What are the first three things that come to mind when we say America?
If you said baseball, apple pie, and radical unions for the advancement of workers’ rights, then give yourself a pat on the back!
That’s right, May Day has rolled around again, a holiday from the good old U.S.A. Well, kind of. It has its roots in paganism, but May Day as we know it has been around since 1886, when more than 300,000 people from around the United States went on strike. The action centered around Chicago, where — with anarchists at the forefront — workers marched with incitements such as “one pound of dynamite is better than a bushel of ballots!”
Lisbon’s May Day march didn’t have the pitchforks and torches of days past, but there was still plenty of energy, anger, and calls for change. This annual demonstration started at Martim Moniz and headed to Alameda Dom Afonso Henriques. It was dominated by the Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses, and there was barely a moment in which “CGTP” couldn’t be heard on one of the many loudspeakers.
The demonstration had a peaceful, positive, and inclusive atmosphere, with people of all ages taking part. The crowd was predominantly older folk, which is a little disheartening, but there was a young contingent of Bloco de Esquerda.
A sign reading “Error 404: Habitação Not Found” caught our eye, and we headed over for a chat. They were highlighting one of the most dominant issues being discussed in Lisbon today: the lack of affordable housing. With a minimum wage of €580 a month and rents of well over €1000 for a small flat, it is no surprise that the youth are struggling. The young man with the sign claimed that while the minimum wage is this low and the cost of housing in Lisbon so high, there is no way for local people to find houses. He claims that the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of the tourists flooding the city. The feeling that tourism is changing the city was shared by others, with placards bemoaning gentrification and cultural degradation dotted throughout the crowd.
Some individuals had their own agenda, with one man, adorned with more signs than clothes, rallying against the privatization of CTT Correios de Portugal, the country’s postal service. Another individual, similarly clad, advocated for “work without meat.” The Save Movement member explained that he had been a vegan since 2001 when it was near impossible to find any alternatives to meat, fish, and dairy in Portugal. As we all know, the number of vegan establishments in Lisbon has boomed in recent years, but our marching man argued that while there has been change, it is not yet enough.
A surprisingly large contingent was Solidariedade Imigrante, whose aim is to raise awareness and support immigrants in Portugal. Speaking to one member of the group, they explained that the major problem immigrants face is trying to secure documentation. The Senegalese national explained that people come here to work, and to work legally. Without documentation, this is made impossible, which pushes individuals toward situations and lines of work that they would have never before considered. It is not just the complicated bureaucracy of Portugal that poses a problem, but also the high cost of the process.
Disappointingly, this active group was pushed to the end of the rally, following up behind all the other unions, groups, and bands. Despite this, they stayed steadfast in there demand to have their “workers’ rights respected.” It seems that in the end, literally, the old spirit of May Day is still being pushed by those who need it most.