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May Day protests: Labor rights demonstrations across Europe

May 1, 2023

Labor unions in Europe organized hundreds of marches, while climate and LGBTQ+ protesters used the day to highlight their causes.

A protester holds a pink flare during a May Day demonstration in Paris
France saw hundreds of thousands march in what unions hope are the country's biggest May Day demonstrations in yearsImage: Aurelien Morissard/AP Photo/picture alliance

With May 1 marking International Workers' Day, many feeling the effects of rising inflation took to the streets of European countries to make their voices heard.

Broader societal issues were also highlighted with climate activists spray painting a Louis Vuitton museum in Paris, while in Germany

people demonstrated against violence targeting women and LGBTQ+ people.

German union boss defends right to protest

Protests in Germany began with a "Take Back the Night" demonstration organized by feminist and queer groups on the eve of May Day against violence targeting women and LGBTQ+ people.

Thousands took part in the largely peaceful demonstrations despite occasional clashes between participants and police.

Meanwhile, hundreds of May Day rallies organized by labor unions and leftist groups have taken place across Germany.

German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) said 288,000 people took part in the 398 events.

The head of Germany's industrial union IG Metall, Jörg Hofmann, strongly defended the rights of trade unions to strike.

"We will not tolerate any restriction of the right to strike: full stop, finish, period," he shouted at a rally in Berlin on Monday.

There have been numerous strikes this year by public service workers and transport staff over pay and working conditions.

The nationwide industrial action impacted health care, air, road and rail transport, postal and municipal cleaning services, among other sectors.

May Day protesters gather in Munich, Bavaria
Thousands of German workers took the streets of Munich in support of European solidarity and workers' rightsImage: Sachelle Babbar/ZUMAPRESS/picture alliance

Continued anger over Macron's pension reform

Hundreds of thousands of people massed in cities around France to vent their anger against President Emmanuel Macron's pension reform.

Protests took a violent turn as the day progressed, with protesters and security forces clashing.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told reporters that at least 108 police were wounded, with 291 detained across the country.

Protesters threw projectiles at police and broke windows of business buildings, including banks and estate agents in Paris, the French AFP news agency reported. Security forces used tear gas and water cannons in return.

Trade unions had called for more than 300 rallies and vowed to continue fighting even after the changes were signed into law.

Protests had started largely peacefully, although police in Paris arrested 22 people, while in Lyon, police used tear gas to disperse crowds after bank windows were smashed.

Sophie Binet, leader of the CGT union, said Macron's pension reform had left him isolated.

"The executive cannot govern without the support of its people," Binet said ahead of a protest in Paris, adding that a decision had not yet been made on talks with the government on other work-related matters in the weeks ahead.

Riot police officers faceoff with protesters during in Paris
French unions planned massive demonstrations around France to protest President Emmanuel Macron's recent move to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64Image: Aurelien Morissard/AP Photo/picture alliance

Italy rolls back anti-poverty subsidies

Meanwhile, Italy's right-wing government used May Day to approve measures aimed, it said, to boost employment and pay rates by cutting aid to the poor. The move came amid opposition anger over welfare cuts and loosening rules on short-term employment contracts lasting between 12 and 24 months.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni rolled back anti-poverty subsidies introduced four years ago.

Meloni said "citizens' income" benefits would be replaced by a more limited "inclusion cheque" for qualifying households.

"We are reforming the citizens' income to make a distinction between those who are able to work and those who aren't," Meloni said in a statement. 

In the northern city of Turin, anti-government protesters marched with a puppet of Meloni holding up her arm in a fascist salute.

Protestors face anti-riot police in Turin
Protestors in Turin paraded a puppet of Italy's prime minister doing a fascist saluteImage: Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images

Unions in Spain call for salaries to keep pace with inflation

In Spain, more than 70 marches were organized by the country's unions, which warned of "social conflict" if salaries did not rise in line with inflation.

A government scheme to reduce the work week to four days was praised.

The Illustrious College of Lawyers of Madrid pushed for changes to historic laws requiring them to be on call 365 days of the year.

kb/jcg (AP,dpa, Reuters)