WORKERS ON every continent took to the streets on Saturday to celebrate International Workers' Day. They spoke different languages and came from a multitude of ethnic and religious backgrounds. But they were united through a single desire for a peaceful and just society. Marches took place from Brazil to Pakistan, from Nicaragua to South East Asia. Many of the May Day marches called for an end to NATO's murderous bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.
BIG MAY Day protests in Germany reflected the growing mood against the war in the Balkans. Ministers from the ruling coalition of the Social Democratic Party, equivalent to the Labour Party in Britain, and the Greens were heckled at regional May Day rallies when they defended the bombing. But Oskar Lafontaine received huge cheers from a 12,000 strong protest in his home town of Saarbrücken when he attacked NATO's bombing.
Lafontaine is the key figure on the left of the SPD. He resigned from the government in March, frustrated at the Blairite direction taken by chancellor Gerhard Schröder. In his first major speech since then, Lafontaine said, "More and more innocent people are becoming victims of the bombing. I keep hearing that NATO has to save its face-it has to win. But we should forget victory or face saving and concentrate on ending the misery in Yugoslavia."
Bank workers who have been on strike over pay also received a warm response at the May Day rallies. Pressure is mounting on the coalition government over its support for the war. A special conference of the Green Party is scheduled for Thursday of next week. Activists are organising to win an anti-war position. They want to hold their leaders, who all once protested against NATO, to account.
THE MAY Day demonstrations in Greece were an antidote to the nationalist poison that is being spread in the Balkans. Over 10,000 protesters converged on the US embassy in Greece from several points across the capital, Athens. They chanted, "NATO out of the Balkans", and burnt US flags. The protest was called by the main trade union organisation in Athens, the Athens Labour Centre.
Christos Polyzogopoulos, president of the Greek TUC, told the rally, "The last May Day of the century is marred by war. We want the bombings to stop immediately." Thousands also protested outside the US consulate in Greece's second city, the northern port of Salonika. Salonika is the main staging post for NATO land forces.
Protests also took place in Piraeus, Patras and other Greek cities. There is fury that NATO is using Salonika to land troops and supplies. Hundreds of people blocked the docks on Saturday. The previous Wednesday protesters changed traffic signs and diverted a NATO convoy into a street market where shoppers pelted it with rotten fruit. On the same day, in the early hours of the morning, rail workers in northern Greece displayed magnificent solidarity with their brothers and sisters across the Balkans. They struck and prevented a shipment of NATO supplies from travelling by rail to Macedonia. The workers have pledged to strike again if any attempt is made to move NATO supplies by rail.
The rail workers have shown a glimpse of the power which can stop the NATO war machine in its tracks. Here lies the hope to end both the war and ethnic cleansing.
A NATO tank was stopped in its tracks last week when workers struck to prevent NATO moving its supplies by rail. "Our action is a small blow against the destruction which the US and NATO are imposing," said rail worker Andreas Fanaris
HUNDREDS OF thousands of workers in South Korea joined May Day rallies last week. They were protesting at mass redundancies which the government and big business, directed by the International Monetary Fund, want to push through. About 30,000 protesters packed into the square outside the railway station in Seoul, the capital city. They chanted, "Halt layoffs. Reduce working hours."
The rally was called by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the smaller and more militant of the country's two trade union federations. The protesters defied the riot police who two weeks ago smashed into the Seoul National University where striking underground workers had taken refuge. The underground workers have now returned to work under the threat of mass sackings. Some 48 workers have been sacked as the company tries to victimise trade union activists.
But the May Day rallies could be a prelude to further strikes across industry. KCTU leader Lee Kap-yong says, "We can no longer allow the government to threaten our right to live." The Korean Metal Workers' Federation says it will launch strikes on Wednesday of next week against mass redundancies. And even the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, which was set up by the state under the former military dictatorship, is threatening nationwide strikes if more workers are laid off.
THE GOVERNMENT in Turkey, a member of NATO, banned May Day protests. But workers still tried to rally. They took to the streets in Diyarbakir, the main city in the predominantly Kurdish south east of the country. They faced police repression, as did workers in Istanbul who also tried to celebrate May Day. The clampdown shows just how the Turkish state tramples on democratic rights.
Financial Times journalist Leyla Boulton summed up the lack of democracy in Turkey when she wrote this week: "A politician is in jail for reciting a poem. Trade unionists are detained on their way to court to identify the policemen accused of torturing them. A human rights advocate is sent to prison while his would-be assassins roam free."
Nowhere is the repression more apparent than in the treatment of the Kurdish minority in Turkey. On Friday of last week a military court set the trial date for Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan. His six defence lawyers appeared in court all bearing bruises from police beatings. The trial will begin later this month. There is no prospect of Ocalan receiving a fair hearing.
The fascist National Action Party, which doubled its vote to 19 percent in last month's general election, has supporters within the judiciary, army and police. Only sustained international protests can save Ocalan from execution. But neither Bill Clinton nor Tony Blair will raise their voices against the repression in Turkey. That task falls to workers and trades unionists.
There are many other political prisoners in Turkish jails. One of them is Tulay Kocak, the editorial director of the socialist paper Workers Democracy. She is in jail merely for publishing articles about Kurdistan. Tulay's trial was due to begin on Thursday of this week. She has to pay all her legal fees and for food and other essentials in prison. She, along with the other political prisoners, desperately needs support.