May Day, which falls on May 1, is observed in many countries as a day to celebrate workers’ rights with rallies, marches and other events. This year's events had bigger turnouts than in previous years as COVID-19 restrictions were drastically loosened and opposition centered on how governments' economic plans will affect workers.
In France, unions plan massive demonstrations to protest President Emmanuel Macron’s recent move to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. Organizers see the pension reform as a threat to hard-fought worker rights and France’s social safety net.
The pension bill unleashed France’s biggest protests in years, and the May 1 rallies are expected to be among the largest yet.
In South Korea, tens of thousand of people attended various rallies in its biggest May Day gatherings since the pandemic began in early 2020. The two main rallies in the capital, Seoul, were expected to draw about 30,000 people each, according to organizers.
“The price of everything has increased except for our wages. Increase our minimum wages!” an activist at a Seoul rally shouted at the podium. “Reduce our working hours!.”
A crowd of people packing Seoul's downtown Gwanghwamun neighborhood held anti-government placards, sang songs and listened to speeches by union members. They later marched through the streets. Seoul police mobilized thousands of officers to maintain order.
Rally participants in South Korea accused the conservative government of President Yoon Suk Yeol of clamping down on some union members in the name of reforming their alleged irregularities. Yoon's government has been calling for labor reform, demanding more transparent accounting records of labor unions and an end of alleged illegal practices by some union members and workers at the construction sector such as pressing firms to hire union members or coercing kickback-like payments from them.
In Tokyo, thousands of labor union members, opposition lawmakers and academics gathered at Yoyogi park, demanding wage increases to offset the impact of rising costs as their lives are still recovering from damages of the pandemic.
Union leaders said government measures for salary increase are insufficient and not catching up with rising prices. They criticized Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s plan to double the defense budget, which requires tax increases in coming years, and said the money should be spent on welfare and social security and improving people’s daily lives.
“Let’s keep fighting as we workers unite and seek peace and democracy in Japan," said Yoshinori Yabuki, head of Tokyo Regional Council of Trade Unions, one of the organizers for the event,.
Others chanted “Gambaro! (Let’s do our best)” before they took to the street for a march.
Kishida attended a Saturday event at a Tokyo park that drew thousands of workers, politicians and representatives from major unions.
“I am taking part today because I want to build on the momentum toward higher wages. The most important goal in my ‘new capitalism’ policy is higher wages,” Kishida told the crowd.
In Indonesia, rally-goers demanded the government repeal a job creation law they argue would benefit business at the expense of workers and the environment.
“Job Creation Law must be repealed for the sake of the improvement of working conditions,” said protester Sri Ajeng at one rally. “It’s only oriented to benefit employers, not workers.”
Protests in Germany kicked off with a “Take Back the Night” rally organized by feminist and queer groups on the eve of May Day to protest against violence directed at women and LGBTI people. Several thousand people took part in the march, which was largely peaceful despite occasional clashes between participants and police. Numerous further rallies by labor unions and left-wing groups are planned in Germany on Monday.
In Taiwan, scores of workers took to the streets to protest what they call the inadequacies of the self-ruled island’s labor policies, putting pressure on the ruling party ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
Gathering in the capital, Taipei, members of labor groups waved flags that represent their organizations. Some medical workers wearing protective gear held placards with messages calling for subsidies, while other held banners criticizing President Tsai Ing-wen’s labor polices.
In North Korea, the country’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper published a lengthy editorial urging workers to lend greater support to leader Kim Jong Un, fulfill their set production quotas and improve public livelihoods.
“We should become genuine socialist workers who uphold the ideas and leadership of the respected general secretary with pure conscience and fidelity,” the paper said, calling Kim by his title at the ruling Workers’ Party.
Kim has been pushing for greater public support of his family’s rule as he’s calling for a stronger, self-reliant economy to overcome pandemic-related hardships and protracted security tensions with the United States over his nuclear program. Outside experts say North Korea hasn’t shown any signs of a humanitarian crisis.