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May Day protests draw tens of thousands

May 1, 2019

German unions have called on workers to take to the streets to push for a Europewide minimum wage. Organizers also called for stronger collective bargaining rights and urged workers to vote in upcoming EU elections.

DGB May Day rally in Leipzig, Germany
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Endig

Tens of thousands of marchers answered calls from Germany's main trade unions — the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), Verdi and IG Metall — to take to the streets on May 1 to demonstrate for increased workers' rights.

The unions are demanding the implementation of a Europewide minimum wage as well as improved collective bargaining rights. Organizers also used speeches to implore workers to make their voices heard in upcoming European elections from May 23 to May 26.

DGB Chairman Reiner Hoffmann told Germany's dpa news agency that "Europe stands for peace and increased prosperity."

Workers of Europe unite

Hoffmann said systemic challenges such as digitalization, globalization, migration, and climate change were so massive in scale that nations alone cannot provide solutions: "In the digital era, work isn't national — it's European and global."

Speaking to demonstrators in Leipzig, Hoffmann also addressed Germany's stubborn east-west divide as regards the labor market, saying it was unfair that workers in the east had to work more hours for less money than their counterparts in the west.

He also railed against disparities in collective bargaining rights, saying, "Collective bargaining agreements must apply everywhere again."

Hoffmann underscored the importance of upcoming European elections on a broader level, as well, emphasizing the need to keep right-wing nationalists out of parliament, calling them, "the gravediggers of an open, democratic and unified Europe."

Not just for workers anymore

Though May Day protests have a long tradition in Germany and around the world — stemming from the 1880s, when workers marched for the eight-hour work day — left-wing groups have also used the date to stage showdowns with police.

Authorities in Berlin said some 5,500 officers were deployed around the city to quell any protests that got out of hand.

Barbara Slowik, president of the Berlin police force, took to Twitter early on Wednesday to "wish all those who are in our capital to express their opinion on a peaceful May Day."

Slowik said that some 2,000 officers were stationed in the Friedrichshain neighborhood, where the annual May Day demonstration took place in the evening.

Although such protests have given rise to violent clashes between protesters and police in the past, last year's were relatively peaceful. Police also say that pre-May Day gatherings on Tuesday evening were quiet in comparison with previous years.

Minimum wage doesn't apply to you

js/jm (AFP, dpa)

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