Hundreds of thousands of people across the region took to the streets to celebrate workers’ rights with many, protesting about the austerity policies too. The violent scenes seen in Istanbul were not repeated in the eurozone, but there was tension in Berlin and clear anger in cities across Spain.
Unions in Greece held a May Day strike that brought ferry and train services to a halt, and organized peaceful protest marches through central Athens.
‘We are here to send a message to … those in power in Europe, that we will continue our struggle against unfair, open-ended policies that are destroying millions of jobs on a national and European level,’ said Kostas Tsikrikas, a leader of Greek public sector labor union ADEDY.
“Our message today is very clear: Enough with these policies which hurt people and make the poor poorer,” added Ilias Iliopoulos, general secretary of ADEDY.
‘The government must withdraw its austerity measures. People can’t take it any more.’
More than 100,000 Spaniards infuriated by austerity measures and economic recession took to the streets of some 80 cities in trade union-organized rallies Wednesday, with the largest protests in Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao.
Under banners reading ‘Fight for your rights,’ union leaders Ignacio Fernandez Toxo of Workers Commissions and Candido Mendez of the General Workers Union called on the government to reverse its austerity drive and urged politicians to agree an all-party economic plan aimed at creating jobs.
Speaking at one of the marches, the federal coordinator of the radical United Left party, Cayo Lara, lashed out against policies of ‘brutal adjustment and cuts’ that are leading Spain to ‘social and economic decline.’ He reminded the crowds that the Popular Party government had promised 3.5 million jobs in its election campaign in the autumn of 2011 but is now saying it will end the legislature with a million more unemployed.
He added that it would only require just half of what corporations and the rich ‘defrauded’ the nation in taxes to create three million jobs. Now was the time to accelerate opposition to the government, for a ‘rebellion in capital letters’, said Lara.
France saw 280 demonstrations and rallies, bringing around 160,000 people into the streets including in towns afflicted by the country’s industrial meltdown, like Florange, where an historic steelworks is closing.
‘International solidarity and peace in the world. No to austerity and insecurity for genuine job security,’ said one banner on a march in Paris.
‘There is a deep discontent, it must be expressed,’ said Thierry Lepaon, general secretary of the CGT.
Workers from the PSA Peugeot Citroën factory in Aulnay-sous-Bois, one of many industrial plans closing in France, chanted ‘We are workers, not thugs. The thugs are the bosses.’
Pierre Laurent, national secretary of the Communist Party, marching alongside other leaders of the Left Front said:. ‘Today is a mobilization against austerity.’ Faced with an ‘intolerable level of unemployment,’ Laurent demanded, ‘a radical change of course of government policy.’
There were hundreds of events in Germanyto mark May Day — unions say that over 400,000 people took part.
Europe’s austerity crisis was on the mind of Michael Sommer, head of the DGB federation of German labour unions, who argued that the region’s largest economy should do more to help the rest. ‘We cannot allow this continent to be ‘kaputtgespart’ – forced to save so much that it breaks apart,’ he said.
Berthold Huber, leader of the powerful metalworkers union IG-Metall, argued that there needed to be public investment in Europe and described ‘spending cuts on the backs of the unemployed, sick and elderly’ as ‘inhumane’.
There was also tension between union marchers, and seperate rallies organised by far-right groups. And in Berlin, approximately 500 supporters of the far-right extremist NPD party took part in the demonstration, while several thousand counter-protesters heckled them and tried to block their route.
May Day events in Turkey turned violent when some demonstrators, angered at a government ban on a symbolic rally point, hurled stones, gasoline bombs and fireworks at riot police. Security forces used water cannon and tear gas to prevent crowds from accessing Taksim Square, and Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu said 22 police officers and at least three passersby were injured. More than 72 demonstrators were arrested.
The square is the city’s main hub and is undergoing a major facelift. Authorities banned celebrations at Taksim this year, citing construction safety risks, and partially suspended public transport services to prevent large gatherings there. But trade unions had vowed to mark MayDay in Taksim, which has symbolic importance because dozens of protesters were killed there in 1977 when unidentified gunmen opened fire on May Day celebrators.
‘Taksim is our sacred venue. Open it up to the workers!’ demanded Kani Beko, leader of a major labour union confederation.
More than a million workers protested across Europe against spending cuts at May Day rallies on Tuesday, before weekend elections in Greece and France where voters are expected to punish leaders for austerity.
Unions in Spain, Portugal, Italy, France and Greece used the traditional marches to express anger over a an austerity drive across the euro zone.
