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1st of May 2015 – Part One: First of May demonstration in Bremen

May 4th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

I have named this blog as “Working and Learning” and chosen to focus on that theme – in many respects. I am writing mainly on research & development projects in vocational and workplace learning. And I am discussing lessons learned in the project work in which I have been involved. Only on rare occasions I have taken up other issues. Now, to me the 1st of May 2015 gives rise to several blog posts – starting from the event itself.

1. First of May as an event of trade unions and workers’ movement

As we know it from the history, the tradition to celebrate the First of May as workers’ day emerges from the struggle of trade unions for the 8-hour working day. Now, the trade unions and the political parties of workers’ movement had already the 125th anniversary to celebrate. In Germany (as in many other European countries) the day has already long ago been established as a national holiday. And moreover, the strong trade unions have become the main organisers of the First of May demonstrations.

In this spirit the central organization of the German trade unions (DGB) had agreed on a common theme for all the demonstrations in Germany: “Future of work – we are the ones to shape it!” For us in ITB that reminded us of several earlier R&D programs of 1980s and 1990s like “Humanisation of Work” or “Social shaping of Work & Technology”. They were brought on the political agenda by the trade unions and they had put a strong emphasis on workers’ participation in developmental initiatives. The key point was on social shaping of work processes, organisation of work and the social implications of the new technologies. These earlier programs were characterized by optimistic expectations on social innovations and on the contribution of research. Now, the trade unions were very concerned of the newest developments in working life.

2. Observations on the First of May demonstration in Bremen

In the light of the above (and given that we had a public holiday) I once again attended the First of May demonstration – making observations on the participants, the issues taken up and on the atmosphere. Here some remarks on what caught my attention:

a) Trade unions concerned on recent development of industrial relations

As has been indicated above, the trade unions had raised the issue of future-oriented shaping of working life with severe concerns. At the moment there were several unsettled conflicts on trades and tariffs, including the issues on trade unions’ rights. Some of the speakers have characterized the current situation as a struggle between ‘humanisation’ vs. amazonisation of working life.’ These issues were strongly present in the demonstration and in the speeches.

b) The forthcoming elections in Bremen

As has been the case fore some time, the trade unions are the key players in organising these events and the political parties are accompanying supporters. However, during election campaigns the politicians and political parties may gain more attention. Yet, the forthcoming regional elections (10th of May) did not overshadow the event to great extent. The social democrats, left party and green party were there as usual – and the Mayor of Bremen was in the front row. But the elections were not such a hot topic. At best, the young voters were encouraged to make use of their voting rights.

c) The presence of ethnic and cultural minorities

As I had observed on earlier occasions, several communities of ethnic and cultural minorities with their own political agenda were usually present in the demonstrations. This time in particular the Alevite community of Bremen as well as the political groups of Turkish Kurds were strongly present. Given the current conflicts in their original home regions, their presence was noticed and their appeals for international solidarity were listened to.

I think this is enough of the event itself. In my next posts I will discuss some historical anniversaries that have overshadowed the weeks before and after the First of May.

More blogs to come …

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