Hundreds of thousands of workers took to the streets in cities around the world to mark International Workers Day with marches and calls for higher pay and better working conditions.
In Europe, workers filled the streets in Athens, Paris, Madrid and elsewhere, where protests were fueled by growing anger at the austerity measures governments have imposed to cut their budget deficits. In Madrid, thousands demonstrated against the highest jobless rate in the 17-nation euro currency union and labor reforms that make it easier to fire workers.
One Greek union president, Kostas Tsikrikas, said the push for austerity has severely hurt workers.
“The problems we face today are as big as they have been in the past. Unfortunately, the harsh austerity policies that are imposed in our country by international lenders are policies that take us back by a century. They cancel rights that have been attained with the workers’ struggles and sacrifices,” said Tsikrikas.
In Russia, president-elect Vladimir Putin and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev joined tens of thousands in a march through Moscow. Marchers held huge banners supporting their labor unions and factories.
One pensioner in Russia, Anna Maltseva, said May Day was a
celebration of the solidarity of workers throughout the world. “I would like this day not just to be a labor holiday every year, celebrating May and freedom, but an international day of solidarity among working people, when we all support each other widely, at least on this day,” she said.
In Asia, thousands gathered in Taiwan and the capital cities of Thailand, Bangladesh and Indonesia to mark May Day with rallies organized by trade unions. The demonstrators called for higher wages to help them with rising consumer prices and voiced other complaints.
In Taiwan, one 30-year-old nurse, Li Hua-Cheng, deplored her working conditions in a hospital.
“We have been oppressed by the hospitals for a long time, and it has been hard especially when one person has to handle three people’s jobs until we eventually develop health problems. This is very inhumane. Moreover, if we have health problems, then we can’t provide good care to the patients, and if something happens to the patients, we could make mistakes because of fatigue,” she said.
In New York, the May Day protests appeared to be substantially smaller than elsewhere around the globe.
Some demonstrators picketed in front of major corporate headquarters. On the country’s West Coast, protesters disrupted ferry service in San Francisco.