Reeling from the deadly collapse of a building packed with thousands of factory workers, Bangladeshi laborers rallied Wednesday, marking May Day with renewed calls for workplace safety.
The death toll steadily swelled in the aftermath of the disaster last week and continued to grow Wednesday as more bodies were pulled from the rubble, reaching 412 people killed in the collapse, according to the Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha national news agency.
Outrage over the disaster spilled into May Day, an annual holiday meant to champion the rights of workers worldwide. Labor activists have accused the building owner and factory managers of forcing workers to enter the Rana Plaza building, which had visible cracks before it collapsed. Thousands of workers packed a procession through Dhaka, the capital, demanding justice for the dead.
“My brother has died. My sister has died,” one participant said from a loudspeaker on the back of a truck, the Associated Press reported. “Their blood will not be valueless.”
Bangladesh branded the public holiday with the theme “Safe Workplace, Bangladesh Will Move Forward.” Fearful that the simmering public anger could result in violence, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reportedly called for “cool heads,” saying factory owners must be mindful of worker safety but cautioning workers not to engage in “destructive activities,” the national news agency reported.
The Rana Plaza disaster followed a factory fire that claimed 112 lives. Calls for change have reverberated beyond Dhaka: The disaster moved Pope Francis to weigh in from the Vatican on Wednesday, calling the wages paid to the Bangladeshi workers who perished “slave labor,” according to Vatican Radio. The EU is weighing action to pressure Bangladesh to reform.
Rallies elsewhere around the world reflected frustration with government cuts and economic malaise. Masses of protesters took to the streets in Spain and Greece, aggravated by government austerity measures. Demonstrators in Madrid toted signs slamming the president.
In Turkey, protesters reportedly clashed with police after trying to reach a square that had been blocked by authorities. It was a location loaded with symbolism because May Day demonstrators were gunned down there 36 years ago. In Sweden, arrests and detentions followed an attempt by protesters to interrupt a parade by right-wing extremists, the Associated Press reported.