On the balconies and on the internet: Labor Day in times of coronavirus

Global News News

In the 2020 world, confined due to the Covid-19 pandemic, on May 1, without its traditional marches, it will be completely new, but unions will take advantage of this date to emphasize the crucial role of frontline workers during the health crisis.

May Day
Due to coronavirus pandemic, the mayday marches have been halted


This Labor Day, a collective event par excellence, will be “unprecedented in union history,” said French historian Stéphane Sirot, a specialist in social movements.

“It is like a May 1 in times of war. But it is the first time that the health situation comes into play,” he told AFP.

At a time when half of humanity is confined and the new coronavirus has killed more than 200,000 people, protests are banned, but unions imagine other forms of mobilization.

“Although we are confined, let us all demonstrate on May 1 with banners, flags or invading social networks, and give this day a true collective strength,” wrote several unions in France, where large marches are usually held on this date.

They seek in particular to pay tribute to the “forgotten” and “invisible” of our societies, who continue to work, often putting their own lives at risk, such as health personnel, supermarket employees, or garbage collectors.

In Italy, one of the European countries most affected by the pandemic, with more than 25,000 deaths, the great concert traditionally organized on May 1 in Rome by the main trade union centers will be held this year without an audience. 

However, several artists have been invited to perform at the Auditorium, the capital’s main music scene, for a show dubbed “Safe Work: Building the Future,” which will air live on the public channel Rai 3.

Unions in the UK also canceled planned events but noted that “it was more important than ever to mark the contribution that workers make” in these times of crisis.

They have urged people to post a “short video on social media thanking a worker who has made a difference for you.”

In Greece, a country with a strong union tradition, there are no official plans, and the largest Greek union, the Confederation of Private Sector Workers (GSEE), said that “it respects the instructions regarding the prohibition of meetings of more than ten people ” 

However, faced with the specter of a new recession after ten years of crisis, it is not ruled out that the communist unions organize a symbolic rally in front of the Athens Parliament.

– ‘From their homes’ –

In Cuba, the Central de Trabajadores (CTC; unique), called to celebrate May 1 from home and encouraged initiatives on social networks.

“The commemoration of this date will have on this occasion as a stage our homes, today become together with the family in a decisive trench in the crucial battle against the pandemic that plagues us, the one that demands ever greater social discipline, individual responsibility and collective, “said its secretary-general, Ulises Guilarte, to the local press.

According to Guilarte, other initiatives are being promoted, such as posting photos on the Internet of Cuban houses decked out by the anniversary or posters that have been designed to commemorate the date this year. 

“May Day: Stronger together, but each on their own.” This is the slogan in Denmark, where Workers’ Day will be exclusively virtual, led by the largest union organization FH, which brings together all the initiatives on Facebook. 

The celebrations will also take place online in Sweden and Norway, where this year’s theme will be “safety for health and work”.

– Controversies –

In Uruguay, the largest workers’ union, PIT-CNT, asked President Luis Lacalle Pou to allow them to carry out a national radio and television broadcast to spread a message that would replace the traditional massive act of May 1 with the aim that “The voice of the workers reaches the widest possible dissemination. ” 

Lacalle Pou rejected that possibility, arguing that government policy on the use of this resource “only considers the needs of a national nature that involve government institutions.” 

The union central decided that it will carry out four “small acts” that meet the health criteria in which a proclamation of between five and six minutes will be read, which will be broadcast by public and private radio and television stations that so decide, and which will be, according to PIT-CNT, a “great virtual mobilization”. 

In Indonesia, unions intend to hold the May 1 protests in Jakarta, which often bring together tens of thousands of people, despite the police ban.

In China, where the coronavirus appeared in December, the situation has not only returned to almost normal, but the government has extended the traditional May 1 holiday for two more days in hopes of boosting trade and tourism.

Beyond the May Day symbol, the true question, according to the historian Stéphane Sirot, is how union action will develop in the coming months, in the face of a “social fracture” that promises to become general in most countries. 

“Union action is going to be very complicated. Mass concentrations, which are one of their essential tools, will continue to be prohibited even when countries end their strict confinements.”

“Union activism is based on marches, meetings, demonstrations, contacts,” but in a time of social distancing, that is going to be difficult, Sirot added.

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