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Widespread May Day Protests As Workers Demand Higher Wages, End of Austerity

Workers rallied around last week’s ready factory collapse this May Day, as demonstrations swept across Asia to protest low wages and dangerous working conditions. At the same time, thousands protested new austerity measures in Europe.

The tide has started to turn against budget cuts, as unemployment exceeded 27 percent in Spain last week and Greek unions declared transport strikes, paralyzing ferry service to islands. News of a recent mathematical error in one of the bedrock studies supporting austerity has raised doubts about the efficacy of a policy that, critics say, has brought the Eurozone to its knees.

More than 80 cities in Spain saw rallies, as protestors demanded a change in EU policy. Unions in Italy put on a concert in the center of Rome. In Turkey, crowds pelted the police with stones to protest a ban on demonstrations in Taksim Square, which has traditionally been a rallying point in Istanbul. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons.

Protestors shouted, “Death to fascism. Long live May 1.”

Despite calls for calm from opposition leaders and the prime minister, Bangladesh has erupted in fury after last week’s factory collapse. Many are calling for the execution of factory bosses and Sohel Rana, the owner of the building who was caught fleeing to the Indian border.

So far, the collapse has prompted seven days of work stoppages and numerous acts of vandalism, with workers reported burning factories. An estimated 10,000 workers with red flags and banners chanted, “Hang the killers, hang the factory owners!” at the start of nationwide demonstrations.

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Wages in Bangladesh are as low as $60 per month and dangerous conditions are common, but the factory collapse and the recent Tazreen Fashions fire have inflamed the nation with their scope and negligence.

Kamrul Anam, one of the leaders of the Bangladesh Textile and Garments Workers League, told AFP that the workers were angry at the “murder” of their colleagues in the April 24 disaster on the outskirts of Dhaka. 

“We want the severest punishment possible for those responsible for this tragedy,” he said.

In Cambodia, workers marched to parliament with a petition demanding the minimum wage be increased to $150 a month in the garment sector, where many Western firms source goods.

In Indonesia, around 55,000 workers rallied in Jakarta, according to police. It is the biggest May Day rally in the capital in recent years. Cost of living increases have been driving protests over working conditions and worker demands for a bigger piece of the country’s growing economic pie. Activists said that the strength of the protest showed the widespread anger at businesses denying worker’s basic rights, as well as frustration with poor salaries and lack of benefits. Police in riot gear eventually blocked the protestors as they attempted to march to the main international airport.

In the Philippines, rallies around Manila were well attended by peaceful, as workers demanded higher wages and better conditions. Strong economic growth in that country has failed to pull much of the population out of poverty. Protestors called for a $3 increase in the daily minimum wage, which is currently about $11.

Trade unions in Hong Kong expected about 5,000 people to march to the workplace of Li Ka-Shing, Asia’s richest man, in support of a dockworkers’ strike. Protestors marched behind a giant meat grinder with a mannequin inside it wearing worker’s clothes, a yellow hardhat, and fake blood.

In most countries Labor Day is an official holiday, including China and Taiwan, and workers looked forward to a day off. In China, Labor Day is marked by a three-day break. In Japan, it forms part of the Golden Week.