Italian demonstrators briefly clashed with police in riot gear in Turin and thousands marched in the central city of Rieti to listen to the leaders of the country’s three main unions denounce Prime Minister Mario Monti’s reforms.
French trade unions organized about 290 demonstrations, from Marseille in the south to Strasbourg in the east, as well as in Paris. The Interior Ministry said 316,000 people turned out altogether,but the CGT estimated 750,000, three times as many as in 2011.
In Madrid, tens of thousands headed in the rain to the main square waving signs opposing cuts, while as 100,000 turning out in Barcelona, organisers said. Thousands turned out in Lisbon.
In Athens around 5,000 workers, pensioners and students marched with banners reading ‘Revolt now’ and ‘Tax the rich’. A separate rally was held the PAME communist trade union at the Hellenic Halyvourgia steel plant, whose workers have been on strike for over 6 months.
Seamen have also called a strike, meaning that ferries were tied up in the port of Piraeus until Wednesday morning.
In Athens, workers at the Piraeus-Kifissia electrical railway (ISAP) and the Athens metro began May Day with a three-hour work stoppage from the start of their shift until 8 a.m., with the latter pulling the brakes on all routes to Athens International Airport throughout the day.
Greece will vote on Sunday in a parliamentary election that risks derailing the international bailout keeping the country afloat by punishing the parties that backed the package. ‘Our message will be stronger on Sunday,’ said Maria Drakaki, 45, a public sector worker whose salary has been cut.
‘There’s no way I’m voting for one of the two main parties.’
In Greece, repeated rounds of cuts have slashed wages and pensions and deepened a recession that is now in its fifth year. Private sector wages shrunk by a quarter last year alone and one Greek youth in two is out of work.
‘These politicians cannot help us,’ said Dina Bitsi, 58, a pensioner with two unemployed sons. ‘They approved the austerity package and the bailout. We are turning our backs on them.’
The two biggest Greek parties, the Socialist PASOK and the conservative New Democracy, have ruled Greece for decades but are expected to struggle to win enough support to renew their pro-bailout coalition.
Greece’s lenders have said that if the country fails to stick to the reforms pledged in return for 130 billion euros in aid, the country might be forced to abandon the euro.
Greeks oppose the austerity measures they have been forced to endure since the country’s first EU/IMF bailout in 2010.
‘We realize there is a crisis but it’s unacceptable that even now the rich have become richer and the poor poorer,’ Bitsi said.
The marches come against a backdrop of growing frustration towards austerity that more fiscally conservative northern euro zone members say is necessary to bring deficits down to meet EU limits and end the debt crisis. Unemployment has soared and loan defaults are on the rise. In Italy there are frequent reports of suicides as people lose their jobs or their businesses fail.
In the city of Rieti in the central region of Lazio, Italy’s three main unions, CGIL, CISL and UIL, marked Labour Day with a joint anti-austerity rally and called on the government to cut taxes.
CIGL leader Susanna Camusso said the first cut could come at the end of this year, on end-of-year bumper pay packets, to be followed by a ‘structural reform’ next year.
The unions, as well as many economists, argue that demand in recession-hit Italy must be lifted if the government is to meet its deficit-balancing goal next year.
They also say workers and pensioners have borne the brunt of the austerity measures in Premier Mario Monti’s so-called ‘Save Italy’ package, passed when the country was at the centre of the euro crisis in November.
Added Camusso: ‘The policy of rigor is stupid, shortsighted. We dedicate this Mayday to this who have lost their job, to those who are searching and not finding any post, to the victims of the unfair and wrong pension reforms.”
CISL leader Raffaele Bonanni urged Monti to lift a re-imposed property tax on first homes because, he said, ‘workers and pensioners don’t have more than one home’.
UIL leader Luigi Angeletti said “in Italy not only are jobs being lost, they’re underpaid too.
‘They’re doing everything to spoil the party. This government promised us public-finance healing, equity and growth. They were quick to right the accounts but they did so in a way that only workers and pensioners are paying,’ he claimed.
May Day rallies passed off peacefully around the country except for Turin where centre-left Democratic Party (PD) Mayor Piero Fassino was heckled by anticapitalists and at Portella della Ginestra in Sicily where PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani received a similarly hostile reception from radical leftists who shouted ‘Shame on you’ and ‘clown’ because of the PD’s backing for Monti.
Thousands turned out at the rural location near Palermo to commemorate a massacre which took place there 65 years ago today, when Mafia gunmen led by the bandit Salvatore Giuliani opened fire on a small crowd of farmers and farmhands who had assembled in the hillside valley for their Labour Day celebrations.
