More than half a million people across Germany on Sunday took part in traditional Labor Day rallies to protest against large-scale unemployment and greedy managers. Riots expected in Berlin failed to materialize.
Abolish capitalism, reads the shirt
The trade unions' criticism was also directed in part against the ruling government coalition of Social Democrats and Greens as faith in their political clout and resolves continues to dwindle.
Germany's powerful trade unions accused companies of sacrificing the welfare of workers for the sake of pure greed. Addressing a crowd of several thousand at a central rally in the western town of Mannheim, the head of Germany's confederation of trade unions, Michael Sommer, said many big companies were running roughshod over the rights of workers.
He said it was unjust that so many workers nowadays had a hard time making ends meet, while managers' salaries have skyrocketed and many companies have seen rising profits
"Against job cuts," reads the sign
"In many companies in Germany workers are getting a tough treatment," he said. "Managers excel each other in displaying naked greed. Small wonder workers' rights are increasingly being perceived as an obstacle and something that should be done away with."
Sommer blamed companies for not investing enough in new jobs. He said the almost five million jobless in the country were proof of screaming injustice and a society which was becoming increasingly inhuman.
Criticizing the government
Trade union leaders also directed much of their criticism towards mainstream politicians, including representatives of the ruling government coalition, saying that they'd not done enough to keep capitalism at bay.
For the second year in a row, Social Democrat chancellor Gerhard Schröder was not even invited to the central Labor Day rally. SPD chief Franz Müntefering recently lashed out at what he called capitalist "locusts" who "chewed up" firms with no regard for the consequences.
SPD chief pelted with eggs
Franz Müntefering during the egg attack on Sunday
But he did not get the support he was fishing for at a rally in Duisburg in the western state of North Rhine- Westphalia where important regional elections will be held later this month. Müntefering was pelted with eggs, because demonstrators did not believe in the sincerity of his words. The SPD chief himself took the incident in his stride and promised his party would continue to fight for just social and economic conditions in the age of globalization.
"Just imagine a situation in which politicians from all mainstream parties here just sit back and explain to people that they're not in a position to change anything on the social and economic front," he said. Some maintain that money rules the world and use this as an excuse to do nothing. I don't agree. We have the responsibility to create the frame conditions for a humane society which keeps the forces of a free market in check."
Less street fighting
May 1 also saw the usual street fights between right-wingers and left-wing anarchists in cities such as Leipzig and Berlin. About 100 people were arrested. While 200 police officers were injured last year, this time, only three were hurt, according to reports. The protests were the most peaceful ones since riots began in 1987, according to police officials.
A spokesperson for the police in Berlin, Nicola Rothärmel, put things in perspective.
A peaceful punk in Berlin over the weekend
"Compared to previous years, the situation was relatively calm," she said. "Of course there were some who sought confrontation, but police had everything under control and stepped in immediately when riots were about to break out. That's a positive development and we hope that this level of overall peacefulness can be maintained in the years to come."
Neo-Nazi demonstrations turn violent
In the eastern town of Leipzig, however, violence broke out between neo-Nazi demonstrators and police. Some of the 1,000 far-right protestors scuffled with police, which had deployed 2,500 officers and initially prevented the start of a march from the city's main train station.
Some 2,000 leftist counter-demonstrators blocked the march route at several points and launched flares. Police cleared the area with water cannons and detained 98 people. Eighteen police were injured by rocks.
In Nuremberg, 400 members of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) staged a march at the main rail station that police guarded from a much larger group of counter-demonstrators. And in the western town of Frankenthal, some 2,000 protested against the NPD, which rallied 170 members.