No job at all, or a job without enough virus protections — millions of workers around the world are marking international labour day trapped between hunger and fear, as more countries and states reopen for business even though the coronavirus pandemic is far from vanquished.
Beijing’s Forbidden City cracked open its doors and shopping malls from Texas to Indiana are set to do the same Friday, as world leaders try to find a way to salvage virus-battered economies without unleashing new waves of infections.
With traditional May Day marches curtailed by confinement, Turkish protesters tried a wildcat protest, California activists plan strikes, Czechs will honk car horns and French workers are singing from balconies to plead their causes: workplace masks, health insurance or more government aid for the jobless.
It’s a melancholy May Day for millions of garment industry workers across southeast Asia like Wiryono, a father of two in Indonesia’s capital who was laid off last month as retailers slashed orders. His side gig delivering coffee dried up, too, amid the 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, who goes by only one name.
In Bangladesh, production is starting back up even though the number of new confirmed cases of a virus that has infected more than 3.2 million and killed at least 230,000 is continuing to rise.
“Either we want people dead, or we want something else. The first priority is to protect,” French far-left union leader Philippe Martinez said Friday on France-Inter radio.
He praised France’s temporary unemployment measures and state health care system but said that’s not enough, warning that teachers could refuse to return to work when French schools start reopening May 11 if their safety isn’t guaranteed.
Lockdowns couldn’t extinguish the May Day protest spirit in Greece, where demonstrators lined up two meters apart in careful rows in Athens’ Syntagma Square. Organizers, wearing masks and gloves, used tape measures to set out exact positions for the protesters to stand, marking the positions with large colored squares.
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May Day labour protests started in the 19th century in the U.S., where the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits surpassed a staggering 30 million this week. Economists say joblessness in April could hit numbers not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Essential workers will strike around the U.S. on Friday to demand safer conditions during the coronavirus outbreak, while other groups plan rallies against tight stay-at-home orders they say are crippling the U.S. economy.