Millions of people traditionally take to the streets for Labor Day worldwide, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, May 1st was significantly different this time than usual: in many countries, the unions moved their activities online on Friday, and only a few demonstrators really dared to the streets. Most of the small rallies went without incident, but arrests were made in Turkey and the Philippines.
Because of the corona virus, this year’s May 1st has a special symbolism: the global economy is plummeting, millions of people are losing their jobs – and at the same time the pandemic is highlighting the mostly poorly paid “heroes of work”, such as nursing staff, Cashiers, delivery men and garbage workers.
French President Emmanuel Macron praised his message on Labor Day. It is thanks to your commitment that “we save so many lives every day,” said Macron. In France, in addition to virtual rallies on the Internet, people wanted to celebrate the day with songs and pots on the balconies.
In Istanbul, unionists and some opposition MPs tried to march to a small rally in Istanbul’s Taksin Square despite a three-day curfew due to the corona epidemic. According to an AFP photographer, around two dozen of them were arrested by the police, including Arzu Cerkezoglu, the chairwoman of the DISK trade union umbrella organization.
On the other hand, in Greece, hundreds of members of the Communist Communist Union Pame rallied without incident in front of the parliament in Athens. Red adhesive strips on the floor ensured that the demonstrators kept the proper distance from each other. Many had their faces covered with red scarves or wore masks with messages of solidarity for staff in hospitals or nursing homes. Despite disregarding the corona restrictions, the police did not arrest them.
In the Philippines, too, smaller groups defied the assembly ban to request government financial assistance. The police arrested several demonstrators. According to trade unionist Jerome Adonis, around 23 million people in the country are “unemployed and unpaid” because of the epidemic and are therefore at risk of starvation – but at the same time face arrest if they disregard quarantine in desperate search for a remedy .
In Indonesia, unions protested online against a new law that would make layoffs easier. Their umbrella organization also organized fundraisers to provide fired workers with food and to equip their colleagues who are still in the factories with protective masks.
In Finland there are usually tens of thousands of people for the traditional spring picnic on May 1st. But this year they had to be content with virtual meetings. Only a handful of people celebrated May 1st in Helsinki’s market square, where the police strictly observed that the group size should not exceed ten people.
In Hong Kong, police officers armed with tear gas and rubber bullets patrolled the streets after pro-democracy activists announced mass rallies despite the ban on the gathering. Except for the anti-riot units, however, there was hardly anyone to be seen.