The hail of 800 rounds of shotgun and machine-gun fire killed twelve, including two children, and left 33 injured.
On a lighter note, Rome the capital rocked during a concert offered free by trade unions in the city’s traditional leftwing stamping ground, Piazza San Giovanni.
Organisers said that, despite the threat of showers, some 300,000 young people crammed into the iconic square to hear the likes of Elisa, Subsonica, Stomp, Eugenio Finardi, Noemi, Afterhours, Almamegretta, Marina Rei, Nina Zilli and many others including the only band from abroad, Californian outfit Young the Giant.
The concert lights were set to be dimmed halfway through to commemorate all those killed in accidents at Italian workplaces, and especially a young man from Calabria, Matteo Armellini, who died when a stage being erected for Laura Pausini collapsed in March.
The eight-hour concert, covered live by the left-leaning third channel of state broadcaster RAI, was also dedicated to a musician who died in the Costa Concordia disaster, Giuseppe Girolamo.
Slogans against a painful domestic austerity drive and global financial elites were widely expected to ring out at the ‘Concertone’ (Big Concert), which has been dubbed ‘Italy’s own little Woodstock’.
The playlist included 10 rock classics from the likes of Bob Dylan, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin.
X-Factor star Noemi, for instance, was set to sing Hey Jude, while Elisa would give her take on Strawberry Fields Forever and Eugenio Finardi his interpretation of Like a Rolling Stone.
In Portugal, thousands of people rallied in Lisbon, some with placards saying ‘Stop the robbery, no more stolen wages’. The 700,000-strong CGTP union, which refused to sign a pact on labor market reforms required under a 78-billion euro EU/IMF bailout this year, rallied across Portugal under the slogan ‘Against exploitation and impoverishment, for a policy change’.
‘Austerity is not a solution for Portugal or Europe,’ said Joao Proenca, chief of the UGT union, the second biggest. ‘The pivotal issue is to promote job creation.’
Portugal’s austerity measures have deepened its recession and pushed unemployment to all-time highs of around 15 percent
Arménio Carlos, leader of CGTP, the biggest union, ‘showed the strength of will and determination of workers to celebrate in April in May and fight for April.’
In his speech, the union leader blamed decades of Portuguese misgovernment for the current economic mess in the country. ‘Those who ruled the country during the last decades are the ones who signed the so-called Memorandum of Understanding with the IMF-ECB-EU that promotes injustice and inequality, which generalizes the impoverishment of the population, increasing social exclusion and undermines democracy and national sovereignty,” he said.
The General Secretary of the CGTP urged workers to fight against the austerity measures and the attack on workers’ rights by the government, stressing that “this is a time to fight these proposals, the dehumanizing deregulation of labour relations and the shame that has been brought on the country and the Portuguese.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets around Spain on Tuesday to mark International Workers’ Day. The largest rally took place in Madrid, where the labor unions said some 100,000 people joined a march in protest against the sweeping spending cuts and labor reforms of the Popular Party government.
Spain’s jobless rate rose to near 25 percent in the first quarter, more than double the EU average, as the economy sank into recession. Even the International Monetary Fund is now questioning whether deep cuts should be made at the expense of growth.
‘The general strike of March 29 is not the end of it; the first of May is not the end of it; we’ll keep coming onto the streets to annoy them, to make them change,’ said the leader of the CCOO labor union, Ignacio Fernández Toxo. His counterpart at the UGT union, Cándido Méndez, said that the government’s labor reform plan “has brought the working conditions of China to Spain.’ Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, he said, ‘wants to impose the Thatcher mandate on us and destroy public services.’
‘There are so many reasons to protest, where do you want me to start?’ said a student in Madrid, summing up the growing sense of resentment among Spaniards at spiraling unemployment and an increasingly grim social and economic outlook. Among the placards and banners in the capital was one that read: ‘Hands up! This is a contract.’
In Barcelona, labor unions put the number of marchers at 100,000, but the local authorities placed the number at closer to 15,000. Some 80 rallies took place in 60 Spanish cities in all.
Let’s see if this society wakes up for once,’ said Vicente, a 92-year-old ‘ex-combatant of the Republic.’ ‘What else has to happen first?”
The federal coordinator of United Left, Cayo Lara, called on the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, to call an urgent summit between unions, political parties and social forces to fight unemployment, and argued for a change the production model away from ‘bricks and mortar’ as an “fundamental” objective to revive the economy.
