All over the world, socialists, trade unionists and progressive youth came out on 1 May in a show of force for solidarity and radical politics. We publish here a series of reports from comrades and supporters of the IMT, who intervened in May Day demonstrations and marches around the globe, proudly raising the banner of Marxism!
May Day began in the US with the struggle for the eight-hour day. However, the ruling class has tried to erase this history, and without a mass working-class socialist party, many US workers are not conscious of the significance of May Day.
Nonetheless, there were two May Day events in New York City, including an afternoon protest at Wall Street (with about 80 present) and another uptown at Columbus Circle, which saw participation from big unions in the city, such as AFSCME DC 37 (NYC public employees) and CWA (phone company workers). There were around 900 people in all, mostly DSA members and unionists, and the NYC comrades made a strong showing.
The comrades from Philadelphia participated in a small May Day rally and picnic in Elmwood Park in Southwest Philadelphia. At its height, there were probably about 75 people there, many of whom were unionists and members of left-wing organisations.
A May Day march was held in downtown Los Angeles, involving many different Left groups (including the local chapter of the DSA), but the vast majority of participants were from unions or immigrant-rights groups. Comrades intervened enthusiastically to raise the banner of Marxism!
The May Day demonstration (organised by the unions) was significantly smaller than last year, with around 500 participating. Despite the low turnout and bad weather, the Montreal comrades of La Riposte socialiste/Fightback were the largest radical left-wing contingent, with around 25 participants. Their slogans were noticed by the crowd and workers around them chanted with us throughout the very short march.
In particular, the comrades’ slogan in support of the workers of the ABI plant in Bécancour, who have been locked-out for 15 months, was highly appreciated.
Toronto saw its most significant May Day in years. The day started at noon with a spontaneously organised rally at Queen’s Park against the Doug Ford government. The rally took off on social media after the event was posted by two women, totally fresh to politics, under the banner of a “general strike”. Over 2,000 people showed up to the rally. With nearly a year of protests against Doug Ford under Ontario’s belt, and after two large, labour-organised demonstrations, where there was much talk of “building a movement” but never of a strike, it is significant that so many were enthused by this call.
Fightback activists intervened boldly, with a call to turn the current movement against Ford into a real general strike. Alex Grant, editor of Fightback magazine, spoke at the start of the rally. He explained that Doug Ford is just an expression of the polarisation taking place around the world, in response to the crisis of capitalism. Taking down Ford will not be enough: our fire must be aimed at the capitalist system. He called on the union leadership to use their power and resources to organise for a general strike, or else make way for those who will, and called on those in attendance to get organised to fight back.
Watch Alex’s speech:
It is increasingly clear that the working class of Ontario is ready to resist with strike action against Ford.
Later that evening, Fightback comrades gathered with trade unionists, socialists, and others on the left to celebrate May Day at a demonstration called by Toronto Education Workers CUPE Local 4400. For far too long, May Day in Toronto has been a marginal event, featuring small turnouts and attracting only motley assortments of activists. CUPE 4400 has taken the first step towards re-establishing a broader union tradition at May Day, and re-connecting the labour movement with its radical roots.
Socialist Fightback Students activist Olive Pape spoke at the rally about the advances made in the student movement in recent months, with successful demonstrations against Ford’s anti-protest law and large walkouts against cuts to student funding. She tied the need for a student strike to the need for a general strike, to unite the student and labour movements.
Labour Fightback activist and member of Workers United Jennie Ernewein spoke as well, about the international roots of May Day, and the fact that labour struggles are on the rise around the world.
Watch Jennie’s speech:
After the speeches, the rally united with another taking place nearby for a march through the downtown. Around 500 marched through the streets – in the pouring rain! – with socialist signs, banners, and slogans.
Recent weeks have seen massive protests against the Doug Ford government, with many getting involved in political activity for the first time. Only a day prior on 30 April, over 10,000 rallied against Ford’s cuts to health care. Over the two days and three rallies, the Canadian section of the International Marxist Tendency was the largest force on the organised left, mobilising 60 activists. The events of May Day are a further illustration of this trend towards radicalisation. The class struggle is heating up in Ontario.
In Italy, 25 April has been, in recent years, a more important day of mobilisation than May Day. It is the day of the liberation from Nazi-fascism in 1945. Today, the main issue was a widespread protest against Salvini, the home minister and leader of the right-wing League. He stated that he was not going to celebrate 25 April: “a derby between fascists and communists”. It is the classic line of revisionism, to compare the revolutionary struggle of the workers and youth in the ‘40s and the slaughters and crimes perpetrated by the Nazis.
