May Day in Denmark

The Marxists successfully intervened in May Day, selling political material and celebrating the publication of The Revolution Betrayed in Danish as well as the new internet archive of Marxist classics in Danish, www.marxister.dk

May Day has come and gone once again. We managed to get through the disdain of the uninventive right wing and the never-ending stories in the media about beer and red sausages. But truth is that once again tens of thousands of people gathered in the morning and marched in demonstrations to gather in Fælledparken, a big park in Copenhagen, to listen to speakers from all the workers’ parties, the youth organisations and the trade unions.

One of the main speakers was the chairman of the Social Democrats, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who started her speech well. “120 years ago the May 1 tradition was started and it became a special day for our movement and our ideals – the ideals of freedom, equality and solidarity.” It could have been a strong beginning to a speech about how the Social Democrats will return to their roots and fight for welfare and refuse to accept the proposed cutbacks of the right-wing government.

She also explained that “it is not going to be easy to get anything that looks like welfare” from the government’s proposals. Despite this she concluded that, “there are many elements in the proposal of the government that we agree with. We can easily sign.”

The speech, like many speeches at the morning meetings around the country, could have been used to mobilise for the big demonstration on May 17, which large sections of the trade unions from METAL to the TUC-youth, together with the student unions and the youth sections of the workers’ movement (gathered in the initiative “Restart Denmark”), are planning under the slogan “No to cutbacks, yes to welfare and security”. Instead Helle Thorning-Schmidt begged the government to negotiate with her. She pointed out that it is “important that the agreement is a broad agreement, not just for the right-wing”.

However, it should not be a question of how broad the agreement is. It is a question of the degree and depth of welfare which is the important thing about the agreement.

“Welfare-politics are not bloc-politics”, thundered Helle Thorning-Schmidt. The truth of the matter is that there are two distinct classes in society with irreconcilable interests. There are all us ordinary workers and youth who need welfare and other social reforms and there are the rich capitalists, to whom the government gives tax-relief.

Welfare did not drop from the sky and was not given freely. Welfare is the product of the 100-year struggle of the workers’ movement. If welfare is to be secured and broadened, then struggle is needed. May 17 is the first step in this direction. A 24-hour general strike must be the next step. Big mobilisations and the threat of a general strike forced the French government to withdraw the hated CPE. The Danish workers’ movement can learn from this.

The press has described the speech of Helle Thorning-Schmidt as rather offensive. The lines: “We won’t whip people who can’t move. But we would very much like to whip the government,” has been repeated time and again. The strong Social Democratic criticism of the reductions in unemployment benefits for those between the ages of 19 and 25 as well as for those unemployed over the age of 55, and the reduction in education support income, is a positive step and something that must be supported.

But where was the criticism of the attacks on pensions and immigrants? There are plenty of resources in Danish society – workers create them everyday – but they end up in the pockets of the capitalists.

This year’s May Day was not about struggle, but this was due to the leadership of the workers’ movement, which gave no concrete direction or lead for struggle. This was not helped by the fact that there were no references to the demonstration on May 17 – which they themselves are planning!

In a recent opinion poll more than half of all Danes, 54 percent, think, “Denmark is a class society”. While the Social Democrats are low in opinion polls, a survey shows that it is by far the party that the Danes least want to do without in the parliament. Furthermore, 78.8 percent of the members of the large union 3F want no changes in the retirement wage, and are ready to fight for it – if the leaders of the trade unions show the way.

The demand must be that the workers’ parties unite around a joint programme to stop all attacks on the public sector and instead expand it, nationalise the 200 largest companies in Denmark, reduce the hours of the working day and create jobs for the unemployed. In short the demand must be for a workers’ government on a socialist programme.

The Marxists around Socialistisk Standpunkt had a stall in both Copenhagen and Århus. This year was a big step forward for the Marxists - May 1 marked the day that Socialistisk Standpunkt launched the reprinting of Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed in Danish, which has been out of print for decades. We also launched the internet archive of Marxist classics in Danish, www.marxister.dk.

Besides these achievements we also sold many pamphlets and papers. Sales of political material were up more than 30 percent this year.

One of our bestsellers was a newly produced T-shirt with a picture of Karl Marx and the internet address of Socialistisk Standpunkt, which was also worn by a rapper on the big stage in Fælledparken.