South News -May Day 1998

Asian workers take to streets on May Day

Workers took to the streets across Asia on international labour day to protest against rising unemployment, falling living standards and deteriorating conditions caused stringent IMF austerity measures.

Labour has been one of the first casualties of the economic turbulence in Asia, as hard pressed governments and companies struggle to cut back on costs in the face of dwindling trade and rising import bills.

The International Monetary Fund's pressure to enact reform and austerity drew anger from Thai workers. Among the 10,000 people who marched in Bangkok were red hats or bandannas reading: ``People unite and resist the IMF threat.'' But Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai urged union members to be patient while Thailand struggles to rejuvenate its struggling economy.

In many places violence flared as frustrations spilled over. In Indonesia, which has been hit harder than most by the financial crisis, the violence escalated as police and students, including for the first time school children, fought running battles.

In Seoul, riot police fired tear gas to disperse 20,000 people protesting job losses caused by the economic crisis that has swept East Asia. "No to layoffs!" South Korean workers chanted amid the yellow haze of tear gas that filled a central section of the South Korean capital.

The workers and student supporters dispersed but quickly regrouped, hurling rocks and garbage at police. The district reverberated with exploding tear gas, the workers' staccato slogans and labor songs blaring from loudspeakers.

25,000 members of the militant umbrella union, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) attended the first May Day rally since South Korea was hit by financial turmoil last December. The KCTU, which has more than 500,000 members, has staged several rallies this year.

The scuffles with police occured as workers, heading for the rally, when police fired tear gas into members of the Korean Metal Workers' Federation, which comprises auto and metal unions, witnesses said. ``The police should not have stopped these workers, who were ready to explode because of the devastation of losing jobs or facing layoffs,'' Confederation spokesman Chung Sung-hee.

South Korean unemployment is running high and is expected soar as companies restructure. Corporate and financial reform were mandated as part of a $58.35 billion bail-out package led by the International Monetary Fund.

The KCTU said it was demanding strict reform of the large conglomerates, guarantees on people's livelihoods, measures against unemployment and renegotiation of South Korea's economic targets with the IMF

In Indonesia students in the north Sumatran city of Medan, enraged by an economic crisis that has caused spiralling inflation and widespread job losses, threw petrol bombs at police and called for President Suharto to resign.

In the Philippines thousands of leftist Filipino workers converged in a May Day rally in downtown Manila to protest against rising unemployment, low wages and growing starvation in the countryside.

The May One Movement, the country's largest workers' union, said the situation was spawned by ``the government's continued implementation of pro-imperialist policies that kill the national economy and threaten food security.'' The union blames liberalisation and deregulation programmes for the currency crisis.

On the eve of the Labor Day celebration, President Fidel Ramos announced increases in retirement, death and disability pensions. He issued President Proclamation 1215 declaring May 1 to 7 of every year as Linggo ng Paggawa throughout the country in honor of the millions of Filipino workers and laborers in and out of the government.

Ramos delivered his Labor Day message at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, where he unveilled a scale model of the Workers' Village VI, launch a job exchange network and photo exhibition "Labor Through the Decades."

He also recently issued Proclamation No. 1211 reaffirming the Philippine government's 50-year commitment to the principles of the International Labor Organization to highlight May 11, 1998 as the Golden Anniversary of the Philippine membership to ILO.

In Malaysia, a rally by more than 1,000 people demanding more protection against layoffs was addressed by prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

In his Workers Day message Dr Mahathir said workers must realise that there were signs of subtle attempts by certain outside groups to "re-colonise" the country.

"This time, they are not using military power and politics to dominate us but economic might," he said. "Our trade unions must also be praised for their understanding of the situation faced by the country. They know that the problems are caused by the actions of outsiders," he said.

In Japan, more than 2 million people in Japan taking part in 1,000 or so rallies, some carrying banners with slogans such as ``Stop Murderously Long Working Hours.''

Calls for employment security and large tax cuts dominated the May Day slogans, which fall on the heels of statistics showing the unemployment rate shot up to its highest-ever level as a result of the economic slowdown and industrial structure reform.

This year, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) and its rival bodies, the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) and the National Trade Union Council (Zenrokyo), again held functions at different locations. Rengo member organizations once marked the day with festive activities but this year held May Day parades for the first time in seven years.

