International Labor Day: Protests, Unrest, and Business Continuity 2024

International Labor Day: Protests, Unrest, and Business Continuity 2024
April 16, 2024 sdcpm
International Labor Day - TorchStone Global

International Labor Day: Protests, Unrest, and Business Continuity 2024

By TorchStone Senior Intelligence Analyst Ben West and Intelligence Analyst Mare Cunningham

The United States celebrates Labor Day on the first Monday of September, but the rest of the world (along with many U.S. activists) recognize May 1 as International Labor Day. Protests and labor actions are common around the world on May 1, also known as “May Day.” While most actions remain peaceful, they occasionally become violent. As of mid-April, TorchStone is tracking dozens of protests planned for May 1 on issues ranging from the conflict in Gaza, ongoing environmental activist campaigns, farmer protests in Europe, and contentious elections around the world. Organizations in the United States and especially abroad should work now to assess the threat of protests and consider the best responses.

A Brief History

May 1 has been associated with large gatherings to celebrate the return of warm weather in the northern hemisphere for thousands of years. However, it began taking on a more confrontational tone in the late 19th century following the Haymarket incident in Chicago, IL. At least eight people died on May 4, 1886, when workers, anarchists, and police clashed outside McCormick Reaper Works during protests calling for an eight-hour workday. Five years later, in 1891, the Second International, consisting of various communist and socialist groups around the world, declared May 1 an international day for the worker, launching the concept of International Labor Day. To distance itself from communist influence and the violence associated with the roots of International Labor Day, the United States eventually adopted the first Monday in September as Labor Day.


In the modern era, May Day rallies still promote workers’ rights, including the right to unionize. However, the causes have expanded to include a broad spectrum of issues associated with the political left. They include immigration rights, anti-war, anti-capitalism, LGBTQ+ rights, environmental issues, and others.

While most May Day protests remain peaceful, there is a precedent of disruptions, property damage, and violence at these events dating back to the Haymarket incident. May Day protests have the potential to attract the involvement of Black Bloc protest tactics: smaller cells of more radicalized protesters, generally associated with the anarchist or antifa movements, who infiltrate peaceful protests intending to instigate violence. They typically dress in all black, tend to conceal their faces, and carry backpacks full of supplies ranging from incendiary devices, blunt weapons, and spray paint. The presence of Black Bloc elements at a May Day event greatly increases the likelihood of trouble ahead.

In recent years, protests have focused on rising living costs, cuts in social spending, and climate change. Below are some examples of disruptive May Day protests over the previous year.

Recent May Day Protest Activity

International Labor Day protests in 2020 & 2021 were constrained due to the COVID-19 pandemic and focused on pandemic-specific issues. In 2022, protests returned to normal levels of activity and shifted to more traditional concerns over inflation and cuts to social spending programs.

  • AFL-CIO-associated labor organizations rallied in Manhattan targeting locations associated with Starbucks and Amazon to pressure the companies into allowing workers to unionize.
  • Protests in Paris turned violent when demonstrators smashed bank windows and defaced street signs in opposition to President Macron’s successful re-election and anticipated pension reforms. Police responded with tear gas.
  • Turkish police arrested 164 people for demonstrating without a permit in Istanbul’s Taksim Square.
  • In India, sex workers in Kolkata rallied to decriminalize sex work and trade unions held rallies across multiple cities.

Reflecting on May Day 2023, contentious legislative measures and labor union disruptions emerged as the primary drivers behind protest mobilization, fueling participation in May Day demonstrations last year.

May Day 2024

Anticipating 2024, several influences are fueling this year’s gatherings. These include demonstrations in support of Palestine amid the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict, escalating boldness in tactics among environmental activists, protests from unionized farmers, and demonstrations linked to the impending elections.

The map below shows locations of planned International Labor Day protests as of April 15. TorchStone expects dozens more protests to be organized over the coming week and plenty of unannounced protests, as well.

