May 1 is symbolic in many ways. As well as representing the beginning of spring, it is International Workers’ Day, prompting demonstrations of solidarity across the world every year. This week was no different, with demonstrations taking place in the North America, Asia and Europe.
Thousands of people took to the streets of cities like Bologna, Napoli and Madrid to protest against austerity measures and record levels of unemployment throughout Europe, which stands at 27% in Spain.
Some demonstrations ended with frustration turning to violence, such as in Istanbul, where police used teargas and watercannon against protesters, who were said to have thrown stones and Molotov cocktails at police lines. Public and private sector strikes were called in Athens, bringing services like hospitals and banks to a standstill, and causing major disruption to transport services.
Similar scenes were seen in Seattle, the location of the 1999 ‘Battle of Seattle’ anti-globalisation demonstrations against the World Trade Organisation. Peaceful rallies of trades unions, students and labour activists marched throughout the day, but a small “non-permitted” demonstration caused damage to property during the evening, after the march.
Police were quick to dispel the situation, with mayor Mike McGinn justifying their response by connecting the situation to the Boston bombings earlier this month, which is still fresh in the minds of many Americans.
The collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh earlier this week sparked May Day protests in Dhaka, where demonstrators demanded factory owners be held to account for the disaster which killed 610 people and injured around 2500.
May Day is a celebration of the strength and solidarity of workers all over the world, and many marches showed exactly that. The sporadic violence that erupted illustrated the anger and frustration felt by workers in exploitative situations such as in Dhaka, where workers were paid just £32 a month.