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

PARIS (AP) — Tens of thousands marched in cities across Europe on Sunday for May Day protests to honor working people 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 and a fast food restaurant and tore down street signs. apparently the work of men dressed and masked in black. The police intervened, firing tear gas canisters.

May Day is often a time of great emotion for trade unionists and other workers, and protests over the past two years have been limited by pandemic restrictions.

Turkish police moved quickly in Istanbul and surrounded protesters near the closed off Taksim Square – where 34 people were killed in a 1977 May Day event when shots were fired into the crowd from a building .

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 May Day rally drew thousands of people, who sang, chanted and held up banners, a protest organized by the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey.

Police arrest a protester who tried to defy a ban and march in Taksim Square to celebrate May Day in Istanbul, Turkey, May 1, 2022. Photo by Kemal Aslan/Reuters.

In Italy, after a two-year pandemic lull, an outdoor mega-concert was staged in Rome with rallies and protests in cities across the country. Besides work, peace was an underlying theme, with many calls for an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Italy’s three main unions were concentrating their main rally in the hilltop town of Assisi, a frequent destination of peace protests.

“It’s a May 1st 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 through North Macedonia’s capital, Skopje, demanding 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.

READ MORE: German employers and trade unions jointly oppose boycott of Russian natural gas

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 presidential vote and is now in talks with other left-wing parties in France, including the once-dominant Socialists who are now 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, with the Communist-backed CGT union leading the main march in eastern Paris. 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 for the government to continue to provide good pension benefits to the French.

“May 1 is the time to mobilize for a reduction in working hours. This reduction means one key thing – that workers should get a bigger share of the wealth,” Melenchon said.

In a first, 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 last Sunday’s presidential run-off and plans to campaign to retain her seat as legislator.

“I come to tell the French that the vote 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.”

Nicole Winfield in Rome, Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul, Demetris Nellas in Athens, Oleg Cetinic in Paris contributed to this report.


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