1 May: Everything is different, but solidarity remains

FES Chairman Kurt Beck on panic buying, heroines and reflective thoughs on this year's May Day

Image: Kurt Beck of FES / Reiner Zensen

We can be sure that 1 May 2020 will come to occupy a special place in people’s memories, all over the world. The corona virus is forcing us to change how we conduct our lives, but it also offers us an opportunity for contemplation and to think ahead.

For me personally, this is the first Labour Day since 1967 without a May Day rally. Only last year I was the keynote speaker at four trade union and SPD rallies. I shall miss meeting up with friends and colleagues. Hence these thoughts that I have put down in writing at a time when the word »solidarity« is taking on a special, very personal meaning. How should we conduct ourselves in private, but also what can we learn from the current situation?

What we really need are values such as humanity and respect for people at risk, all those who have been affected and those who have passed away, both in our own society and throughout the world, offering help instead of hoarding, making an effort instead of isolation.

But we also need to draw the right conclusions. That means, for example, not only applauding care workers, sales staff or lorry drivers as heroes, but also ensuring them better pay and decent working conditions through collective agreements.

The second important question is, who will bear the costs of the corona crisis in society and in the economy? Will we be able to get those with the biggest incomes and fortunes to pay their share or, like the financial crisis, will it turn out to be average earners that have to bear the burden of tax and social security pretty much alone?

It will also be important to decide what our community is really worth to us. Will we manage to strengthen the state and local councils with the resources they need to fund our educational institutions, child care facilities, hospitals and care homes at the level people are calling for from all sides, while at the same time properly appreciating the people who work there, paying them decent wages and recognising their contribution?

A good and contemplative 1 May 2020, then, to us all, in keeping with the DGB’s motto for the year: »In solidarity, no one is alone!«


Kurt Beck

Former Minister President

Chairman of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung e.V.


Translated from German by James Patterson

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