2,000 comrades and supporters from all over the world tuned in across all our channels for the International Marxist Tendency’s online May Day rally: the biggest event we’ve ever held for International Workers’ Day!
The global lockdown did not dampen the comrades’ revolutionary spirits. On the contrary, the cynicism and cruelty of the ruling class in the wake of this terrible viral outbreak posed the need for socialist revolution more urgently than ever. As a result, we have been flooded with inquiries from all over the world about joining the IMT and the fight for a better future.
Our panel of speakers (chaired by Rob Sewell, editor of Socialist Appeal in Britain) gave an overview of the political situation in key countries, starting with John Peterson, editor of Socialist Revolution (USA). John explained that the coronavirus, which has cost millions of Americans their jobs and decimated the economy, is transforming class consciousness in the States – where millions of workers and youth were already being drawn to socialist ideas. After Bernie Sanders’ defeat and capitulation, John underlined that American workers need their own party for the profound crises to come.
He was followed by Serge Goulart from Brazil, who talked about how President Bolsonaro met the COVID-19 crisis by giving the banks huge handouts and offering crumbs to the workers in lockdown. If the coronavirus takes hold in the favelas – where people can barely afford soap, and live in cramped conditions – the result will be a “massacre”. The current splits in the ruling class, and the popular slogan “Fora Bolsonaro”, show the revolutionary currents developing in society. A mass struggle of workers and youth for the overthrow of capitalism is needed!
After Serge was Adam Pal from Lal Salaam: the IMT in Pakistan. Adam discussed the nightmarish situation in the Indian subcontinent, where tens of millions of jobs have been erased – and starvation, misery and death were rampant even before the pandemic. “May Day 2020 is the time to unite against our common enemy, the ruling class of the world!” Adam said. “Now is the time to raise the slogan of ‘workers of the world, unite!’”
The final panellist was Alessandro Giardiello from Italy, who spoke about the terrible impact of the coronavirus in Italy, in which at least 28,000 have died nationwide thanks to the “cynical, ruthless” actions of the bosses, who have forced workers to choose between health and pay. He also reported on the Italian comrades’ highly successful appeal to cease non-essential production, and thanked the international comrades for their support.
The event ended with an address by Alan Woods, editor of marxist.com. Alan said COVID-19 has swept the world like a ‘Biblical plague’, uncovering all the rottenness and instability in the capitalist system. He spoke about the pessimism of the far-sighted bourgeoisie, who vainly hope for an economic “rebound” after this crisis, but understand that it could rival or exceed the Great Depression of the 1930s. While millions face unemployment and death, the reformists are scrabbling to form national alliances with the right-wing parties. By contrast, Alan said that we must face this new period of crisis and tumult with “absolute confidence in the ideas of Marxism, and in ourselves… What is required is to unite all the revolutionary forces of workers and youth into the ranks of the only genuine Marxist international: the International Marxist Tendency!”
It was an inspiring conclusion to a highly successful event, which – judging by the lively participation of viewers on our website, Facebook and twitter – was tremendously received by all who took part! Despite the challenging circumstances, this was our most successful May Day event ever, and a watershed in the development of our organisation. Long live May Day! Long live the working class! Long live the IMT!
Below, we share reports from local May Day events held by our various sections around the world.
Sweden: a revolutionary 1 May
160 people participated in Revolutionary May Day, organised by Revolution – the Swedish section of the IMT. Due to social distancing restrictions, it took place online with video conference software and was streamed on both Youtube and Facebook.
Jannis Tsiamis (operating technician at a hospital in Stockholm), Thea Wilhelmsson (restaurant worker), and Oscar Gunnarsson (train attendant) spoke about different aspects of the crisis and stressed the dangerous conditions that workers now face in every sector.
“Everybody understands that you can get infected at work”, Thea Wilhelmsson pointed out. “That ordinary workers at hotels, restaurants and cafés – and their loved ones – were put in harm's way only to save someone else’s profits. This is something we will not forget.”
