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Pope condemns unemployment on Labor Day

Workers angered by low wages, spending cuts and job culls have marked May Day worldwide. Pope Francis has decried unemployment as "socially unjust." A walkout has crippled Greece. Indonesian workers slammed fuel prices.

The new Argentine head of the Roman Catholic Church underscored May 1 international day of labor rallies in many countries on Wednesday by urging global leaders to "re-launch" the employment sector.

Unemployment and "labor market difficulties in various countries" were caused by economic thinking "based on selfish profit outside the bounds of social justice," Pope Francis told thousands of followers in St Peters Square in Rome.

Work, said Francis, was "fundamental for dignity."

Pope decries 'slave labor'

Vatican radio later quoted the pontiff as saying during a private mass that the victims of Bangladesh's recent workplace disasters had worked under "slave labor" conditions.

"Not paying fairly, not giving a job because you are only looking at balance sheets, only looking at how to make a profit. That goes against God!" the radio quoted him as saying.

His remarks followed calls in Manila by thousands of laborers for better working conditions and a higher Philippine' minimum wage. "Junk privatization," protestors cried, referring to recent trends to privatize and out-source public services.

Indonesia saw one of its biggest May Day rallies in years on Wednesday as 55,000 workers decried government plans to trim subsidies and make fuel more expensive.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had said on Tuesday that savings generated by the subsidy cut were needed for infrastructure projects.

Clashes in Istanbul, strike in Greece

Turkish protestors – some throwing stones - defied a renewed ban on assembly in central Istanbul. Police used water cannon and sprayed tear gas in bids to disperse demonstrators.

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May 1 traditions

In Greece, ferries to the nation's numerous islands remained docked as seamen took part in a 24-hour general strike. Rail services were halted and hospitals were functioning with skeletal staff.

The two largest private and public sector unions, GSEE and ADEDY, are against the government's plan to cut 15,000 public sector jobs by the end of 2014 and further reductions to wages and pensions.

Rallies were also planned in more than 80 cities in Spain, where unemployment has surged past 27 percent.

Societal foundations 'destroyed'

At the German DGB Trade Union Federation's main union rally in Munich, DGB head Michael Sommer (pictured above among leading marchers) demanded higher tax rates for Germany's wealthy.

The Basic Law [Germany's constitution] stipulated that ownership required obligations, Sommer said. "That is no longer taken seriously by the rich and powerful."

"It cannot be that our society is sustained almost alone by taxpayers and consumers while the rich and beautiful live leisurely."

Policies of deregulation of the past 30 years had not only "destroyed good work" but had also destroyed that "foundations of socially responsibly economic practices," he said, resulting in job temping, poverty-level wages, and precarious job contracts.

The DGB staged a series of rallies across Germany, including one in Berlin.

In France, thousands of Labor Day demonstrators condemned the government's austerity measures and demanded that President Francois Hollande change course.

The number of people in France registered as job seekers climbed to a record high of 3.2 million in March. Erstwhile supporters of Hollande have accused him of reneging on his election campaign promise to champion growth over austerity.

ipj/dr (epd, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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