About 100,000 workers participated in Zenroren's central rally in Kameido Central Park in Tokyo while a similiar number participated in Rengo's central rally in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park. Yoji Kobayashi, Zenroren president, declared the proposed labor revisions would undermine the foundation of workers' lives and health and urged the participants to scrap them.

Participants also underscored their opposition toward the new Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines and called for the scrapping of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.

In China, also once a bastion of commitment to lifetime employment, millions of workers are being made redundant, because of massive industrial and financial restructuring. Workers in Taiwan, were also worried about job prospects after restructuring. More than 15,000 people braved heavy rains to march through the streets of Taipei in a rally organised by unions worried that jobs could be threatened by Taiwan's privatisation drive.

In Phnom Penh prominent Cambodian opposition politician Sam Rainsy led several thousand on a peaceful march through the capital to demand higher wages for civil servants and factory workers. ``We demand that all state employees', including police, doctors and teachers, salaries be raised to at least 100,000 riel ($28) a month,'' Sam Rainsy told the crowd.

Cubans lead May Day resurgence

Havana: A million people took part in the main parade at Havana's Revolution Square. Cuban President Fidel Castro watched from a reviewing stand as workers paraded through the square sacred to revolutionaries.

Marching 40 abreast, they filed past the huge likeness of Menendez, and opposite a permanent mural of Cuba's Argentine-born revolutionary hero Ernesto ``Che'' Guevara. This year's mobilization is in tribute to the late, charismatic labor leader in the sugar industry, Jesus Menendez, assassinated in 1948 by security forces on the eve of a strike in 1948.

At the start of the event, Pedro Ross, secretary general of the Cuban Workers Confederation (CTC) gave a speech urging the crowd to ``defend our conquests'' -- the official slogan for the 1998 May Day parades.

Cuban officials billed the march as a denunciation of the U.S. economic embargo and a celebration of a recent U.N. Human Rights Commission vote defeating Washington's anti-Cuba resolution for the first time.

With Friday's march, he added, ``we are reminding the world that this is the socialist and democratic revolution of the workers, and that no one or nothing can ever take away from us our condition as owners and protagonists of our own lives.''

Turning to Washington's 36-year economic embargo on the island, he pledged Cuban workers' ``determination to continue resisting until we defeat the criminal economic war imposed on us for more than four decades by the government of the United States.''

``Never like today has the imperialist blockade policy, that inhuman attempt to annihilate an entire people through hunger and illness, appeared so isolated by the international community, been so repudiated, and looked so bare in its total lack of morality,'' Ross added.

Cuban flags and palm leaves rose from the river of marchers, along with banners saying. As light rain fell on the square, workers applauded the speech, waving palm leaves and banners with slogans such as ``Down with the Yankee Blockade!''

The Cuban president's brother and designated successor, Raul Castro, presided over celebrations at the second largest city, Santiago de Cuba, in the west of the island. State news agency Prensa Latina said six million Cubans, or more than half the population, were taking part in Friday's marches, joined by about 1,000 trade union members from other countries. Last year, in Havana alone, some one million 300 thousand Cubans paraded through the capital's Plaza de la Revolucion on May 1st.

Elsewhere in Latin America about 100,000 Venezuelans from more than 300 labor unions rallied in Caracas, demanding a higher minimum wage and a halt to hikes in the price of goods and services. And in Mexico City, unions held their first Labor Day marches since wages plummeted in the 1994 peso crisis. More than 30,000 members of the Mexican Workers Confederation, marched into the capital's central plaza waving banners and Mexican flags.

MUA takes centre stage at Aussie May Day

Derek Corrigan, the brother of rogue Patrick Stevedores boss Chris Corrigan, has told a May Day rally in Canberra on Friday, the Federal Government's attack on the maritime union is also an attack on the Australian way of life.

"Our way of living, our lifestyle that we hold so dear in this country is being challenged," he said."That's the challenge this is the mechanism by which they've introduced to do it and what you've seen is the first cab off the rank almost, in the case of my brother, who's prepared to use any means to get his way," Derek said.

In Sydney up to 6,000 marchers are expected to assemble at Town Hall Square on Sunday and march at 1pm to Darling Harbour, for what is anticipated to be the biggest May Day parade through for many years.The expected turnout, perhaps three times greater than in recent years will be addressed by the national secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, Mr John Coombs.

