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May Days: A Worldwide Reportback

Mayday

 

May Day is a celebration of working class struggle observed worldwide. It’s also called International Worker’s Day. The holiday began in the United States, to commemorate the struggle for an eight-hour workday. On May 1, 1884, hundreds of thousands of workers marched nationwide to demand an eight-hour day.

May Day also commemorates the lives of four anarchists who were executed after an incident known as the Haymarket Affair.

On May 4, 1886, a rally was held in Chicago to protest the deaths of two workers at the hands of police as they attacked a strike the previous day at the city’s McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. At the rally, an unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police, killing seven officers and four other people. Eight anarchists were arrested and accused of organizing the attack, although none could actually be proven to have thrown the bomb. Anarchists August Spies, George Engel, Adolph Fischer, and Albert Parsons were hanged in 1877 after being convicted in a trial that was met with international condemnation, while co-defendant Louis Lingg took his life by detonating a smuggled blasting cap in his mouth while in custody.

On May 1, 2006, the largest immigrants’ rights protests in history took place, with over 1 million people marching nationwide, marking an important refocusing of May Day in the US towards immigrants’ struggles. This year’s May Day also centered on protests of police brutality, as protests and riots took place in Baltimore in late April over the killing of 25-year-old Freddie Gray at the hands of police.

May Day is a day to celebrate working class strength, and make those who would repress it feel it. This year was no different.

 

Portland

Portland’s planned May Day march numbered roughly 500 people. In a welcome change from previous years, a breakaway contingent consisting of a few dozen protesters turned east on West Burnside, attempting to access the Burnside Bridge. After a standoff with riot cops, the majority of the march continued on its route, leaving the breakaway march to attempt to take other bridges downtown.

When that group joined the end rally at Pioneer Square, a few hundred people surrounded a police SUV with an LRAD mounted to it on SW 6th. Bicycle cops pushed the crowd back, allowing the truck to leave, but then riot cops showed up. As the riot cops fell back down SW Yamhill, they were followed by protesters and some water bottles and other projectiles were thrown. After lobbing several flash-bang grenades at the crowd, the riot police left. The police also pepper-sprayed several marchers and made a couple arrests during the day.

A march organized by Don’t Shoot PDX protesting the death of Freddie Gray took place downtown earlier in the afternoon and a small group of protesters momentarily blockaded a portion of the Burnside Bridge later in the night.

 

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Protesters confront riot cops at the Burnside Bride. PHOTO: Bette Lee

 

Seattle

Seattle continued its tradition of a confrontational anti-capitalist black bloc march separate from an earlier downtown rally and march. Beginning at Seattle Central College in Capitol Hill, the march, which numbered a few hundred people, confronted police by throwing projectiles, and was almost immediately confronted with riot police who lobbed flash-bang grenades and fired sting balls, splitting the group in two. The groups attempted to head downtown, smashing windows and dragging dumpsters into the streets on the way, as cops tried to keep them from the areas that were hit hardest during the 2012 May Day march. One group trapped behind police lines was able to smash corporate media vehicles and attack reporters who attempted to stop property destruction. As one reportback of the event said: “This May Day, black clad anarchists, skate bros, downtown street kids and militants from a variety of politicized movements came together with an aim of keeping each other safe and wrecking as much shit as possible.” There were at least 16 arrests at the march.

 

Oakland

A confrontational march also took place in Oakland, where an estimated 400 people shattered the windows of banks and car dealerships, setting a few vehicles on fire. Along the way, people also tagged buildings in solidarity with protesters in Baltimore. Oakland Mayor Libby Shaff said “They came with rocks in their pockets and malice in their hearts.” There were 12 arrests.

 

Austin

In Austin, a few hundred protesters stopped on the Congress Avenue Bridge, where a few protesters burned an American flag. Protesters were confronted by cops when they tried to access Interstate 35.

 

Turkey

In Istanbul, May Day celebrations are illegal. Protesters attempted to fight their way to Taksim Square, site of a 1977 massacre of leftists by right-wing gunmen on May Day in 1977 that left 36 people dead and a 2013 occupation that led to militant protests over the authoritarian rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that spread nationwide. Thousands of police guarded the blockaded square and used water canons and tear gas, as protesters responded with rocks. After hours of fighting and hundreds of arrests, protesters were unable to reach the square.

 

Italy

Politicians and foreign dignitaries in Milan kicking off a gala world’s fair celebration called Expo 2015 had their party ruined when hundreds of black-clad protesters smashed bank windows, overturned cars, lit them on fire and threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at police.

 

Protesters fire projectiles at police from behind a barricade in Istanbul

Protesters fire projectiles at police from behind a barricade in Istanbul

 

Greece

An estimated 10,000 people marched in Athens, as Greece is again on the precipice of defaulting on loans and potentially exiting the Eurozone. After the march, which centered on protesting the austerity policies that have rocked the country, there was a confrontation between masked protesters and police, with protesters throwing a Molotov.

 

Graffiti in Athens in solidarity with Baltimore.

Graffiti in Athens in solidarity with Baltimore

 

South Korea

Ten-thousand people marched in Seoul, eventually clashing with riot police who had set up barricades and parked buses to prevent the march from heading to the office of the president. Riot police used tear gas and water canons, as protesters tried moving the buses with ropes. Protests over government policies to lower wages and weaken job security and pensions had been ongoing for three weeks prior to May Day. Protests have also occurred over the government’s handling of an investigation into a ferry disaster that killed 250 children last year.

 

In Seoul, protesters attempt to remove buses being used by barricades by police.

In Seoul, protesters attempt to remove buses being used as barricades by police.

 

Germany

In Berlin, anti-capitalist street parties took place on the night of May Day, which threw rocks and fireworks at police. Fifteen people were reportedly arrested.

 

Philippines

An estimated 10,000 people marched in Manila, burning an effigy of President Benigno Aquino III, amongst the backdrop of depressed wages and government attempts to pass a law allowing employers to hire workers short-term to undercut benefits legally afforded to workers.

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