Workers of the world hit streets on May Day

On May Day, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced to the more than 1 million workers rallying in Caracas that Venezuela is marching towards “a new socialism of the 21st century.” In Brazil, more than 12,000 landless workers set off on a two-week march demanding the government speed up its land reform program. Forty thousand marched in the streets of London demanding peace, respect for all, employment and trade union rights and public services. In Berlin, 500,000 marched.

Millions of workers staged May Day rallies worldwide, from a rally of 5,000 Bangladeshis seeking a minimum wage to the streets of Moscow where workers rallied against sweeping cuts in social programs. Workers, from as diverse a list as South Africa, Mozambique, India, Nepal, Palestine, Canada, Mexico, Japan, France and Sweden, gave voice to a wide range of demands on the traditional international labor holiday.

Cuban President Fidel Castro and Pedro Ross, head of the Cuban trade union federation, addressed the more than 1 million people gathered at the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana. Both Ross and Castro blasted the Bush administration for aiding and abetting a known terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, currently in Florida. Ross demanded the immediate arrest of Posada and his extradition to Venezuela, where he faces trial on charges of helping blow up a Cuban jetliner in 1976, killing 73 people.

May Day in the U.S. fell victim to anticommunism during the Cold War and for years U.S. labor unions have been averse to recognizing the “original labor day.” Yet, in its U.S. birthplace — Chicago — both the city and state union federations gave official sponsorship to this year’s May Day rally. Some 200 workers and families gathered at the original Haymarket Square to honor Congress Hotel workers on strike for two years and Colombian trade unionists who risk their lives everyday for daring to organize.

Yet, amongst the variety of May Day celebrations, it was Venezuela’s that caught the most attention. Venezuela’s National Union of Workers (UNT) organized the massive march and rally. Observers say it marked a significant change in the political terrain of Venezuelan trade unionism. The once-dominant Central Union of Workers (CTV) has seen a decline in support since its leadership supported a U.S.-backed military coup in 2002 and later an oil industry lockout designed to bring down the elected Chavez government.

Oswald Vera, a UNT national coordinator, said, “The workers of Venezuela have shown that they support socialism and the revolutionary methods that have been implemented.”

The UNT presented a plan to Chavez and the Venezuelan National Assembly to democratize the production and consumption process by workers playing a co-equal role in managing factories and organizing industry through a “cooperative method.”

But the highlight of the demonstration was the speech by Chavez. Chavez said the goals of Venezuela’s “Bolivarian Revolution” — national sovereignty; Latin American political, economic and social integration; liberty and equality — are “incompatible with the laws of capitalism.”

Honoring the internationalist roots of May Day, Chavez paid respect to the May Day martyrs, the workers of Chicago, and sent “revolutionary greetings” to the people of the U.S.

Chavez also used the opportunity to outline the challenges ahead.

“It is only the beginning of the process, we are just beginning to construct a new state, institutions and a new society,” he said. “We are just taking the first few steps in the new economy, in production, in property relations. So we must not have any illusions and we must not yet chant that we have won.”

Chavez advocated winning more people to the revolutionary cause. “The aim must be to gain 10 million votes at the next presidential elections that are to be held in December 2006,” he said. He urged “unity, unity and more unity” and an end to infighting between supporters.

Chavez invoked Latin American revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara. “In the process of building a new society we must be critical of ourselves and must work towards what Che defined as the building of a new human being in society.”

“We are a country that has resources so that every Venezuelan can live in dignity,” Chavez said. “The capitalist system does not allow us to implement our constitution or the political, economic or social project that we want.”

Insisting there is no third road between capitalism and socialism, Chavez said, “We need to march for a new socialism of the 21st century.”