May Day marchers show support for human rights struggle | News | DW | 01.05.2016
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May Day marchers show support for human rights struggle

Several hundred human rights supporters took to the streets of Bonn for a May Day march - a small part of a worldwide movement. Among their demands were justice for workers, women, minorities and refugees, among others.

Benny Lautenschlager, a software developer, said he supports Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) and marches every May Day.

"All things connected with workers' rights are important, and it's why I'm here today," he told DW during the Bonn May Day march.

Many consider this the 130th anniversary of the modern struggle for workers' rights. The movement began, ironically, in the United States, where May Day has never been a holiday.

But in early May of 1886, the so-called Haymarket affair (also known as the Haymarket massacre or Haymarket riot) - a rally in support of workers' rights and against police abuses - ended in violence and mayhem.

Supporters of Abdullah Öcalan, a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers Party, carry flags with his image and other expressions of support during a May Day march in Bonn, Germany.

Supporters of Abdullah Öcalan, a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers Party. The PKK is a militant separatist group

A day earlier police apparently shot and killed several workers under circumstances that are unclear. But it is clear that, in response, workers were ready for a fight, as a poster urging laborers to attend the rally makes clear in both English and German.

"Working men Arm Yourselves and Appear in Full Force!" the poster declares.

At some point during the rally police moved in to disperse the crowd. An explosive was thrown, and then gunfire and mayhem followed. When it was all over nearly a dozen people were dead, most of them police officers, and scores more were injured.

Thus the modern May Day connection to the labor movement was born.

Several hundred marched through Bonn Sunday, under gray skies and a spring chill that seemed more befitting of March. They walked and chanted from the local headquarters of the German Confederation of Trade Unions to the old city hall, or Rathaus, at Marktplatz.

Refugees are welcome

Despite the chill, or perhaps because of it, the crowd waved flags, placards and banners, while frequently breaking into chants of "Hoch die Internationale Solidaritat," (Up with International Solidarity), or "Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here."

Among the marchers were representatives of Amnesty International.

They are pushing for full adherence to article 23 of the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which calls for workers' rights to protection against unemployment, free choice of employment, equal pay for equal work, fair pay, and the right to join trade unions - all in order to protect workers' rights.

The banner covered truck stands in front of Bonn's Rathaus at the end of the May Day rally.

The main May Day rally ended in front of Bonn's Rathaus

Bettina Hoffmann, an Amnesty campaigner, said the human rights' group is especially concerned about the plight of tens-of-thousands of Asian workers who are working to complete football stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 soccer World Cup in Qatar .

"We're collecting signatures to improve the working conditions for laborers building the World Cup stadium in Qatar," she said. "They're not free to decide to change jobs or go back home."

Amnesty estimates some 70,000 laborers - many from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh - are quasi slaves in the Gulf state, which is ruled by Qatar's absolute monarch.

Hoffmann says the foreign workers are often forced to give up their passports, receive their wages weeks or months late, and are basically trapped.

The worst part, she says, has been the response of the Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who appears indifferent to the plight of the foreign workers.

"The government of Qatar doesn't do anything to prevent it," she said, referring to the abuses.

Problems in Germany

Some of the marchers in Bonn were more focused on domestic problems. Serhado Hause, whose father fled war-torn Iran in the 1980s, appreciates living in a democracy but also laments the plight of the poor.

"I'm happy to have the possibility to live in Freedom," he said, "but there are many social conflicts, and racism.

"A big portion of society has no chance to get ahead," he said.

Hause, who gives his German mother's family name, says a full third of German society is struggling.

"You work 40 hours a week and still you don't have enough food to feed your children," he said, adding, "67 percent live well but 33 percent struggle day-to-day."

The Bonn Youth Movement, or Bonner Jugendbewegung, were among the organizers of the day's main march.

Nils Muller holds a microphone and reads from a sheet of paper to rally a crowd during a May Day march through Bonn.

Nils Muller, rallies the crowd during a May Day march through Bonn

Nils Muller, who read a speech and compelled the demonstraters to shout and chant through much of the march, said afterwards, "We're pushing for international solidarity for all oppressed people. It's a day of struggle and fighting, not just partying."

Here at home, he pointed to 1.5 million Germans working for the minimum wage, and a total of 6 million who earn less than 10,000 euros a year.

"We have the spirit to fight for a better world," he said. "The capitalists are taking over society."

Another member of Bonner Jugendbewegung, Alwina Serra Borras, pointed to the refugee crisis, which last year saw more than a million people flee war-torn countries such as, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The problem, she says, is not the crush of migrants.

"The refugees are not an economic issue," she said. " It's chance to change our society and be multi cultural."

Besides, she added, "What should we do, lock them out of Europe and let them die?"

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