By Sofie Suter
On a trip to Switzerland last year, my visit happened to overlap with Swiss Labor Day. I remember this day vaguely from my childhood days, as I used to attend the yearly event with my mother. It was nice to see that some things had not changed. People of all ages, babies to retired citizens, attended the march through Zurich to a podium where a leader of the labor movement, fighting for union rights, took the podium after being introduced by some fiddlers and a short play by a political youth group.
Something that was striking to me was that at least a third of the population which marched with signs in the Labor Day demonstration was composed of immigrants. I noticed many Kurds with signs in Arabic and Turkish. Many of the signs were about immigrant rights as well as worker’s rights. Also, the main speech which began once we reached the end point of the march, focused on immigration. The speech began with praise for the participants and the continued support of the labor party and unions fighting for fair wages and sufficient benefits: profitable employment. Then, the speaker highlighted international issues such as the many migrants dying in transit while traveling toward better economic opportunity and ended with a self-critique asserting that Switzerland must do better: to support its workers whether native or immigrants.
I appreciated how many immigrants used the right granted to them by the Swiss democracy of marching for their rights. It is a freedom many citizens of democratic nations take for granted and fail to make use of.
Unfortunately, freedom, tolerance, unity and solidarity are regularly tested. The march I’m speaking of occurred on May 1st, 2015, only a few months before the attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, and more recently Brussels. However, I hope that the sentiment of believing in the strength of the whole as a reflection of the strengths and support of all its parts will continue. We cannot be strong if we fear everything that is different, rather than embracing it and building a stronger, more diverse unity. In a few more weeks, we stand to see how the current political and social climate will affect the rights of laborers and migrants in Switzerland on May 1st.