Our host for the day, Stefan Kangas, used the revolutionary enthusiasm of the event to launch our new Marxist university – for workers and youth. This will be no bourgeois university to train docile workers: it will educate revolutionary class fighters, who can build the necessary forces to overthrow capitalism. Sign up here!
Ylva Vinberg was the final speaker, and her speech was not only rousing and highly appreciated, but a fierce frontal attack on the entire existing order: “When the pandemic is over, we will take the first opportunity to step out on the streets, raise our voices and claim our revenge for those lives that are now being sacrificed.” She explained the necessity of abolishing capitalism, and building the organisation to do that. “We have no time to lose. Socialism or barbarism – those are our options. Join us in the struggle.”
After one-and-a-half months of lockdown, new COVID-19 cases in Austria are low, with the health sector never being completely overwhelmed. The social democracy for the first time since WW2 did not call for demonstrations on 1 May. But with the government starting to slowly lift the lockdown measures, there were a number of demonstrations and rallies in the streets by left-wing groups in Vienna, Graz and Innsbruck, where “Der Funke” participated under strict observance of health measures, selling our May Day paper with the title “Kurz- Corona- capitalism: We need a revolution”. In Bregenz, we called and organised a rally ourselves.
Our main activity though was an online rally, in which at one point over 200 people participated. Our main slogan was: “Against national unity, for the international revolution”. We started with a lead-off, which presented a Marxist perspective on the current crisis, how the capitalists are unable to solve any of the problems caused by the virus and the ensuing crisis. After this lead-off there was an appeal for donations, where comrades and sympathisers of the IMT showed huge enthusiasm. Before and during the meeting, over €23,000 was pledged, that which that our goal to collect € 30,000 by the summer will surely be reached! Half of the donations will go directly to the IMT, half will help to sustain and expand the work of the Austrian section.
After this, there was a number of interventions by comrades who explained the conditions in the health sector, for school students and in the metal industry, the struggle of social workers against their bosses and their own union leadership, and the revolutionary history of 1 May. They were followed by comrades from Italy, Sweden, Germany, Great Britain, Russia and Pakistan who gave their greetings, telling us about the situation in their respective countries, the struggles of the working class there and the work of the IMT. After that, the winners of raffle prizes (different works of revolutionary art, t-Shirts and books) were announced. 232 tickets totalling €1,160were sold. The whole event was then summed up with an appeal to join the Marxists in our struggle to change the world. The participants sang the International together – which was not very melodic over the internet, but all the more enthusiastic for the coming socialist revolution!
In Germany, the leaders of the DGB union federation had called off all public outdoor and indoor activities on May Day back in March under the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. So all official union rallies that were scheduled in well over 500 localities nationally were cancelled for the first time since 1945. Instead, the DGB leadership organised some online infotainment events with interviews and lots of cultural pieces. While the official trade union events took place online, there was one offline strike on May Day, which demonstrated that real strikes are possible even under the restrictions imposed by the recent decrees. In Sonthofen (Bavaria), Germany´s southernmost town and on the edge of the Alps, some 500 workers of the local Voith engineering plant have been on an indefinite strike since 23 April to fight against the closure proposed by the management. Pickets were held on May Day with masks maintaining social distancing. The workers are highly organised under IG Metall and are determined to defend their jobs. The factory has 500-year tradition of struggle, and the strike is very popular with the local population.
To fill the vacuum at least partially and set an example, in dozens of places alliances of left groups and union activists organised legal outdoor rallies at short notice, which took place under heavy police restrictions and surveillance. IMT comrades in Germany under the banner of Der Funke took part in some of these events in places like Wiesbaden, Munich, Würzburg and Freiburg, selling papers and pamphlets. In Wiesbaden, comrade Hans-Gerd Öfinger made a contribution to the rally and urged demonstrators to support the struggle of the comrades organised in the SAT trade union in the Procavi meat factory in Seville.
Demonstrators expressed solidarity, as can be seen in the Facebook picture gallery below. In Munich, local IMT comrades had their own banner calling for full pay for all workers affected by the imposition of reduced hours (short-time work). This is a hot issue as some 725,000 enterprises in Germany have applied for short-time work benefit, affecting some 10.1 million people: a quarter of the workforce. The crisis will be very deep and the strike in Sonthofen is just a harbinger of the struggles to come.
