May Day out with the CGT

Photo by Joel Richards
It was a rude awakening yesterday morning. Instead of the usual traffic rumblings and the telephone which religiously begins ringing in the office next door at nine, firecrackers and drums brought this writer to life, sounds so deafening they sounded like claps of thunder.

Preparations for International Workers’ Day began late Thursday evening with the 9 de Julio carriageway cut off, the stage literally being set for the rally called by CGT general labour confederation leader Hugo Moyano. With festivities taking place around the corner from home, living a block closer to the world’s widest avenue might have resulted in being housebound and missing out on the action.

Walking at a brisk pace up Tacuarí Street towards Belgrano Avenue where the main activities were to take place, a crowd of keen drummers with no particular affiliation to any union bustled down the road. No matter how peaceful their intentions may be, it was mildly terrifying to be confronted by this noisy, chanting army. They passed by, keen to be heard and eager to find a spot to settle in.

Turning left, the skyline was dotted with balloons and small airships, one taking free rein to precariously wrap itself around a lamp post. Enormous banners and flags name checking gas, petrol, post office, metal and hospital workers all waved briskly in the chill morning wind. Of course, the truck drivers were out in full force for their leader Moyano, a sea of green and white swirling and waving so prominently that one could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled into some tardy St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. A little boy sporting a truckers’ cap, not older than four, was plonked over the barrier by his dad. He happily played with security men, totally nonplussed by the enormity of the event. It clearly wasn’t his first time.

Close to the stage front, the drumming and frenzied dancing continued. Drink sellers snaked their way through the thousands who turned out to mark the occasion two days early — and one of the speakers even forgot the actual date. “Today, is a day for the workers. I mean, Sunday.” Another day, another demonstration.

Thirsty demonstrators snapped up more beer than they could hold, hands filled with flagpoles and drum sticks — the accessories of the moment. In contrast to the Royal wedding in London yesterday, this was organized chaos — everyone who had been invited turned up, although not necessarily in their finest garb, more than ready to enjoy the moment. Bottles of Fernet splashed messily into cut-off cola bottles and were shared around, while one enterprising man turned a tennis ball tube into a makeshift glass (see photo).

Smoke permeated the air, the end product of fireworks, clouds of CGT-green smoke blending with the meaty aromas of mobile sandwich stalls. The festive atmosphere resembled a football match, burly men balanced cat-like on the thin metal barriers punching the air to rally support from their fellow workers. Further back in the crowd, others simply waited patiently for Moyano to appear, peaked baseball caps barely jutting over the high barricades.

The leaping became more frenzied and the fire crackers more piercing two hours after the rally’s official start, and clothes were discarded despite the biting wind. Still no Moyano, although the stage was, by now, packed with around 200 politicians and union leaders. Down at the front, rally veterans had sensibly put in ear plugs — a wise investment.

As the drumming picked up, so did the euphoria. Although he sidled inconspicuously to the middle of the stage, to a backdrop of former president Néstor Kirchner giving a thumbs up and vast transparent images of Evita and Perón stage left and right, an unshaven Hugo Moyano, in a pale yellow shirt and his usual black leather jacket, had arrived.

Union Jack-of-all-trades
There was singing, there was dancing and there might even have been some kissing on 9 de Julio Avenue — but the Royal Wedding was far from the minds of the thousands of union workers who marked International Workers’ Day. However, the similarities do not end there.

Headwear was an absolute must at the City rally — one CGT member had splashed his cash on a metallic green Trilby, complete with perky white feather. However, the masses predominantly chose to sport baseball caps although one truckers’ faction donned velvety top hats which definitely had a royal purple hue.

Other accessories included flags — definitely not of the red, white and blue variety but union all the same — a perquisite alcoholic beverage with which to toast the occasion, and of course, musical instruments such as trumpets and drums. There was even a small amount of balcony action as AFIP employees headed to the top floor of their work place to catch a glimpse of the spectacle. A moment of patriotism also swept up one and all with rousing versions of each country’s respective national anthem. And then there were the guests — an all-star cast of big-name politicians such as Boudou, De Vido and Scioli — not quite as glamourous as Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie or Victoria Beckham and with less fetching headwear but crowd pleasers regardless.

In terms of bringing people together, both the nuptials of the century and the May Day rally did exactly that — while surely leaving supporters and wellwishers with a warm fuzzy glow for the next few days.

First published in Buenos Aires Herald on April 30, 2011

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