Traditional May Day Protests

Protesters took to the streets in cities around the world on May 1st, demanding better working conditions. The rallies follow a tradition that began in the United States in the 1880s to voice concerns regarding workers’ rights. Over time, the May Day or Labour Day protests have become an opportunity for workers to raise general economic grievances and political demands across the globe.

This year, protests occurred in many cities throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. The protesters demanded higher salaries and minimum wages, maternity leave, and no more discrimination against temporary or foreign workers.

In France, the Interior Ministry deployed 7400 police officers to counter violent troublemakers due to the disruptions that have occurred during the protests in previous years. Although tens of thousands of people marched peacefully, agitators threw stones, started fires and destroyed vehicles. It has been reported that the worst of the May Day violence was in Paris, where riot police responded to the demonstrations by firing tear gas and string ball grenades into crowds. The Interior Ministry said 24 protesters and 14 police officers were injured and over 280 were arrested on Wednesday.

French trade unions expressed their disappointment in seeing the traditional May Day marches descend into violence but said they understood the workers’ frustrations considering President Emmanuel Macron’s recent speech, which failed to address concerns over high taxes and falling living standards.

More than 100 000 people took part in a rally in Red Square in central Moscow, Russia. Across Russia, more than 100 people were arrested, most at St. Petersburg. The march involved unsanctioned political protests, with some carrying signs with slogans, such as “Putin is not immortal.”

Workers marched in major cities in Spain, demanding that acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez listen to their concerns before negotiating with other parties to form a new government.

Numerous protests also occurred across Asia. In Seoul, South Korea, protesters marched, displaying banners denouncing worsening working conditions and demanding equal treatment and pay for temporary workers. In the Philippines, thousands marched near the Malacañang presidential palace in Manila to draw attention to labour issues, such as the minimum wage and the lack of contracts for many workers. In Hong Kong, the marchers demanded a maximum standard work week of 44 hours and an hourly minimum wage of at least 54.7 Hong Kong dollars, according to the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions.

Meanwhile, the May Day protests in South Africa turned political, with the opposition party using the opportunity to rally voters a week before the national election.

Laura O'Dwyer