1 May in Switzerland
We witnessed a very peculiar first of May. An apparent calm reigns in Switzerland. The infection rate has fallen and the capitalists urge to reopen the closed shops and restaurants as soon as possible. 11 May will be the date we go back to normality, when schools and shops reopen. Because there is no risk of infection now, they say! And they urge people to go back to do shopping and eat out in restaurants, many threatened by foreclosure and under the pressure to pay their exorbitant rents to rich real estate developers in the city centres.
But 1 May, going out to protest was certainly not welcome in the eyes of the state. There was a nationwide ban on protests and marches. Heavy-handed police repression made sure that nobody came out to protest. Hospital personnel are heralded as heroes in the press and clapped for from the windows, but they have no right to come out to protest for higher pay and protective measures. The infections have receded enough to go shopping, work in restaurants and kitchens and to send the kids back to school, but not enough to go to a protest? It doesn’t get more hypocritical.
Because all the marches and rallies were cancelled, most May Day activities were transferred online. Due to the extraordinary situation, with a third of all workers getting their wages through emergency state subsidies, rapidly rising unemployment figures and the first examples of companies’ foreclosures and mass layoffs, even the union bureaucrats had to pull some radical slogans out of their hats, like a ban on layoffs. But they made sure to end their online speeches with the assurance to the bosses that they were only interested in defending purchasing power and did not want to infringe on their profits.
Der Funke and l’étincelle, the Swiss section of the IMT, held a bilingual online 1 May address, then watched the IMT May Day rally. We had a Zoom meeting in the evening to discuss the IMT stream, but also the events of the day. Contributions underlined the different ways the crisis has already profoundly changed lives in Switzerland, especially of the youth. We concluded that, in one year’s time, the next 1 May will take place in very different circumstances. Switzerland will be hit hard by the crisis, even if many don’t realise it yet and still believe in the rapid return of economic growth. All the figures indicate that this will not be the case. And the changing circumstances will change consciousness. By the next 1 May, we will be stronger and ready to answer the growing thirst for revolutionary ideas that one can already feel, in spite of the lockdown.
On 1 May, the comrades of Labour Fightback joined labour leaders and socialist activists across the country and helped organise an online May Day rally. This rally was held under the slogans “For a stay-home strike to secure full compensation and comprehensive PPE for all workers", “Fight capitalism” and “Workers of the world and oppressed peoples unite”.
The rally was held via video conference, and was streamed across multiple social media platforms. There were 16 speakers, with three musical performances spaced in between. In total, 4,000 people viewed the rally, and twice as many were reached in some way! Bruno Petraglia, trade unionist and Labour Fightback activist, chaired the rally with enthusiasm and appreciation for all the speakers involved. It was, in fact, through the initiative of Bruno that his union CUPE 4400 endorsed and led the original version of the rally last year.
One of the speakers was Fightback editor Alex Grant. He made it clear in his speech that this is an anti-capitalist May Day. COVID-19 has shown us that capitalism does not care for working people; that to the capitalists, we are just expendable parts of their machine. Alex pointed out that Fightback has been predicting the crisis for a long time, and that we can now expect a long recession and a period of brutal austerity. At the same time, the bosses are sitting on a trillion dollars of dead, uninvested money. We say, make the rich pay for the economic crisis they are responsible for! Hell no to making the workers pay! We need to fight for a socialist economy run by the workers, because the bosses have proven that they are not up to the task. Alex concluded with a call for all militant workers open to revolutionary ideas to join Fightback. A full report of this enthusing rally can be found here.
In Québec, the comrades of La Riposte syndicale organised an online panel titled “May Day: Workers faced with COVID-19” with four comrades presenting, plus one of the vice-presidents of the postal workers’ union, with almost 70 people registered to participate. The presentations were followed by a lively discussion over zoom which was livestreamed on Facebook. With over a thousand viewers online, no doubt that there is a palpable interest in a socialist perspective to fight COVID-19!