Global May Day

Map Showing a Sample of Global May Day Events Planned from April 28 Through May 11, 2024

Pro-Palestinian Protest Movements

The biggest issue leading up to this year’s International Labor Day is global opposition to the ongoing conflict in Gaza. In the six months since Hamas carried out a cross-border attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, the protest movement has evolved to be almost exclusively pro-Palestine and anti-Israel and has been associated with an increase in antisemitism.

April 9, 2024: Approximately 50 pro-Palestinian demonstrators were arrested by Capitol Police in Washington, D.C., for charges related to crowding, obstructing, or causing inconvenience after they entered the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

March 26, 2024: Jordanian security forces clashed with pro-Palestine demonstrators who were trying to make their way to the Israeli embassy in Amman. There were dozens of injuries and arrests over two days of protests. Predominantly Muslim countries that have relations with Israel (like Jordan) have faced pressure to cut diplomatic ties with Israel over the conflict in Gaza.

February 17, 2024: Hundreds of thousands of protesters rallied in major cities around the world calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Protests were predominantly peaceful, but there were arrests and minor disruptions associated with the coordinated protest actions.

February 3, 2024: Pro-Palestine activists shut down the I-40 bridge in Memphis, TN crossing over the Mississippi River. Dozens of protesters linked arms, blocking all lanes of traffic on the bridge while calling on lawmakers to push for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Environmental Campaigns

Environmental activist groups are solidifying their presence in the protest landscape, with emerging entities such as Youth Demand, inspired by Just Stop Oil, alongside other groups like Climate Defiance and Last Generation, intensifying their disruptive campaigns and adopting bolder tactics in 2024. These activists target companies, financial institutions, and political figures who either oppose their goals outright or fail to enact changes swiftly enough. Climate change groups are also conducting protest actions on behalf of the pro-Palestine campaign, broadening their target set. As a result, protests outside government buildings and corporate offices, leisurely marches through streets, and public events disruptions have become common.

April 10, 2024: In central London, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) saw a joint effort between the newly formed climate activist group Youth Demand and Palestine Action, as they defaced the walls with red paint. Law enforcement intervened, leading to the arrest of five members. Only a day earlier, the two groups had organized a demonstration outside the residence of Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer.

March 29, 2024: Activists from Climate Defiance singled out Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan during the Digital Trust Summit at Brown University. Despite not being attendees, they stormed into the room during the opening remarks, forming a blockade in front of Moynihan, bombarding him with questions while brandishing a banner that denounced the bank with the phrase “Bank of Atrocities.”

March 12, 2024: During the Catalyst Awards Dinner, a dozen Climate Defiance activists infiltrated the stage area where Chevron CEO Mike Wirth was being interviewed. While three speakers directed shouts at Wirth, others displayed two large banners behind him. The activists maintained a locked-arm formation and persisted in shouting as they escorted Wirth offstage.

Unionized Farmer Protests

European farmers persist in organizing within and beyond their regions, amplifying a protest movement fueled by discontent with EU farming policies. The surge in protests in 2024, triggered by concerns over Ukrainian grain imports and inadequate pricing for their produce, has led to go-slow protests and road blockades across Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, and Spain. These farming groups typically initiate their campaigns with localized protests on rural roads before escalating to demonstrations in capital cities, major highways, border crossings, and port facilities.

March 20, 2024: In their ongoing protest against non-EU farm imports, especially from Ukraine, and EU environmental regulations, Polish farmers conducted tractor blockades nationwide. Disruption of Ukrainian exports through the Black Sea resulted in a surge of grain crossing Poland’s border, leading to reduced food prices. Polish authorities reported 580 planned protests, with an estimated participation of nearly 70,000 individuals. The farmers persist in blocking access roads to Warsaw and other major cities.

February 23, 2024: Amidst blaring horns, a multitude of tractors entered Paris, France, as farmers prepared to protest President Emmanuel Macron’s presence at a significant farm fair in the city. Their grievances centered on concerns regarding costs, bureaucratic obstacles, and environmental regulations. Protest methods included blocking highways and depositing manure in front of public buildings.

