Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Another May Day for Worker’s Rights: Tel Aviv and Istanbul
Long Live May Day, the International Workers' Day!
This year I was especially lucky to be able to participate in two May Day marches. In Israel, commemoration of the worker’s holiday was moved up by two days since this year Yom Ha Shoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) fell on the eve of the May 1. About three thousand protestors marched from Lavinski Park to Meir Park. The significance of it beginning at Lavinski is that this has become the home of the thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of foreign/migrant workers from different African and Asian countries. I had wished to dedicate a whole blog while in to Israel to this community and perhaps I will do so in the future. However, it needs to be stated that they have become central to Israel’s “other side” which is not always reported abroad. Most recently, they have become the center of debate as the current Israeli government are set on expelling them and their children (who now are as Israeli as other Tel Avivis), and they suffer from a great amount of institutional and social discrimination while comprising a large part of Israel’s cheap labor market. I suppose thus it is a typical case of “use and abuse,” and is quite similar to Europe’s question of foreign workers.
At the march, the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash) once again showed their strength. Compromising members of the Israeli Community Party, they by far were the largest group represented, along with other leftist fringe groups and NGOs. The Labor and Meretz parties were considerably smaller and once again exhibited the weakness of the Israeli Zionist left and the few football fans of the Po’el (the Worker) football teams made a stronger presence than the once major parties. Hadash certainly seems like the only party among the left that is actually organized and ready to act, showing up in large numbers at the demonstrations I have participated in during the last few years. Apparently, it seems that many in the now very bourgeois Israeli Labor Party would like to forget that the red flag is in integral part of their past, not to mention the idea that they should be working for the workers and not for the capital of the elite. While I myself understand the changes in the leftist movements and their need to adopt an ideology current to our times, the First of May should remain as a symbol for all those who believe in workers rights, organized labor, and social justice for all oppressed peoples. Yes, gone are the days when Israelis (and most of the world) used to march in the hundreds of thousands however the problems of workers coming head on with an oppressive state and world system continue. It is important to mention that marches also took place in Beer Sheba, Jerusalem, and in the northern city of Nazareth, among other places.
Here is the Link to the march in Tel Aviv
Not like in Tel Aviv, with the march in Istanbul I was taken back to the days of when May Day marches gathered hundreds of thousands. From the time I woke up early in the morning I could hear the protestors blasting through loud speakers leftist music. By the time, I made my way out of my house I was greeted with thousands upon thousands marching towards Taksim square. There is good reason why May Day protests have remained alive in Turkey; since the massacre of protestors at the 1977 May Day protest, which was during the years when the leftist and rightist movements fought out their battles in the streets and eventually lead to the “cleansing” of the left following the 1980 coup d’etat, the protestors have been forbidden to return to Taksim Square. However, after years of clashes with police at different barricade points blocking their entrance to the square, last year for the first time they were allowed to return to Taksim, and they did in large numbers with almost 250,000 people celebrating. This year, with May Day falling on a Sunday, the crowds easily were doubled reaching over 500,000 protestors (sober estimate).
This year’s festivities were a real show of force with unions, left political parties (with a spectrum of all parties from the radical left to the mainstream Republican People’s Party (CHP)),and civil organizations taking part. A concert by legendary leftist Grup Yorum and Kardes Turkuler followed the speeches and the protestors sang the protests songs in unison. Speeches and songs also were held in the once forbidden Kurdish language. In short, for the Turkish left (which has little representation in the parliament), it showed that even if they cannot enter parliament due to an extremely high threshold (10%), they certainly cannot be disregarded. However, the proliferation of small fringe leftist groups present at the demonstration also shows that many of these political parties are doomed to pass on with time. While I was quite happy with the large turnout it seems like this was almost a “good-bye” to massive May Day celebrations, a closure of sorts for all those who remember the bloodshed of the 1970’s, the oppression of the 1980’s-1990's, and also their children who grew up with the stories.
What remains clear is that May Day has survived despite everything and will continue to be relevant for years to come...
Here is the Link to the March in Istanbul