Pandemic casts a shadow as workers mark international labour day


Millions of workers worldwide marked international labour day trapped between hunger and fear on Friday, as more countries and states reopen for business even though Covid-19 is far from vanquished.

Beijing’s Forbidden City, the imperial palace turned museum that is one the country’s biggest tourist attractions, opened its doors, and shopping centres around the US were set to do the same, while world leaders try to salvage their battered economies without unleashing new waves of infections.

With traditional May Day labour marches curtailed by strict limits on public gatherings, Turkish protesters attempted to stage a wildcat demonstration.

California activists planned strikes, and Parisians sang from balconies to plead their causes: workplace masks, health insurance or more government aid for the jobless.

Demonstrators practice social distancing due to coronavirus restrictions, at a Labour Day rally in Duisberg, Germany

It was a melancholy International Workers’ Day for garment workers across Southeast Asia such as Wiryono, a father of two in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, who was laid off last month as retailers slashed orders.

His side job delivering coffee dried up, too, amid a virus lockdown.

So he set up a clothing repair business to make ends meet.

“I don’t earn as much as I got from the clothing factory. But I have to feed my wife and kids every day,” said Wiryono.

In Bangladesh, production is starting back up despite a rising number of new cases of the virus that has killed at least 230,000 people worldwide.

A government-ordered lockdown could not extinguish the May Day protest spirit in Greece, where demonstrators lined up two metres apart in careful rows in Athens’ Syntagma Square.

Organisers in masks and gloves used tape measures and large colored squares to set out exact positions for the protesters.

Greeks who work by making deliveries staged a motorised protest, driving through Athens on their motorbikes, and police were out in force to ensure residents didn’t head from cities to the countryside, another May Day tradition.

“We are praying for all workers, so that no one will lack work and all will be fairly paid and can enjoy the dignity of work and the beauty of rest,” Pope Francis said at a private morning mass.

May Day labour protests started in the 19th century in the United States, where this week the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits surpassed a staggering 30 million — and joblessness in April could hit numbers not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.