May Day: Workers Stand Strong in Face of Threats

Workers in Bahrain, Burundi, Morocco, Swaziland and Turkey are standing strong in the face of economic and political threats this May Day.

May 1 is generally a time when workers around the world celebrate the dignity of work and working people’s social and economic achievements. But this year, governments in some countries have banned May Day celebrations, while elsewhere, workers are forced to protest lack of progress in attaining their share of economic prosperity.

Working women and men are undaunted by intimidation and, in some cases, risking their lives to exercise their freedom to gather in the public space and stand up for their rights. This year more than ever, May Day stands as a beacon for internationally recognized human and labor rights. Here’s a roundup.

Bahrain: The government on April 30 banned all May 1 rallies, forcing the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) to abruptly cancel its weekend celebrations. The federation had planned a rally, medical camps, family outings and award ceremonies focusing on the rights of women and migrant workers in the workplace. Thousands were expected to attend the rally, including members of more than 45 GFBTU-affiliated trade unions.

Burundi: Hundreds of journalists and human rights activists have been arrested and Internet has been inaccessible in the capital, Bujumbura, in recent days following protests against the re-election bid of President Pierre Nkurunziza. Some journalists have been “beaten up and workplaces forced to close down,” one journalist told allAfrica. Civil society organizations and political movements have been denied the right to hold public meetings and assemblies. The Confédération Syndicale du Burundi (COSYBU) and the Organization of Free Unions of Burundi (CSB) cancelled May 1 festivities because of the country’s insecurity.

Morocco: The Moroccan union movement is boycotting May 1 celebrations and instead turning May into a month of protest. The Moroccan Labor Union (Union Marocaine de Travail), the Democratic Confederation for Labor (Confédération Démocratique du Travail) and the Democratic Federation for Labor (Fédération Démocratique du Travail) and others will protest the lack of movement in improving civil servants’ salaries, increasing the minimum wage and boosting minimum pension, per an agreement with the government in April 2011.

Swaziland: Despite a ban on May Day rallies, the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) is encouraging members to turn out and “celebrate their day and not be prevented by actions that are at best unlawful.” Police announced that only “recognized unions” will be allowed to mark May Day. The authorities have refused to recognize TUCOSWA, and police have repeatedly broken up TUCOSWA meetings this year, injuring at least one union leader. “Our members are geared for their celebrations and will not be prevented by threats from the police,” says TUCOSWA Secretary-General Vincent Ncongwane.

Some Swazi pro-democracy activists and trade unionists have been imprisoned. Sign a LaborStart petition demanding their release. If you Tweet, use the hashtag #SwaziJustice.

Turkey: After hundreds of workers defied a ban on May Day rallies in Istanbul, riot police fired tear gas and water cannon on protestors in the city’s central Taksim Square. Unions had called on the government to lift its ban on “illegal demonstrations,” in Taksim. Much of Istanbul’s public transport is shut down and police helicopters are circling over the city.