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On May Day, workers around the globe rally for better labor conditions

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May 1, 2023
By The Associated Press

By Hyung-jin Kim

Workers and activists around the world marked May Day on Monday with rallies calling for higher salaries, reduced working hours and other better working conditions.

In France, unions plan massive demonstrations to protest President Emmanuel Macron’s recent move to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. Organizers see the pension reform as a threat to hard-fought worker rights and France’s social safety net.

The pension bill unleashed France’s biggest protests in years, and the May 1 rallies are expected to be among the largest yet.

May Day, which falls on May 1, is observed in many countries as a day to celebrate workers’ rights with rallies, marches and other events. This year’s events had bigger turnouts than in previous years, as COVID-19 restrictions were drastically loosened and activists in many countries argued governments should do more to improve workers’ lives.


Turkey police stop demonstrators

As in previous years, police in Turkey prevented a group of demonstrators from reaching Istanbul’s main square, Taksim, and detained around a dozen protesters, the independent television station Sozcu reported. Journalists trying to film demonstrators being forcibly moved into police vans were also pushed back or detained.

The square has symbolic importance for Turkey’s trade unions after unknown gunmen opened fire on people celebrating May Day at Taksim in 1977, causing a stampede. Dozens were killed.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has declared Taksim off-limits to demonstrations, leading to frequent clashes between police and protesters trying to reach the square. Meanwhile, small groups were allowed to enter Taksim to lay wreaths at a monument there.

Tension in Pakistan

In Pakistan, authorities have banned rallies in some cities due to a tense security situation or political atmosphere. In Peshawar, in the country’s restive northwest, labor organizations and trade unions held indoor events to demand better workers’ rights. Labor leader Saifullah Khan said inflation and economic conditions in the country are making people’s lives a misery. In the eastern city of Lahore, where political parties are barred from holding rallies ahead of a local May 14 poll, politicians will take part in events and a workers’ march will converge on the Punjab Assembly. In the southern port city of Karachi, the country’s ruling party is hosting a seminar and several public rallies are taking place.

Calls for higher wages in South Korea

In South Korea, tens of thousand of people attended various rallies in its biggest May Day gatherings since the pandemic began in early 2020. The two main rallies in the capital, Seoul, were expected to draw about 30,000 people each, according to organizers.

“The price of everything has increased except for our wages. Increase our minimum wages!” an activist at a Seoul rally shouted at the podium. “Reduce our working hours!”

Rally participants accused the conservative government of President Yoon Suk Yeol of clamping down on some unions in the name of reforming alleged irregularities.

In Tokyo, thousands of labor union members, opposition lawmakers and academics gathered at Yoyogi park, demanding wage increases to offset the impact of rising costs as their lives are still recovering from damages of the pandemic.

Union leaders said government measures for salary increases are falling behind rising prices. They criticized Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s plan to double the defense budget, and said the money should be spent on welfare, social security and improving people’s daily lives.

Kishida attended a Saturday event at a Tokyo park that drew thousands of workers, politicians and representatives from major unions, where he promised to focus on raising wages.

In Indonesia, rally-goers demanded the government repeal a job creation law they argue would benefit business at the expense of workers and the environment.

“Job Creation Law must be repealed for the sake of the improvement of working conditions,” said protester Sri Ajeng at one rally. “It’s only oriented to benefit employers, not workers.”

Taiwanese workers gather

In Taiwan, thousands of workers took to the streets to protest what they call the inadequacies of the self-ruled island’s labor policies, putting pressure on the ruling party ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

Gathering in the capital, Taipei, members of labor groups waved flags that represent their organizations. Some medical workers wearing protective gear held placards with messages calling for subsidies, while other held banners criticizing President Tsai Ing-wen’s labor polices.

In Lebanon, hundreds of Communist Party and trade syndicate members, as well as a group of migrant domestic workers, marched through the streets of downtown Beirut. The country is in the throes of a crippling economic crisis and spiraling inflation, with some three-quarters of the population now living in poverty.

In North Korea, the country’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper published a lengthy editorial urging workers to lend greater support to leader Kim Jong Un, fulfill their set production quotas and improve public livelihoods.

Protests in Germany kicked off with a “Take Back the Night” rally organized by feminist and queer groups on the eve of May Day to protest against violence directed at women and LGBTQ+ people. Several thousand people took part in the march, which was largely peaceful despite occasional clashes between participants and police. Numerous further rallies by labor unions and left-wing groups are planned in Germany on Monday.

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