One year has passed since the l#League-M5S government took office. All the promises of “change” vanished and the disappointment is beginning to grow, starting from the youth.
The main target is Salvini. The home minister is the most loved (by the reactionaries) and the most hated (by the radicalised youth and workers) politician of the country. Slogans and chants against this vicious racist are very common on every demo. That is why the title of the current issue of Rivoluzione – “April 25 against Salvini – Antifascists today and tomorrow” was quite well received. The comrades intervened in more than 30 cities from Turin and Trieste in the deep north to Catania in Sicily. In three demos (Milan, Parma and Modena) they organised contingents as well. On the Liberation day the comrades sold more than 630 newspapers, plus more than 1,000 euros for our fighting fund.
1 May was largely deprived of its fighting traditions by the union leadership, who turned this day of the working class into a series of rock concerts, with barely any political content. Nevertheless, there are “pockets of resistance” in some cities, where the tradition of demos and rallies is still alive, and we usually intervene there.
This time, Cgil-Cisl and Uil held 10,000-strong national demonstration in Bologna. Comrades from the IMT sold nearly 100 newspapers and collected more than 300 euros for their fighting fund. The comrades also had a successful intervention in Locarno. Where they sold 80 newspapers and collected more than 400 euros for the fighting fund.
Sinistra Classe Rivoluzione showed in those two important days of celebration and struggle that we are ready to take part in the stormy events that we are confident will change the political face of this country.
Overall, on May day, around 350 copies of Rivoluzione were sold all around the country.
This year was the second May Day to take place against the backdrop of the right-wing government made up of the Popular Party and the Freedom Party. Tens of thousands took to the streets for the traditional parades organised in many cities, mostly by the Social Democrats, in some cities with additional events by the Communist Party.
Last year, the mood was one of anticipation and expectation about the fight against the government and its attacks on the working class. At that time, there were already cuts planned to health insurance, and the law for a 12-hour-working day was still in the making. Many said: “when is the time to go out on the streets and get active again, if not now?”
One year later, however, and the Social Democratic Party is still in a deep crisis and has not managed to even make decisive statements against the numerous attacks on the living standard of the masses and the curtailing of democratic rights (such as the government’s discussion about “preventive imprisonment” for baseless, unproven “suspicions” by the police). Social Democracy is paralysed in the face of this right-wing government
The access to government and ministry positions and the administration of the social welfare state is vital for the party bureaucracy. Deprived of their share in the government, quarrels have broken out between the right-wing bureaucrats who fully capitulated to racism and the reactionary ‘law-and-order’ policy and the liberal manager-type elements.
The more-left leaning layers in the party, mainly the Socialist Youth, dare not confront the right directly and instead attempt “networking” and watering down their programme to the point of refusing to say the words “capitalism” or “socialism”.
The SY leader, Julia Herr, heartily embraces the idea of a “Green New Deal” in her election campaign for the EU elections. The trade union bureaucracy, in the meantime, puts all their weight behind the decaying corpse of the “social partnership”. The result is that, in a recent survey, more people (26 percent) think that the neo-liberal NEOS-party is the best opposition party! (23 percent voted for the SP, while 43 percent refused to answer).
In this situation, the mood was more subdued and pensive. In cities like Bregenz and Linz, the parades were smaller than last year. Because of the upcoming 2020 elections in Vienna, the party leadership is in a frenzy to suppress the brooding discontent within its own ranks. Over the last few weeks, there was an effort to discredit “Trotskyists” in the party – meaning left-wing party members, including the IMT in Austria. However, most people wanted to support us precisely because we are critical of the right wing direction of the party. They made a point to mention this when buying the paper or giving a donation.
In this general mood, there was one event that electrified the parade in Vienna: the loud and defiant intervention of nurses in the social-democratic-trade-union block of the parade.
The nurses of Vienna’s public hospital are currently in a struggle against the SP-governed city over a new public services wage-scheme. In this scheme, older colleagues will receive less pay than workers under new contracts. This is in addition to steadily growing pressure and understaffing in workplaces. The nurses have staged numerous protests over the last few weeks, demanding an opt-in for the new wage-scheme. Supporters of the IMT successfully spread the idea and helped form action committees in the hospitals to organise the struggle, which boosted the activity of the rank and file.
