May Day 2024: Workers, activists across Asia call for greater labor rights

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Workers, activists and others in Asian capitals took to the streets on Wednesday to mark May Day with protests over rising prices and governments’ labor police and calls for greater labor rights.

May Day, which falls on May 1, is observed in many countries as a day to celebrate workers’ rights. May Day events have also given many an opportunity to air general economic grievances or political demands.

Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions gather to attend a rally on May Day in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, May 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions gather to attend a rally on May Day in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, May 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

In Seoul, the South Korean capital, thousands of protesters sang, waved flags and shouted pro-labor slogans at the start of their rally on Wednesday. Organizers said their rally was primarily meant to step up their criticism of what they call anti-labor policies pursued by the conservative government led by President Yoon Suk Yeol.

“In the past two years under the Yoon Suk Yeol government, the lives of our workers have plunged into despair,” Yang Kyung-soo, leader of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, which organized the rally, said in a speech. “We can’t overlook the Yoon Suk Yeol government. “We’ll bring them down from power for ourselves.”

KCTU union members decried Yoon’s December veto of a bill aimed at limiting companies’ rights to seek compensation for damages caused by strikes by labor unions. They also accuse Yoon’s government of handling the 2022 strikes by truckers too aggressively and insulting construction sector workers whom authorities believed were involved in alleged irregular activities.

Since taking office in 2022, Yoon has pushed for labor reforms to support economic growth and job creation. His government has vowed to sternly deal with illegal strikes and demand more transparent accounting records from labor unions.

“The remarkable growth of the Republic of Korea was thanks to the sweat and efforts of our workers. “I thank our 28.4 million workers,” Yoon said in a May Day message posted on Facebook. “My government and I will protect the precious value of labor.”

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Seoul rally participants later marched through downtown streets. Similar May Day rallies were held in more than 10 locations across South Korea on Wednesday. Police said they had mobilized thousands of officers to maintain order, but there were no immediate reports of violence.

In Japan, more than 10,000 people gathered at Yoyogi park in downtown Tokyo for a May Day event, demanding salary increases that they said could set sufficiently off price increases. During the rally, Masako Obata, the leader of the left-leaning National Confederation of Trade Unions, said that winding wages have put many workers in Japan under severe living conditions and widened income disparities.

“On this May Day, we unite with our fellow workers around the world standing up for their rights,” she said, shouting “banzai!” or long life, to all workers.

Policemen try to block activists as they tried to march towards the US Embassy during a protest to mark International Labor Day in Manila, Philippines on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. Hundreds of Filipino workers from various labor groups took to the streets to mark Labor Day and demand a wage increase and job security amid soaring food and oil prices. (AP Photo/Basilio Sepe)

Policemen try to block activists as they tried to march towards the US Embassy during a protest to mark International Labor Day in Manila, Philippines on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Basilio Sepe)

In the Philippine capital, Manila, hundreds of workers and left-wing activists marched and held a rally in the scorching summer heat to demand wage increases and job security amid soaring food and oil prices.

Riot police stopped the protesting workers from getting close to the presidential palace. Waving red flags and holding up posters that read: “We work to live, not to die” and “Lower prices, increase salaries,” the protesters rallied on the street, where they chanted and delivered speeches about the difficulties faced by Filipino laborers.

Poor drivers joined the protest and called to end a government modernization program they fear would eventually lead to the removal of their dilapidated jeepneysa main mode of public transportation, from Manila’s streets.

Similar May Day rallies were expected in other Asian and European cities.

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Associated Press journalists Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and VJ Basilio Sepe in Manila contributed to this report.

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