Repressive governments crack down on May Day celebrations worldwide


This 1 May, workers and trade unions around the world exercised their right to freedom of association and took to the streets, calling for an end to corporate greed and for governments to promote and defend workers’ rights.


However, governments in all regions stepped in, either banning demonstrations outright, or harassing, beating and arresting workers who dared speak against their government’s anti-labour policies.

In Turkey, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at workers as they attempted to make their way to emblematic Taksim Square.

Although the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2012 that workers have a right to demonstrate in Taksim Square on May Day, the government prohibited the unions from assembling there.

Police instead moved through the side streets, attacking workers and arresting over 250 people. Several workers were injured by police violence. Those arrested have not been able to access lawyers.

In Swaziland, just prior to May Day, the government announced that only “recognised unions” will be allowed to celebrate May Day and said that they will enforce “law and order” at any rally.

The authorities have refused to recognise the legitimate trade union centre TUCOSWA as part of a blanket repression of free speech and freedom of association, and thus banned their participation in May Day. Undeterred, TUCOSWA moved forward with May Day celebrations, though police presence was extremely high, and attendance was down out of fear of violent repression – as has happened in the past.

In Bahrain, the Ministry of Interior prohibited the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) from holding its annual May Day rally. Though these rallies have been peaceful in the past, the Minister justified his decision citing security concerns and worries that the rally would be used to criticise the government.

Of course, the government has cracked down on independent trade unions since 2011, and has even established its own government-dominated labour federation to frustrate the work of the GFBTU.

The decision reflects a larger crackdown on political opposition parties, human rights groups and unions – which is possible as the international community has decided largely to look the other way.

In Iran, the government engaged in a wave of arrests leading up to May Day. They include Ebrahim Madadi, Vice-President, and Davoud Razavi, board member, of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company. They were arrested on 29 April and imprisoned.

Mahmoud Salehi, member of the Coordinating Committee to Help Form Workers’ Organisations, and Osman Ismaili, spokesperson of the Workers’ Defense Committee of Mahabad, respectively were arrested in Saqez and Mahabad on April 28, 2015.

Khaled Hosseini, member of the Coordinating Committee, was interrogated by intelligence agents in the City of Sanandaj.

On 29 April, Pedram Nasrollahi, member of the Coordinating Committee in Sanandaj was arrested by plain clothes agents who raided the home of a friend where Pedram and his wife were visiting.

Sheys Amani, a board member of the Free Union of Iranian Workers, was summoned to the Ministry of Intelligence in Sanandaj on 30 April and was interrogated for more than five hours to coerce Mr. Amani and his organisation to stop their May Day organising efforts.

In Egypt, just days before May Day, the High Administrative Court ruled that public employees have no right to strike and those who take part could be punished for impeding the ability of public institutions to deliver services.

In Malaysia, over two dozen people were arrested and detained during May Day protests, including human rights activist and lawyer Ambiga Sreenevasan. She was detained on the dubious grounds of sedition and for unlawful assembly with the intent to overthrow the government.

The right to freedom of association is under increasing attack worldwide, as governments and businesses seek to limit the power of workers.

Fortunately, workers are fighting back.