MADRID – Workers around the world took to streets on Friday to mark May Day with rallies, some of them exceptional, others turned violent.
The main march for International Workers’ Day in Cuba this year was one of the exceptional events as it was the first to be held in the context of the new stage of normalization of relations with the United States.
Cuban President Raul Castro and his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro, presided over the massive parade in Revolution Square in Havana, which was intended to honor the Cuban revolution, regional integration and Venezuela.
Castro and Maduro were greeted with applause in the ceremony which was also attended by other Cuban government leaders and over 2,000 foreign guests from different organizations.
Greece also has marked an exceptional May Day as government joined citizens for the first time in a protest calling for an end to austerity policies and restoring the workers’ rights.
“Yanis, kick their ass!” “Keep it up!,” “We support!,” were some of the chants heard by Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, who appeared smiling and unescorted in the middle of the main demonstration in central Athens.
Men and women of all ages competed to embrace or take a photo with the favorite minister of the Greeks and the most hated in the Eurozone.
In Germany, thousands of people joined marches on a festive atmosphere following the introduction of the minimum wage in the country, although the day was marred by incidents involving 40 neo-Nazis who disrupted the labor act in Weimar.
The neo-Nazis’ attack on a traditional trade union May Day gathering in the German city ended with at least 5 people injured and 29 arrested, police said.
The May Day rallies turned even more violent in Turkey as at least 150 people were arrested in Istanbul by the Turkish police, whose forces tried to prevent demonstrations in Taksim Square.
More than twenty thousand police officers and 70 armored vehicles controlled access to Taksim Square on Friday, with police barriers, cuts in transport services and closure of airspace over the area.
The Turkish media reported the arrest of at least 30 members of the Communist Party, who slipped into the square from inside a nearby hotel and resisted eviction forming a human chain.
Local media reported that the police arrested people carrying gas masks in addition to some random arrests of some “suspected” elements, according to the daily Hurriyet.
Police also used tear gas against groups of demonstrators trying to march to Taksim from nearby neighborhoods such as Besiktas, causing some injuries as reported by Birgun daily website.
Istanbul governor’s office said that no celebrations are allowed in Taksim Square and those who wish to demonstrate should approach one of the 8 areas of the capital expressly authorized.
In Spain, municipal and regional elections, scheduled for May 24, and the high rate of unemployment dominated May Day demonstrations.
The main unions in Spain called for protests in 80 cities under the slogan “This is not the way out of the crisis” to call for an end to austerity measures.
In France, demonstrations were focus too at the austerity policies of the government. Femen activist group, making Nazi salutes in protest, disrupted a May Day speech by French far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
In Italy, the unions called for improvements, not only to the country’s workers, but also for immigrants. A group of workers spent the day in the town of Pozzallo, in Sicily, a place that receives a lot of the immigrants rescued at sea.
In Belgium, the majority union, the CSC, organized a demonstration attended by just 500 people to protest against the policies of the coalition government headed by Charles Michel.
In South Africa, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) mobilized thousands of workers at its main event in the city of Durban and elsewhere in the country.
The main claim of COSATU, which is aligned with the Government of the African National Congress (ANC), was the adoption of a minimum wage for South Africans.
In Thailand, still under the power of the military, workers asked the government to raise the minimum daily wage, while in The Philippines, the unions demanded the president, Benigno Aquino, to provide the millions of jobs he promised to create when he took office in 2010.
Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam also celebrated May Day with official acts and demonstrations.