On May Day, the nurses marched in force, shouting slogans such as “Equal wage for equal work!” and “Opt-in now!” The trade union leader in charge was clearly uncomfortable and tried (without success) to squeeze a loud brass band in front of the protesting workers so that they would not spearhead the block. The workers reacted with the slogan “Don’t be afraid, we are the rank and file!” In the following speech by the party leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner, she carefully stressed the importance of high-quality care work. The higher ups in the trade union were visibly shocked as they haven’t seen workers defying their directions openly like this in a very long time.
The IMT was present in four cities on May Day, including the traditional Demo by the Socialist Youth on 30 April. We also had a successful collection for our annual Seminar in June which will be held under the banner of internationalism. 100 years ago, the Communist International was founded to unite the proletariat and the oppressed people of the world to fight for the freedom of humanity and for socialism. With the same goal in mind we work today to strengthen the forces of Marxism and to prepare for the revolution ahead.
Over a number of decades, the May Day rallies in Germany, organised by the trade union federation DGB, have become a somewhat sterile matter of duty, with sedate and homely open-air events, dutiful speeches by local, regional and national union leaders and a barbecue atmosphere afterwards.
However, in a number of major cities there are still demos attended by thousands of people, with a militant mood and fighting slogans. In many places this year, local labour conflicts and struggles against redundancies and factory closures played an important role in mobilising workers to attend the May Day events. In Frankfurt, lots of Taxi drivers turned up to demand the resignation of Merkel’s Transport Minister, Andreas Scheuer (CSU), who is planning to liberalise the market to the benefit of Uber and Co. DGB organisers conscientiously reported on 2 May that 381,500 people had attended 481 DGB rallies and demos up and down the country.
In some places, additional revolutionary May Day events were held by alliances of left groups and elsewhere, left-wing activists and trade union youth concentrated on mobilising against marches and rallies organised by the right-wing AfD and fascist elements, in an attempt to seize May Day in the name of nationalism and racism. In Hamburg, IMT comrades joined the Venezuela solidarity block in the demo.
As there is widespread fear that the AfD might pick up many votes and score two-digit results at the coming European, local, and regional elections, the major DGB slogans this year addressed the question of the EU. The central slogan was “Europe, but let us do it properly!” Speakers urged the audience to vote “Pro-European” and expressed hope that the EU might become “more pro-labour” and “less neoliberal.” However, this tame and reformist approach did not really appeal to the crowds.
IMT supporters in Germany were present at May Day rallies in well over a dozen places, from Hamburg in the north and Berlin in the east, to the Lake of Constance and Bavaria in the south. Our journal put forward the slogan of the United Socialist States of Europe and urged the unions not to rely on the EU institutions but only on their own strength and international solidarity.
There is a changing mood in Germany as the question of nationalisation of big real estate monopolies and property speculators is back in people’s minds and causing a controversial debate. In Berlin, just a few weeks ago, a demo in favour of expropriation of real estate companies attracted some 40,000 people, young and old. Activists are collecting signatures to enforce a local referendum on the issue. This week, Kevin Kühnert, leader of the Jusos (SPD youth), has raised the question of public ownership of BMW and other monopolies, triggering heated debate and indignation on the part of right-wing social democrats and bourgeois politicians and journalists.
Marxists welcome this debate and are wholeheartedly intervening in it to explain the issue of nationalisation, workers-control and a democratically planned economy.
May Day in London is not a strong tradition in the Labour movement, since workers do not get the day off: a deliberate decision by the government to depoliticise and minimise this demonstration. So the turnout was not large, but nevertheless the march did see thousands of trade unionists and socialists participate. Lots of trade unionists were enthusiastic about the British comrades’ campaign to restore Clause 4 to the Labour constitution (committing the party to socialism), feeling that it really hits the nail on the head in terms of the needs of the labour movement today. The campaign is going from strength to strength!
Traditionally May Day is a big event in Copenhagen – tens of thousands gather at Fælledparken at an event organised by the TUC. This year was no exception. Unfortunately, it is also traditional for this event to be very apolitical. The leaders of the labour movement do whatever they can to turn the day into more of a festival than a day of struggle.
The Revolutionary Socialists (RS), IMT in Denmark, are attempting to counter this trend. The main slogan of RS on this May Day was: “Organise against the system! Capitalism is the problem!”
In the morning, we gathered at a meeting to hear political speeches – including one by a train driver who had been one of the main driving forces behind a historic strike on the railways on 1 April. From there, the comrades from RS went to a demonstration organised by the Unity List, with around 1000 participants.
