May Day rallies across Europe ask for more help as inflation bites

Tens of thousands of people marched in cities across Europe on Sunday for May Day protests to honor workers and shame governments for doing more for their citizens. In France, protesters shouted slogans against newly elected President Emmanuel Macron, a development that could set the tone for his second term.

Tensions erupted in Paris, as protesters smashed the windows of some banks, a fast food restaurant and a real estate agency, apparently in part the work of masked men dressed in black. The French police intervened by firing tear gas canisters. That didn’t stop a woman from attacking a firefighter trying to put out a street fire.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said 45 people had been arrested so far, including the young woman. Eight police officers were injured, he said, calling the perpetrators of the violence “thugs” who were trying “to prevent the right to demonstrate”.

Protesters stand next to rubbish and materials that were set on fire during a May Day demonstration march of the Republic, Bastille to the Nation, in Paris, France, Sunday, May 1, 2022.

Lewis Joly | AP Photo

May Day is often a time of strong emotions for workers in Europe, and protests over the past two years have been limited by pandemic restrictions.

Turkish police moved quickly in Istanbul to surround protesters near the closed Taksim Square – where 34 people were killed in a May Day event in 1977.

On Sunday, Turkish police arrested 164 people for protesting without a permit and resisting police in the square, Istanbul’s governor’s office said. On the Asian side of sprawling Istanbul, a rally organized by the May Day unions drew thousands of people who sang, chanted and held up banners.

Berlin Mayor Franziska Giffey briefly interrupted her May Day speech at a union rally where someone threw an egg at her but missed. Giffey, of the centre-left Social Democrats, was met with loud protests during her speech. Giffey called egg throwing “neither useful nor politically valid”.

In Italy, after a two-year pandemic lull, an outdoor mega-concert was held in Rome after rallies and protests in cities across the country. Along with improving conditions for workers, peace was an underlying theme, with many calls for an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Italy’s three main unions held their main rally in the hilltop town of Assisi, a frequent destination of peace protests.

“It’s a May Day of social and civil commitment for peace and work,” said the head of the Italian CISL union, Daniela Fumarola.

Rising inflation and fears of upcoming food shortages due to the war in Ukraine were fueling discontent around the world.

Thousands of workers, unemployed and pensioners marched peacefully in North Macedonia’s capital, Skopje, to demand wage increases and respect for workers’ rights. Inflation, at an annual level of 8.8% in March, is at its highest level for 14 years.

Darko Dimovski, head of the country’s Federation of Trade Unions, told the crowd that workers were demanding a general wage increase.

“The economic crisis has swallowed up workers’ wages,” he said.

In France, the May Day rallies – which took place a week after the country’s presidential election – were intended to show centrist Macron the opposition he could face in his second five-year term. Opposition parties, including far-left and far-right, are seeking to smash the majority of his government in France’s legislative elections in June.

The Paris march was led by far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who came third in the first round of the presidential election and is in talks with other left-wing parties in France, including the Socialists once dominant who are struggling to exist. Melenchon called on potential partners to band together to prevent Macron’s centrists from dominating parliament as they currently do.

“Our goal is victory,” he said.

Some 250 marches and demonstrations took place across France. All were pressing Macron for policies that put people first and condemning his plan to raise the retirement age in France from 62 to 65. Macron says this is the only way the government can continue to provide good pension benefits.

“May Day is the time to stand up for a reduction in working hours. This reduction means one essential thing – that workers should get a bigger share of the wealth,” Melenchon said, condemning the violence at the march. of Paris, which he says overshadows workers’ concerns.

In a first, the French far-right leader Marine Le Pen was absent from her party’s traditional wreath laying at the foot of a statue of Joan of Arc, replaced by the interim president of her National Rally party. Le Pen was beaten by Macron in the April 24 presidential run-off and plans to campaign to retain her seat as legislator.

“I come to tell the French that the ballot is not over. There is a third round, the legislative elections,” said Jordan Bardella of the National Rally. “It would be incredible to leave full powers to Emmanuel Macron.”

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