According to the president of the Sydney May Day Committee, Mr George Gotsis, "The workers realise and other social organisations see these attacks as the first step in attacking other unions and destroying the union movement.The official May Day march is also scheduled for Sunday in Melbourne.

The Australian High Court has reserved its decision on the waterfront dispute until Monday, rejecting pleas from the Maritime Union of Australia for 1400 wharfies to be allowed back to work in the meantime.

Meanwhile the MUA solidarity campaigns in the region has been heightening. Japanese dockers will not allow those ships loaded by non-union labor come into Japanese ports. All Japan Seamen's Union and the ITF Japanese Affiliates Coordinating Committee (JCC) have sent donations to the MUA.

SBSI Transport, Indonesia's independent trade union, sent a delegation to the Australian Embassy in Jakarta on 23 April and handed a protest letter. The union also informed the Embassy that it should take bigger action if the Government of Australia fails to answer the letter by the end of April.

All India Railwaymen's Federation demonstrated in front of the Australian High Commission in New Delhi on 24 April. A memorandum condemning the Government's involvement in the dispute and expressing its full support to the MUA was submitted to the High Commissioner.

Philippine unionists PALEA, PANTALAN and PNR picketed at the Australian Embassy in Manila on 24 April. At around 1:00 p.m. the affiliates presented a manifesto to the Embassy.

Korean Transport Workers' Federation, sent a delegation to the Australian Embassy in Seoul and handed a protest letter on 22 April.

ITF Thailand, the country's national coordinating committee, also presented a protest letter to the Australian Ambassador in Bangkok on 21 April. The Seafarers' Union of Burma, which operates in exile, sent a solidarity message to the MUA pledging full support to the MUA.

Previous : Support the MUA special index

Iraqi workers call for sanctions end

Baghdad: Iraqi workers marked International Labour Day on Friday denouncing the US and rejecting the UN Security Council decision to prolong the embargo imposed against Iraq.

``Down with America, down with America,'' shouted hundreds of marchers as they torched two American flags outside United Nations headquarters in Baghdad.

The workers, led by leaders of Iraqi and Arab trade unions, handed a senior official at the headquarters a letter to U.N. chief Kofi Annan denouncing the Security Council decision to prolong the embargo imposed on Iraq nearly eight years ago.

``Iraqi workers, and with them the Arab and international delegations which join them in the May 1 International Labour Day celebrations, express their extreme denouncement and rejection of the Security Council decision to prolong the embargo imposed against Iraq,'' the letter said.

``They stress that this decision is against the humanitarian principles and the rights of independence and sovereignty as it leads to more Iraqi deaths and subjects millions of them to the catastrophes of hunger, disease and death,'' the letter added.

Iraqi officials have said that some 1.5 million Iraqis, many of them children, have died as a result of severe shortages of medicine and food since the sanctions were imposed.

The letter was handed to Peter Kouwenberg, the UNDP deputy resident representative in Iraq, who told the march leaders that he would convey it to Annan on Friday.

Addressing Kouwenberg, Iraqi trade union chief Fadhel Ghareeb said: ``We see that the aim of the embargo is the genocide of the Iraqi people...If the embargo is not lifted, then why are there any inspections teams (in Iraq)?''

The letter said the prolonging of the sanctions imposed against Baghdad deprives Iraq of enjoying its riches and shows that the Security Council and UNSCOM were just tools in an anti-Iraq American design.

``This resolution came after Iraq has implemented all its stress that the Security Council is totally subjected to the policy of the American administration and it is a tool of it,'' it said. ``It is very clear that it is impossible for any change in Iraq's interest to take place so long as the American control on the (U.N.) Special Commission and Richard Butler's following of it continues.''

Mandela calls for African job creation

South African President Nelson Mandela told a May Day rally in the mining town of Kimberley that the creation of more jobs was the new struggle for South Africans.

Donning a miner's hat in a typically crowd-pleasing gesture, he said job creation was one of the most urgent and critical challenges facing post-apartheid South Africa.

``We have turned our country from years of stagnation to sustained growth. But not enough new jobs are being created,'' Mandela said. ``Workers and trade unions are at the economic heart of our country...Without your participation, our efforts to become more productive and competitive will not succeed.''

