousands of riot police. One group of workers burned a huge effigy of President Benigno Aquino III, depicting him as a lackey of the US and big business. Aquino has rejected workers’ calls for a $3 daily pay hike, which he says would worsen inflation and spark layoffs.
In China, May Day was officially observed in staid manner, with Premier Wen Jiabao delivering homilies in a visit to Beijing street-sweepers. A World War 4 Report informant in the Yangtze Delta region said the holiday was ironically the theme of a one-day sale at shopping outlets that sparked a frenzy of consumerism. (NYT, San Jose Mercury News, Reuters, CSM, KIRO, Seattle, KTVU, Oakland, LAT, LAT, EuroNews, FT, AP, AP, EFE, AllVoices, Andina, Peru, Etorno Inteligente, Venezuela, Buenos Aires Herald, Diario Uno, Mendoza, Ahram Online, Egypt, YNet, Israel, Gulf News, UAE, East Day, Shanghai, Dark Room photojournalism blog, May 1)