May Day 2013: The politics of partying

While emotions were raw among the faithful on International Workers Day in Denmark, many were only there for the beer

International Workers Day is traditionally a time when workers pause to celebrate labour rights and reforms won from employers and governments in years gone by. With more people out of work across Europe than ever before, this year’s May 1 saw an outpouring of anger across the continent. While Denmark was spared the strikes and violence that marked the day in countries like Greece and Turkey, the day did not pass without incident.

Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt (Socialdemokraterne), conspicuous in her absence at the May Day rally in Fælledparken in Copenhagen, was shot with a water pistol after speaking in Aarhus and had a tomato thrown at her in Randers, where she was also mooned by another man in the crowd. Police have made four arrests related to the incidents.

Thorning-Schmidt would have likely received little support from those gathered in Fælledparken, many of whom wasted no time in blasting her for what they saw as her government’s total abandonment of leftist ideals.

“They have given tax relief to large companies on the backs of students, the elderly and people who been injured at work,” Enhedslisten spokesperson Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen told The Copenhagen Post. “This is not what people expect from a Socialdemokraterne government.”

Schmidt-Nielsen pointed to a banner above the Enhedslisten tent in the park that read, “When will the rich have to pay?”

“That is the question the prime minister has to answer,” she said.

When asked what she thought of Thorning-Schmidt’s no-show in Copenhagen, Schmidt-Nielsen said dryly, “I guess that is her business.”

"Nothing forgotten, nothing forgiven" say the teachers to the prime minister (Photo: Ray Weaver)

Copenhagen's mayor, Frank Jensen (Socialdemokraterne) had the unenviable duty of speaking in the time slot that would have been the prime minister’s. His plan was to focus on the problem of the 'social dumping' in Copenhagen and throughout Denmark.

“There are people being brought here from other countries to work for 55 kroner an hour,” Jensen told The Copenhagen Post. “That is not a living wage in Copenhagen, so they live on buses in terrible conditions.”

Jensen said that Denmark needs foreign workers but that they must be in the country under the same rules as other workers.

“We need to work with the unions and businesses to insure that all workers are protected,” he said.

Jensen’s speech was interrupted by boos and at least one smoke bomb, forcing him to leave the stage for five minutes while organisers pleaded with the crowd for order.

Jensen did eventually manage to finish his speech, although his anti-social dumping message seemed pretty much lost in mix.

One group that had no problem expressing their disdain for Thorning-Schmidt’s regime were the recently-returned-to-work teachers, who said that the government abandoned them – first by locking them out, and then by forcing them back to work with their labour issues unresolved. Teachers and their supporters overflowed the teachers' union tent and attempted to drown out speakers and literally turned their backs on those who took the main stage.

Anja Hyldgaard Løgholt, the vice president of the Frederiksberg Council teachers' union, gave a fiery speech comparing teachers to dandelions, saying that no matter how hard the government tried to stamp them out, they would scatter and bloom elsewhere. Teacher wore t-shirts saying “Look me in the eye and tell me I can be a better teacher by having less time to prepare” and “We turn our back on this government’s policies.”

"We don't give a shit about the politics," said Niklas Monberg, 21, Christoffer Monberg, 22, and Patrick Lammring, 24 ((Photo: Ray Weaver))

Not everyone there to protest

For all of the rhetoric and hot blood, Fælledparken was also filled with many who could not care less who was speaking on what issue. They were just there to enjoy some sun and a few beers.

“We are just here to hang out,” said Stephanie Lee, 23, from Copenhagen. She and her friend Lærke were tossing a tennis ball to Lærke’s dog while stretched out on a blanket.

A group of young men who were engaged in a croquet game that involved hitting the ball between beer bottles and cans rather than wickets put it even more bluntly.

“We don’t give a shit about the politics,” 22-year-old Christoffer Monberg told The Copenhagen Post.

His friend Patrick Lammring, 24, agreed.

“The politics mattered more in the old days,” he said. “These days, I bet 60 percent of the people here just come to hang out.”