Clarissa Tan

May Day, May Day

May Day, May Day
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There was a sense of urgency, even emergency, in many countries on May 1 this year. The goings-on in the UK were muted in comparison:

France

Presidential incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy staged a rally in front of the Eiffel Tower called ‘The Feast of Real Work’, to counter the traditional show of heft by the left. ‘Put down the red flag and serve France!’ he shouted to the unions. His campaign claims a turnout of 200,000.

The left was irritated by Sarkozy’s hijack of their celebration, and his insinuation that they don’t understand what work is. The far right, led by a scornful Marine Le Pen fresh from rejecting an overture from Sarkozy, made their usual walk to the statue of Joan of Arc.

Cuba

Tens of thousands of workers marched through Havana’s Revolution Square, shouting ‘Socialism or death!’ and waving flags of Lenin and Che Guevera. But the mood was not expansive (or expensive) — the government plans to cut the state payroll by 20 per cent, or a million workers. A banner said this is a time to ‘preserve and perfect socialism’.

Malaysia

Najib Razak announced the country’s first-ever minimum wage, a monthly salary of 900 ringgit (that’s £185). This is not what the ‘Bersih’ protesters, who’ve taken to the streets in vast demonstrations in recent days, want — they’re pushing for electoral reform. The minimum wage is new to Asia — Hong Kong introduced it last year, and China is considering it.

PIGS

There were anti-austerity marches in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy. A right-wing group in northern Italy stuck up posters outside cemeteries with the greeting ‘Happy May Day, workers who have committed suicide’. Greece’s new Pasok leader Evangelos Venizelos told the Guardian that euro membership is at stake.

US

In a concerted effort to bring over large-scale European-style May Day protests to America, thousands of Occupy protestors stormed New York, Seattle, Portland, Oakland.

UK

Between 50 and 100 Occupy activists set up camp outside the London Stock Exchange. Five were arrested. Some 150 protesters met at Bond Street Tube Station. A few attempted to break into a Zara store.