It is the second International Workers’ Day under Coronavirus conditions this Saturday, 1st May 2021. This time last year, Berlin was in a strict lockdown and the day was marked with a scattering of tiny demonstrations across the city. The pandemic has still not been brought under control, but the ban on protests of more than 20 people is well behind us. That means we can look forward to a return to the vibrant, militant gatherings of years past – albeit with face masks on and a 1.5-metre gap to the next participant.
The DGB, the coalition made up of the major trade unions in Germany, is once again foregoing its traditional mass march. However, its youth section in Berlin & Brandenburg has organised a bicycle protest starting at Ostkreuz at 11am. The slogan is “for a system in which we are all relevant” – recalling the term systemrelevant used during the pandemic by German politicians to refer to essential workers who, despite the attention drawn to their importance, are yet to receive any meaningful recognition through decent pay or conditions.
That will be one of a number of actions taking place on two wheels this year. The education workers’ union GEW is assembling near Nöllendorfplatz at 10:30am to call attention to the lack of regard for the safety of staff during the pandemic, and the long overdue need for investment.
Taking a much longer bike ride will be those on the MyGruni demonstration – a tongue-in-cheek but nonetheless militant protest that jokingly seeks to highlight the issues faced by residents of what it calls the “problem neighbourhood” of Grunewald, the villa district to the west of the city. With three feeder routes from all corners of Berlin converging at the Siegessäule at 13:00 before heading out to suburbia, this is set to be one of the day’s larger and livelier gatherings.
Positioning itself as a more radical alternative to the mainstream trade union events, the ‘Revolutionary May 1st‘ demonstration will take on a new importance this year. An alliance of migrant, exile, and diaspora groups has taken the lead in organising the event, acknowledging the historic importance of internationalism in the workers’ movement, as well as the intensification of racism and exploitation amid the pandemic. Unlike in previous years, the organisers have attempted to keep the protest above board by registering it with the authorities. Whether this will actually prevent repression by the police is another matter, but with support from groups like Berlin for India, Sudan Uprising and Palestine Speaks, the demonstration could be an important moment for building a truly internationalist solidarity movement in our city.