South Africa estimates that only a third of the labour force has formal work. To address the crisis, Mandela's government has agreed to hold a job summit later this year with both business and labour.

He pledged the ANC's loyalty to the Congress of South African Trade Unions, its alliance partner and the country's largest labour federation.

He also praised a contentious law planned by his government -- the Employment Equity Bill, which advocates a form of quotas to promote blacks within the workplace. ``It is based on a fundamental principle. And that is, that we do need corrective action to put right the historical wrongs caused by discrimination and prejudice...,'' Mandela said.

In Zimbabwe labour movement rallies Friday resolved to stage another nationwide work boycott, this time for five days, to press government to scrap unpopular taxes and levies.

They used May Day rallies to warn that they plan a five-day strike to press demands for tax cuts and repeat their calls for fresh leadership after 18 years under President Robert Mugabe.

At a rally to celebrate International Workers Day, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary-general, Morgan Tsvangirai, told a crowd of about 20,000 that workers in Zimbabwe wanted the 2.5 percent increase on sales tax and the 5 percent development levy removed. Using Friday's rally as a report-back session to the workers, Tsvangirai said the union leadership was seeking a mandate from the labour force on the next course of action.

In Mozambique thousands paraded through the capital Maputo, protesting against low wages and mass redundancies they blamed on the government's privatisation programme.

The parade, organised jointly by the two trade union federations, the Organisation of Mozambican Workers and the Confederation of Free and Independent Unions, took place under the slogan ``greater justice in the redistribution of wealth.''

In Nigeria thousands of protesters took to the streets of Ibadan to heed an opposition call for demonstrations against military ruler General Sani Abacha to mark May Day.

But the main protests were in the southwestern city of Ibadan, the United Action For Democracy, an umbrella opposition group, had called for "neighbourhood rallies and demonstrations" across the country. Witnesses said police opened fire in at least two places and seven bodies were taken to hospitals.

Demonstrators called on Abacha, who seized power after the 1993 election annulment, to step down. They also demanded that the lives be spared of six men sentenced to death on Tuesday for plotting to overthrow the government. All were from the southwest. In Lagos, Nigeria's largest city, opposition activists were out distributing leaflets.

Links: South Africa's COSATU

Globalisation fears in European Union

Fear of globalisation was a common theme in Europe for May Day, where unions demanded rejected concerns over international competition and demanded a 35-hour work week. Some criticized the drive for the euro, Europe's single currency planned for January.

About 10,000 demonstrators in Madrid, noting the launching of the euro currency Friday at the European Union summit in Brussels, wheeled a giant carton model of a euro coin while people lay down in it its path as if they were being trampled.

In Paris, 16,000 union members also marched for the 35-hour work week. But far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen used May Day to urge the French people to reject the single European currency and keep the franc as a symbol of their national sovereignty and values.

In Switzerland masked demonstrators burned car tires and smashed the windows of a bank in Zurich, before police dispersed them with water cannons and tear gas. U.S. and Swiss flags were burned.

In Leipzig, located in what was once East Germany, thousands of black-shirted skinheads blasted Chancellor Helmut Kohl for not doing enough to fight record unemployment. Police turned water cannons on dozens of left-wing counter demonstrators to keep them away from the rally.

In Istanbul, Turkish riot police encased in armour, wielding batons and firing water cannon dispersed stone-throwing leftists at a 70,000-strong May Day rally. Dozens of protesters were injured, most beaten by police, and more than 100 detained.

The clash began after some 3,000 riot police backed by armored cars blocked access by leftists, many wearing red masks and affiliated with outlawed urban guerrilla groups, to an official rally at Freedom Monument in the city's Sisli district. May Day in Turkey has a history of confrontation. In 1977, 37 workers were shot by suspected rightist gunmen and three demonstrators died in fighting with riot police in 1996.

Tens of thousands of people have turned out in central Moscow for the annual May Day holiday, many joining trade unions and the Communist party in rallies against workers' hardships.

The demonstrations sang old Soviet tunes, their red flags bright in the warm spring weather. Addressing the faithful, Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov called for unified efforts against the Government, though his speech was far from fiery.

In the Ukraine, communists encouraged by recent electoral gains rallied in Kiev chanting "Long live Soviet power and socialism!"

Back to main index