The RS block, comprising of 50 comrades, was by far the most vibrant and militant, with banners, flags and slogans made for the day reading “What can stop Paludan? Class struggle, class struggle!” Paludan is a racist figure, with Nazi-inspired ideas of ethnic cleansing, who are right now rising to prominence on the basis of provocative “demonstrations. He just received enough signatures to run for the coming election, and on May Day he tried, without luck, to provoke a confrontation under heavy police protection.
RS went with the Unity List demonstration to the main event at Fælledparken, where the RS had a stall selling political literature: it was our best sale ever. Also, in the park we sold Revolution, the Danish paper of the IMT, and Revolt, the English-language paper.
This May Day was marked by the approaching elections, and the mood was quite tense, with some criticism of the Social Democrats from the bricklayer union, among others. It is clear the workers have not forgotten the last time the Social Democrats were in power, and want something different this time.
Despite the election coming up, there is a widespread apathy towards the established political parties, who are in no way able to reflect the growing mood of discontent and anger, and the radicalisation among especially the youth. The ideas of RS, of the need for a socialist revolution, on the other hand, although our forces are very small, connected with this mood and was well-received among the most radicalised layers.
The Dutch Marxists of Revolutie joined the May Day rally in Amsterdam, organised by the FNV trade union federation. In the Netherlands, the First of May is not a day off, which is a great shame. Workers and youth have to take a day of leave to participate. Railing against the “Eén mei vrij!” [First of May fee] remains an important battle cry. Nevertheless, there was a demo of about 5,000 people in Amsterdam.
The Dutch Marxists set up their table with Marxist literature at the start of the demo, and sold €87 worth of papers, magazines and books. Despite the small numbers, there was a positive and militant mood. A trade union organiser asked the Dutch Marxists to help out in an upcoming campaign to raise the minimum wage. As true internationalists, we also sold English and Spanish magazines to some British and Chilean workers living in the Netherlands.
The spring of this year was one of the politically most turbulent for decades – even if this must be seen in relation to the still great stability of Swiss capitalism. The leadership of the Social Democrats and the trade unions again defend a bourgeois pension and tax reform and are challenged by some more militant regional sections, and the Young Socialists. The climate strike pulled tens of thousands of young people from all over the country onto the political stage, who all joined the “System Change – Not Climate Change” slogan. And the “women’s strike” planned for June will probably be the clearest expression so far of the fighting potential that the oppression of women under capitalism can trigger in arch-conservative Switzerland.
Especially in the French-speaking part of the country, significantly more young people took part in the May Day demonstration and festivities than in previous years. They increasingly realise that capitalism cannot fulfil its demands for good living conditions without oppression. With our sharp revolutionary programme and the firm perspective that these various struggles must be linked to the working class, we Marxists are building up authority, especially among certain layers of the school students.
In this environment, the Swiss section sold almost 1,400 newspapers, with sales in all cities (Geneva, Zurich, Winterthur, Thun, Basel, Bern) clearly exceeding the previous year’s figure. This is also a sign that the enthusiasm and discipline of the comrades are high. And it is evidence that, even in difficult conditions, a Marxist organisation can be built.
The May Day event in Oslo saw the biggest turnout since 1990, with over 10,000 in attendance. The main slogans were against increasing inequality, cuts and welfare profiteers. The mood seemed slightly more radical than previously, and several people were observed wearing Karl Marx t-shirts.
In Kristiansand, around 200 people took part in the march. The main slogan was “Stronger community”. This was the first year the Norwegian comrades marched with their own banner, with the slogan “Socialism in our lifetime”. One comrade made a very positive intervention, giving a speech on behalf of the Socialist Youth (Sosialistisk Ungdom). They were the only speaker to mention socialism, and reminded everyone that this was a socialist day of struggle and should serve as a reminder for the trade unions and labour movement to put socialist revolution on the agenda to solve the problems of the working class. This received even more applause than the 30 minute speech by Labour Party leader, Jonas Gahr Støre, reflecting the growing acceptance of militant, socialist ideas among the workers in Norway.
With around 12,000 participants in Stockholm, 7,000 in Gothenburg and almost 6,000 in Malmö, the Left Party demonstrations on May Day far exceeded those held by the Social Democrats. The IMT in Sweden, armed with the paper Revolution, participated under the banner of “Socialism in our lifetime”.
