May Day demonstrations in Europe call for more aid as inflation bites

PARIS – Tens of thousands of people marched in cities across Europe on Sunday for May Day protests to honor 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 flared in Paris when protesters smashed the windows of banks, a fast-food restaurant and an estate agency, apparently in part the work of masked men dressed in black. French police intervened, firing rounds of tear gas. That failed to stop a woman from attacking a firefighter who was trying to put out a fire in the street.

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

May Day is usually a time of high emotions for workers in Europe, and the protests of the last two years have been limited by the restrictions of the pandemic.

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

On Sunday, Turkish police detained 164 people for demonstrating without permits and resisting police in the square, the Istanbul governor’s office said. On the Asian side of sprawling Istanbul, a May Day union-organized gathering drew thousands of people who chanted, chanted and waved 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 strong protests during her speech. Giffey called the egg throwing “neither useful nor politically valuable”.

In Italy, after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, an open-air mega-concert was taking place in Rome after rallies and protests in cities across the country. As well as improving conditions for workers, peace was an underlying theme, with many calling for an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Italy’s three main unions held their main rally in the hilltop city of Assisi, a frequent destination for peace protests.

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

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

Thousands of workers, unemployed and pensioners peacefully marched in the North Macedonian capital, Skopje, demanding wage increases and respect for workers’ rights. Inflation, at an annual rate of 8.8% in March, is at its highest point in 14 years.

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

“The economic crisis has eaten into workers’ wages,” he said.

In France, the May Day demonstrations, which came a week after the country’s presidential election, were aimed at showing the centrist Macron the opposition he could face in his second five-year term. Opposition parties, particularly the far left and far right, are seeking to break the majority of his government in France’s parliamentary elections in June.

The Paris march was dominated by far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who came third in the first round of the presidential vote and is in talks with other leftist parties in France, including the once-dominant socialists fighting for exist. Melenchon called on potential partners to ally themselves to prevent Macron’s centrists from dominating parliament as they do now.

“Our goal is victory,” he said.

Some 250 marches and protests were taking place across France. All were pressing Macron to adopt policies that put people first and condemning his plan to raise France’s retirement age from 62 to 65. Macron says that is the only way the government can continue to provide good retirement benefits.

“May Day is the time to demonstrate for a reduction in working hours. That reduction means one key thing: that workers should get a bigger share of the wealth,” Melenchon said, condemning the violence at the Paris march, which he said overshadows workers’ concerns.

For the first time, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen was absent from her party’s traditional floral offering at the foot of a statue of Joan of Arc, replaced by the interim president of her National Rally party. Le Pen was defeated by Macron in the presidential runoff on April 24 and plans to campaign to keep her seat as lawmaker.

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

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

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