Workers demand better jobs, pay on May Day

A man representing imperialism participates in a rally for jobs and immigration rights in New York on May 1, 2011.
A man representing imperialism participates in a rally for jobs and immigration rights in New York on May 1, 2011. Seth Wenig/AP Photo

Thousands of workers and immigrant laborers took to the streets on Sunday to celebrate May Day, demanding rights for those "who toil in the sun" while others pocket the profits.

The message in Manhattan - delivered with bullhorns and drums - was echoed by millions of workers around the world, from Havana to Berlin and Istanbul.

The burning issues were the same: more jobs, better working conditions, higher wages and decent health care.

May 1 is a traditional date for pro-labor demonstrations. Immigration advocates in the United States latched onto the celebrations in 2006.

At dozens of rallies around the country, they vowed to fight on behalf of undocumented immigrants who are being rounded up and deported.

"STOP the deportations!" read a placard in Manhattan's Union Square, where about 1,000 people gathered at noon before marching down Broadway for a rally in downtown Foley Square.

The square is feet from a federal building that houses the New York office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which is in charge of removal operations involving illegal immigrants.

Across U.S. farmlands, "they toil in the sun, they toil so hard - and yet, others are making the most money," said Jocelyn Gill-Campbell, an organizer for Domestic Workers United.

She stood atop a pickup truck to address the Union Square crowd, which chanted in Spanish: "Primero de Mayo, dio proletario," meaning, "May 1, workers' day."

Immigrant advocates were joined at the Manhattan rallies by members of U.S. labor unions whose voices were heard loudest in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states where in recent months they protested efforts to curtail the right to collective bargaining.

Underlying Sunday's gatherings was seething anger over the rising cost of living and growing disparities between rich and poor - exacerbated by the global economic squeeze.

In Turkey, some 200,000 protesters flooded a central plaza in Istanbul, making it the largest May Day rally there since 1977, when at least 34 people died and more than 100 were injured after shooting triggered a stampede. Turkish unions weren't allowed back until last year.

Across Germany, some 423,000 people took to the streets to demand fair wages, better working conditions and sufficient social security, the country's unions' umbrella group, DGB, said.

Union group head Michael Sommer said the turnout - similar to last year's - was a clear message to the government that it should give up its refusal to introduce a national minimum wage.

"Fair wages, good jobs and social security are the minimum standard in this country that workers expect, need and have to fight for time and again," Sommer said at a protest in the central German town Kassel.

In Berlin, several rallies were scattered across the capital, with police saying 10,000 people had taken to the streets.

Some 8,000 gathered late in the afternoon at a rally called for by leftist groups, with police out in force as past demonstrations had turned violent. Marchers carried banners saying, "This is the least: fair salaries, fair jobs."

Across the city, 6,000 security forces were deployed Sunday to monitor the protests, police said.

In Austria, more than 100,000 people peacefully took to the streets of Vienna, protest organizers said. Social Democratic Chancellor Werner Faymann promised social policies and warned against leaving too much room to financial speculation, Austrian news agency APA reported.

In Cuba, hundreds of thousands of people marched through Havana and other cities to mark May Day in a demonstration touted as a vast show of support for economic changes recently approved by the Communist Party.

In South Korea, police said 50,000 people rallied in Seoul for better labor protections. The people also urged the government to contain rising inflation, a growing concern across much of Asia, where food and oil prices have been spiking and threatening to push millions of people into poverty.

Thousands of workers also marched in Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Philippines.

Several thousand people turned out for May Day demonstrations in Paris, including supporters of the far-right National Front party whose new president, Marine Le Pen, stressed her party's long-standing anti-immigrant stance.

In the Philippines, about 3,000 workers demanding higher wages held a protest in a Manila square that included setting alight the effigy of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III grinning in a luxury car. Aquino was criticized this year for buying a Porsche in a country where a third of the people live on a dollar a day.

In Taiwan, about 2,000 people rallied in Taipei to protest the widening income gap and to demand their government create better work conditions. About 3,000 people in Hong Kong took part in a Sunday morning protest while another 5,000 were expected at an afternoon rally, local media reports said.

In Spain, where unemployment has reached a eurozone high of 21.3 percent, several thousand people gathered in the eastern port city Valencia and protested the government's failure to create new jobs.

In Moscow, up to 5,000 Communists and members of other groups marched through the city carrying a sea of red flags to celebrate their traditional holiday, which in Soviet times was known as the Day of International Solidarity of Workers.

Since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, the holiday has been known as the Day of Spring and Labor, and organizations from across the political spectrum held their own marches on Sunday.

The dominant pro-Kremlin party, United Russia, gathered the largest crowd by pulling in workers from factories and institutes in and around Moscow. Party organizers claimed that 25,000 people took part.

Accounting for time differences, most rallies in Europe were finished by the time those in the United States started.

In Los Angeles, demonstrators waving union banners and American flags started filling downtown streets at noon.

The biggest march - almost 3,000 people organized by the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles - ended with a rally featuring dancers, musicians and speakers from labor and community groups.

In Atlanta, about 1,000 people gathered at the state capitol, chanting in Spanish and English, urging Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, not to sign a bill passed by the legislature that aims to crack down on illegal immigration

"In the labor movement we have a saying, `Don't Mourn - Organize!'" said Ben Speight, organizer director of the Teamsters Local 728

Deal has said he plans to sign the bill, which would authorize law enforcement officers to check the immigration statuses of suspects and detain them if they are in the country illegally.

Angel Salome, a 17-year-old high school junior, was brought to the United States as an infant strapped to his mother's back as she swam across the Rio Grande, part of which separates the U.S. and Mexico.

He told the rally: "I'm going to get that college degree and hopefully be able to provide some financial stability for my mother so she never has to scrub another toilet or tub again."

Associated Press writers Christopher Torchia and Selcan Hacaoglu in Istanbul, Kelvin K. Chan in Hong Kong, Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, Aaron Favilo in Manila, Philippines, Lynn Berry in Moscow, Harold Heckle in Madrid, Peter Orsi and Andrea Rodriguez in Cuba, Jenny Barchfield in Paris, Kate Brumback in Atlanta and Katie Oyan in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

© 2011 The Associated Press.

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