January 14, 2024: Farmers from across Germany mobilized with their tractors heading towards Berlin, urging a reconsideration of proposed tax increases. An estimated 3,000 tractors, 2,000 trucks, and 10,000 individuals were anticipated to converge near Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate for a rally on Monday, marking the culmination of a week-long protest against the government. The demonstration, spanning over a week, resulted in substantial traffic disruptions and delays.

Protests Surrounding Upcoming Elections

Nearly 40 countries around the world are holding elections in 2024 and protest activity typically increases during the electoral cycle. TorchStone has already identified upcoming elections in India (running April-June), South Africa (May 29), and Mexico (June 2) as being particularly prone to disruptive protest activity. International Labor Day on May 1 has traditionally provided an opportunity for labor unions and the political left to champion causes such as higher wages and human rights.

Police in New Delhi detained several members of the ruling BJP party and used water cannons to disperse protesters on April 10, just nine days before elections are scheduled to begin in India. The opposition party has accused the ruling BJP of interfering with elections after authorities arrested the political leader of New Delhi, who is a member of the opposition Congress party. There have also recently been nationwide protests against the implementation of a new citizenship law that many criticize as discriminating against non-Hindus. Electoral political issues could contribute to elevated levels of unrest surrounding International Labor Day on May 1.

• In South Africa, the largest trade union federation (COSATU) is encouraging members to participate in May Day rallies throughout the country to rally support for the incumbent ANC party. Promotional messaging for the events has encouraged supporters to “Crush Capitalism Now!” The ANC is facing its biggest challenge to power in 30 years, creating a tense environment leading up to the May 29 elections.

• Leading up to national elections in Mexico, anger at the government over the disappearance of 43 students in 2014 has led to two violent protest actions in recent months. First, on March 6, 2024, demonstrators used a pick-up truck to break through the doors to Mexico City’s National Palace while President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was holding a press conference inside in a major security breach. Second, on April 8, protesters set the state government building on fire and ransacked the governor’s office building in Chilpancingo, Guerrero state. More protests are likely over the coming weeks and May Day could see an escalation of such violent protest tactics.


Security professionals can prepare for May Day by first assessing the threat to their organization. Below are three key questions security professionals can ask themselves to determine if their organizations are at risk of being impacted by May Day protests.

  • Is my organization a target for May Day protesters?
  • Is my organization’s industry a target for May Day protesters?
  • Does my organization have offices or facilities in areas typically targeted by May Day protesters?

For example, companies like Starbucks and Amazon have been specifically targeted by May Day protests in the past and are likely to be targeted again. Companies in the financial services and oil & gas industries are also common targets for protesters, who tend to oppose symbols of capitalism and blame oil & gas companies for environmental disasters. Other organizations may have no connection to protesters’ ideological agenda but are simply in the path of angry protesters. Convenience stores and retail chains that have outlets in heavily trafficked downtown areas are more likely to suffer property damage simply because of their proximity to protests.

After completing a threat assessment, security professionals can come up with a plan to address the identified threats. Measures to consider include:

  • Monitor groups or individuals online that have been identified as potential threats to your organization.
  • Increase guard patrols in the days ahead of May Day to watch for suspicious activity that could precede a targeted protest action.
  • Instruct personnel to use alternate entrances to a facility to avoid main entrances, which protesters are more likely to target.
  • In critical threat scenarios, close offices/facilities and have personnel work from home.

May Day protests rarely involve physical attacks on individuals, but when they do, law enforcement officers managing the demonstrations are typically targeted. Instead, protesters have historically aimed to embarrass organizations by confronting their executives with non-lethal tactics like throwing eggs or pies, or by provoking confrontations with employees to garner attention and support their cause. Security professionals advise avoiding confrontations by using alternate entrances or closing targeted facilities when possible.

Finally, protesters sometimes resort to dramatic tactics such as technical climbing and banner drops to criticize organizations, but these actions require careful planning and pre-operational surveillance that is vulnerable to detection by vigilant security personnel. If security is tight at a chosen target, protesters are more likely to select another one.

References for Planned Events Worldwide: