Peaceful picnics, labor clashes mark May Day
In this story:
May 1, 1997
Web posted at: 2:46 p.m. EDT (1846 GMT)
(CNN) -- Much of the world recognizes May 1 as International
Labor Day, a day for unions to push for better workplaces
and for pro-labor governments to push for greater political
power. This year, May Day gatherings ranged from violent
clashes between rightist and leftist groups to a simple
Record high unemployment was the focus for German labor
unions, which staged dozens of rallies, especially in the
eastern part of the country. Unemployment was 11.7 percent
for the country in March, but 18.1 percent in the eastern
Also in eastern Germany, thousands of police were deployed to
thwart clashes between radical rightist and leftist groups.
Around 150 left-wing extremists in Leipzig hurled rocks and
fireworks at police, who were trying to keep them apart from
a small group of skinheads defying a ban on National
Democratic Party of Germany rallies.
In France, some 5,000 National Front loyalists turned out for
far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen's traditional May Day
parade. The march through downtown Paris honors Joan of Arc,
who drove the English out of France; this year it was
broadened into a campaign for Front candidates in upcoming
National Assembly elections. Leftist trade unions planned a
march later in the day.
Poland's former Communist party, the Social Democrat party,
joined 2,000 other leftist group members in the traditional
May Day parade through Warsaw. But in another former Eastern
bloc country, Yugoslavia, citizens rallied against President
Slobodan Milosevic's regime, calling for "peace, bread and
When Russia was the Soviet Union, May 1 was the Day of
Workers' Solidarity, a major date marked by huge processions
of workers on Red Square. In the post-Soviet era, the date
has evolved into more of a holiday -- still a tribute to
workers, but with more domestic concerns like better wages,
better working conditions and a better economy.
Turnout for rallies in Moscow was moderate by Russian
standards and mostly made up of elderly die-hard Communists;
many other Russians heeded President Boris Yeltsin's call to
use the holiday to forget their problems for a few days. He
suggested in his Thursday radio address that they go to the
country and dig up their gardens.
Rallies held in the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan and
Ukraine were also mostly made up of elderly people nostalgic
for the Soviet past. Several hundred elderly Kazakhs
gathered at a demonstration sponsored by the Workers'
Movement group, where speakers denounced privatization of
At a similar rally in Kiev, about 4,000 mostly elderly
Ukrainians protested the government's Western-oriented
economic and international policies. The Ukrainian
government owes pensioners and workers the equivalent of more
than $1.5 billion in back pay.
In a region where communism still flourishes alongside some
of the world's fastest growing capitalist economies, Asians
marked May Day with everything from praise for proletarian
heroes and union-sponsored picnics to a clash with police.
In China, crowds filled Beijing's Tiananmen Square at dawn to
honor model workers and watch the daily flag raising. But
there were no parades or rallies -- an indication of the
reach of capitalist reforms and the party's fears that
gatherings could degenerate into protests.
The traditional trappings of leftist labor demonstrations
were evident in the Philippines, where the labor federation,
the May One Movement, drew 10,000 people to a march on the
presidential palace in Manila. The federation wants a 54
percent raise in the daily minimum wage to 285 pesos
More than 50,000 union workers belonging to the umbrella
National Labor Congress waved Thai flags as they paraded to
the field in front of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in
Bangkok. Thai labor groups also want a raise in the minimum
wage, 12 percent to 177 baht ($7.08) a day. Prime Minister
Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, addressing the rally, promised
government help in easing workers' hardships.
In Japan, some 2 million people attended rallies at about
1,000 locations, according to union estimates. Japan's
workers are some of the world's highest paid, but they also
put up with high housing and living expenses.
Related sites:Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.
© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.