There was a palpable anger in the demonstrations, mainly directed against the Social Democrats who – among other things – are planning to remove regulation on rents and to worsen labour laws and limit the right to strike. Their demonstrations were smaller than ever before, with only 920 participants in Gothenburg and 600 in Malmö – a far cry from their complete dominance of the past.
Shouting slogans like “What do we want? Socialism! When? Now!”, the IMT organised blocks in the Left Party demonstrations in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö and Umeå. The comrades’ energy attracted many others, who joined the blocks to shout along with them.
This year’s May Day in Warsaw took place in a mixed atmosphere. On the one hand, the main trade unions and left-wing political parties did not participate in it. One of the main traditional organisers, Ikonowicz, left early to start his election campaign in Lodz. Because of this, the turnout was limited to young people without any organisation behind them. But the mood was enormously optimistic about the future, following the recent mass movements of workers and youth, which are bringing class struggle back on the agenda. Around 20 Polish Marxists, organised as Czerwony Front, intervened in the demonstration and sold out of their new pamphlet, “Marxism or Anarchism” by Alan Woods, in the first half hour. This showed a real appetite for Marxist ideas.
A May Day march took place in St. Petersburg. The IMT took part in the column of the independent left and trade unions, under the slogan “Strike! Solidarity! Workers’ democracy!” The block included a number of trade unions, including those representing dockers, employees of the Ford plant and many more.
There were around 300 people at the May Day rally in Prague, which was organised by the Communist Party. At the same time, around 40 liberals waved USA, NATO and EU flags on a counter-demo, and threw insults at people who visited the Communist Party event. There was no other May Day activity in the city, but despite the low turnout and the hostility of the liberals, comrades from the IMT put in a good showing and drew a lot of interest with their slogans and materials.
In Brazil, the CUT and other trade union confederations called for action across the country with the central theme of combating the Social Security Reform of the Bolsonaro government. However, the leadership did not actually mobilise the workers on the ground.
In a number of cities, the demonstrations were empty of political activity, and notable more for concerts by music stars. Elsewhere, workers were told to assemble in places far from the city centres, which were difficult to access. Even following attacks by the Bolsonaro government, trade union leaders continue to play the role of blocking and diverting workers’ struggles.
The Brazilian section of the IMT was present in the May Day activities, arguing for the immediate need to build a general strike in the country to bar the counter-reform to social security, and raising banners with the slogan, “Fora Bolsonaro” (“Bolsonaro out!”).
This is a struggle that the PT, PSOL and different leftist organisations are refusing to seriously take up. Some organisations shamelessly use the argument that the question of booting out Bolsonaro cannot be discussed, since it is necessary to respect the constitution and the mandate of the president-elect, or that not doing so will enrage the right and give a boost to “neo-fascism”.
With only four months in office, support for Bolsonaro is melting away. He has only 35 percent popular support and the majority of the population is against his pension reform. Youth and workers are willing to fight, despite the brake imposed by their leadership.
Indignation is growing at the bottom, with the withdrawal of rights and rising unemployment. Political explosions are on the horizon, which could turn into a massive movement for the overthrow of the already unstable Bolsonaro government.
The May Day activities in Argentina somewhat merged with the previous day’s strikes by a number of trade union confederations. There was also a protest at the Venezuelan embassy about the US-led coup attempt on 30 April. Comrades from the IMT participated in mobilisations at a number of different cities, including Salta, Buenos Aires, Córdoba and Rosario.
22 Mexican comrades took part in the May Day demonstrations, launching our four new books by Trotsky, which went down very well indeed.
The situation of the trade union movement has been transformed with the new government, which was reflected in the May Day demonstrations.
The most interesting development was the large concentration of “charro” (state-run) unions, whose leaders will no longer be able to hide behind the government as in the past, and will be forced by the rank-and-file to either stand up for workers, or expose their weaknesses.
Also important was a speech by Napoléon Gómez Urrutia (a leading miner activist), who was exiled in Canada for the past two six-year terms, and has formed a new trade union centre.
The last thing that stood out was the large and combative contingent of SITUAM (university students), who have been on strike for three months. The CNTE (teachers’ union), also formed a significant block.
Comrades from Lucha de Clases attended the long anti-imperialist march in Caracas on May Day, distributing leaflets and agitating with slogans against the coup, demanding jail for Guaidó and the expropriation of the bourgeoisie. Comrades also participated in the previous day’s militant rally against the coup outside Miraflores Palace.