International community rallies for workers’ rights on May Day

Global day of action for workers’ rights sees mostly peaceful protests, but some clashes with police reported

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Laborers and activists staged international protests and other events on Friday to mark May Day, the global day of action for workers’ rights, with most actions remaining peaceful, but some devolving into clashes with police.

Strengthening protections for the working class was a running theme throughout the international protests, with participants calling on their governments to create more job opportunities for unemployed youths and raise wages.

Greek protesters gathered in central Athens, with labor union members expressing opposition to crippling austerity measures, local media reported.

Banners for Greece’s ruling Syriza coalition could be seen at the protest, underlining the leftist party’s commitment to worker protections, Greek news website Kathimerini reported. Anti-austerity banners repeated Syriza’s pre-election demand of lightening the country’s debt burden. Similar protests were planned in other major Greek cities.

In Germany, several thousand people attended anti-capitalist street parties just north of Berlin. One police officer was injured after fireworks and stones were thrown at security forces, and 15 people were detained.

Green Party activists unveiled a statue of Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning — celebrated by some leftists for releasing secret U.S. military and intelligence documents — at Alexanderplatz in central Berlin. 

In Italy, a labor union leader marked May Day by throwing a wreath in the Mediterranean Sea in memory of the hundreds of migrants killed last week when their boat capsized en route from Libya to Italy, Italian publication Ansa reported. Protesters also called on the government to create more jobs and said rising unemployment was hurting the country’s youth, Ansa added.

Protests in Turkey turned violent, as the government deployed a 10,000-strong police force to Istanbul’s Taksim Square in an effort to enforce its ban on May Day protests in the iconic area where mass anti-government protests took place in 2013.

About 2,000 protesters gathered in central Istanbul, where police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds. Initial reports indicated that some protesters were also arrested.

In Ukraine, about 1,000 Communist Party supporters gathered in Kiev despite a ban on May Day protests, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported. In Moscow protesters from an array of labor unions and political parties called for higher wages in a peaceful march.

On the eve of May Day, Iranian authorities reportedly arrested five labor leaders, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, a nonprofit organization based in New York.

The arrests took place against a backdrop of intensifying labor protests and strikes by various worker sectors across the country, the group added. Thousands of workers protested in Tehran against the government’s labor policies, which they say allow foreigners to take too many domestic jobs.

Tens of thousands of workers rallied in South Korea against the government’s planned labor reforms, vowing a general strike if the reforms are pushed through.

"We will crush any government attempts to suppress labor rights with an all-out general strike," Federation of Korean Trade Unions head Kim Dong-Man told the crowd at one of the rallies near parliament.

Conservative President Park Geun-Hye’s reforms would make it easier to hire and fire. South Korean union leaders said over 100,000 workers protested in Seoul, but police said there were only 38,000.

Dozens of Taiwanese protesters threw smoke bombs near the presidential office, as several thousand rallied in Taipei calling for higher wages, shorter working hours and a ban on temporary hiring.

"We threw the smoke bombs to protest and ridicule the government's chaotic policies and its inability to resolve issues such as unemployment and low pay, especially among young people," said Han Shih-hsien, an organizer of the protest.

Thousands of protesters from various labor unions marched in Durban in South Africa, local media News 24 reported. Union leaders spoke out against xenophobia after the attacks last month in which foreigners were targeted, it added.

Latin American workers were expected to hold strikes in Colombia, Guatemala, Panama and Peru to mark Labor Day, Latin American news agency TeleSur reported. Governments in those countries have failed to implement progressive labor policies, protesters said, and strikes have been ongoing since mid-April demanding better salaries and working conditions.

Labor movements in Latin America have historically played a strong role in the economic and political arena. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has expanded social programs under his administration and created a fund to protect the value of workers’ social security savings, TeleSur said.

Brazilian labor union CUT — South America’s largest trade union with about 25 million members — was expected to protest on Friday to show its opposition to a controversial labor bill that would allow employers to outsource any job, according to TeleSur.

Workers said that would undermine worker bargaining power and depress wages.

In the United States, thousands were expected to protest in New York City's Union Square on Friday afternoon in solidarity with Baltimore protesters demonstrating over the death of Freddie Gray, who died after injuries sustained while in police custody. On Friday his death was ruled a homicide, and charges were filed against all police officers involved in his arrest.

The New York protest was organized by the May 1st Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights, a local CBS affiliate reported.

Several protests were planned for West Coast cities, including Seattle, where thousands were expected at a downtown march for worker rights, a local Fox affiliate reported. Hundreds more expected in separate rallies against police brutality.

In Oakland, California, protesters aimed to shut down the Port of Oakland in solidarity with Baltimore protesters. Hundreds were expected to attend the rally, according to the event’s Facebook page

With wire services

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