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May Day rallies in Europe urge more help for workers as inflation bites

Riot police at a May Day demonstration march in Paris (Lewis Joly/AP)
Riot police at a May Day demonstration march in Paris (Lewis Joly/AP)

Tens of thousands of people marched in cities across Europe on Sunday for May Day protests to honour workers and shame governments into doing more for their citizens.

In France, protesters shouted slogans against newly elected president Emmanuel Macron, a development that may set the tone for his second term.

Tensions erupted in Paris, as some demonstrators broke windows at banks and a fast-food restaurant and ripped up street signs. Police moved in, firing rounds of tear gas.

Interior minister Gerald Darmanin said 45 people had been detained so far. Eight police officers had been injured, he said, calling the perpetrators of the violence “thugs” who were trying “to stop the right to demonstrate”.

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

Turkish police moved quickly in Istanbul and encircled protesters near the barred-off Taksim Square — where 34 people were killed in 1977 during a May Day event when shots were fired into the crowd from a building.

Some 164 people were detained by Turkish police for demonstrating without permits and resisting officers at the square, the Istanbul governor’s office said.

Turkish riot police during a May Day protest in Istanbul
Turkish riot police during a May Day protest in Istanbul (Emrah Gurel/AP)

On the Asian side of sprawling Istanbul, a May Day gathering drew thousands, who sang, chanted and waved banners, in a demonstration organised by the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey.

In Italy, after a two-year pandemic lull, an outdoor mega-concert was set for 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 labour unions were focusing their main rally in the hilltop town of Assisi, a frequent destination for peace protests.

Demonstrators wave flags of Italian labour unions as they attend a May Day rally in Assisi
Demonstrators wave Italian labour union flags at a May Day rally in Assisi (Mauro Scrobogna/LaPresse via AP)

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

Rising inflation and fears of upcoming food shortages from the war in Ukraine were feeding discontent around the world.

Thousands of workers, unemployed and retirees marched peacefully in North Macedonia’s capital of Skopje, demanding wage increases and respect for workers’ rights. Inflation, running at an annual clip of 8.8% in March, is at a 14-year-high.

Demonstrators hold a banner which reads 'shape the future together' at a German Trade Union Federation rally in Berlin
A German Trade Union Federation rally in Berlin (Joerg Carstensen/dpa via AP)

Darko Dimovski, head of the country’s Federation of Trade Unions, told the crowd that workers were demanding an across-the-board wage increase.

“The economic crisis has eaten up workers’ salaries,” he said.

In France, the May Day rallies — which come a week after the country’s presidential election — aimed to show the centrist Mr Macron the opposition he could face in his second five-year term.

A May Day rally in Belgrade, Serbia
People attend a May Day rally in Belgrade, Serbia (Darko Vojinovic/AP)

Opposition parties, notably from the far-left and the far-right, are looking to break his government’s majority in France’s parliamentary election in June.

Some 250 marches and protests were being held across France, with the Communist-backed CGT union leading the main rally through eastern Paris.

All were pressing Mr Macron for policies that put people first and condemning his plan to raise France’s retirement age from 62 to 65. Mr Macron says this is the only way the government can continue to provide good retirement benefits to the French.

A protester holds a sign reading 'stop Macron' during a May Day demonstration in Marseille, southern France
A protester holds a sign reading ‘Stop Macron’ during a May Day demonstration in Marseille, southern France (Daniel Cole/AP)

“May Day is the time to rally for a reduction in working time. That reduction signifies one key thing — that workers should be getting a larger share of the wealth,” far-left leader Jean-Luc 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.

Ms Le Pen was defeated by Mr Macron in last Sunday’s presidential runoff, and plans to campaign to keep her seat as a politician.

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