Lara called for the resumption of demonstrations should Rajoy reject the offer and slammed the government’s for complacency after he predicted that in 2015 there will be more unemployed that in 2011.
German labor leaders urged May Day demonstrators on Tuesday to fight for big pay rises after a decade of restraint that had seen wages in crisis-hit southern Euro zone nations soar.
The head of the powerful IG-Metall union, demanding a 6.5 percent rise, described an offer of 3 percent over 14 months as a farce. From Hamburg in the north to Stuttgaqrt in the south, the mood of members rallying in sunny weather under red union flags, banging drums and blowing whistles, was combative.
‘If we don’t have a result (from talks) by Pentecost, then there will be a strike ballot and strike,” said Berthold Huber, referring to the May 27/28 holiday.
In Berlin, thousands marched through the government quarter to hear speeches at the central Brandenburg gate near the Reichstag parliament building. One brightly colored truck carried a banner reading: ‘It’s time to cough up the money.’
IG Metall, with a membership of 3.6 million, held warning strikes at the weekend and is planning more for Wednesday in Germany’s industrial heartland of North Rhine-Westphalia.
If the major unions achieved pay rises anything near their demands, pressure for a policy response would grow.
More than 750,000 people protested in 290 demonstrations Tuesday against austerity and President Sarkozy with tens of thousands of people marching in Provence, and over 200 000 in Paris. They came to say no to the austerity imposed by the European Union and the President.
The inter-union (CFDT, CGT, FSU, UNSA and Solidaires), had promised that there will be no political message on the banners of the first parades in May-but the CGT, unlike other organizations, called on voters to “beat Nicolas Sarkozy.” in the second round of elections on Sunday. In Paris, delegations from the Socialist Party and the Left Front remained in the rear of the parade. Behind a long banner that read “For international solidarity and social progress”, Bernard Thibault (CGT), Francois Chereque (CFDT), Annick Coupé (Solidarity) Bernadette Groison (FSU) and Luke Berille (UNSA) walking side by side. Before the start of the procession, Annick Coupé, spokesperson of Solidarity, admitted to the union “there wasn’t a strict separation between the political and social”. Like the CGT, Solidarity has repeatedly called Solidarity called on voters to reject Sakozy.
At Denfert , marching up front are employees from the PSA car factory in Aulnay, which is threatened with closure. ‘Sarko and Holland will discuss [on TV] tomorrow and still did nothing about our future. We are the real workers, real workers,’ Rudolph Feger, CGT union representative, said.
Francois Chereque, general secretary of the CFDT, slammed Sarkozy’s unprecedented move to hold a political rally on May day and his comments that this would be a celebration of ‘real’ work versus the traditional trade union marches. This had earlier led communist newspaper l’Humanité and various commentators likening the president to Marshal Pétain, the leader of France’s Nazi collaborationist Vichy regime in the 1940s, for trying to appropriate the ‘values of work’ for the right.
Chereque said: “May 1 belongs to workers and not to anyone else…Every time there has been a of political takeover of this day it has happened in a undemocratic context’. During the event, he emphasised unemployment and youth employment in particular, but warned, ‘those who attack unions, like Nicolas Sarkozy, are wrong, there are millions of people who vote for us.’
The secretary general of the CGT, Bernard Thibault, confirmed he called to vote to beat Sarkozy. ‘The CGT calls on people to fight the current President of the Republic…I’m surprised that some are surprised that a union of employees can have an opinion about the issues of a presidential election.’
The CGT is demanding a minimum wage of €1,700 per month and expects Francois Hollande, who has promised a summit with unions and employers if elected on May 6 before deciding on the matter, that he takes up the idea promptly. Bernard Thibault said austerity measures in the European Union had led to disaster and called for a social Europe.
‘After five years of contempt and Monarchy of Money, the time has come respect for workers, their claims and rights,’ joked Pierre Laurent, national secretary of the PCF, at the stand of the Left Front in, Versailles. ‘There is not a social demand that hasn’t been won without struggles, they are thieves,’ said left Front Presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, ‘and now they must taken the lesson from our mobilization today. ‘
Eva Joly, at the greens (EELV) stand near the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris said: ‘The French are very numerous in the street, and it is a way to say ‘we do not want a president who divides French and is also clearly anti-immigrant!’
Francois Hollande said: ‘I want to pay homage, to all trade unionists from France, to those who humbly, modestly, defend workers, they have the most beautiful of jobs – often stopping dismissals, giving dignity to workers’.
‘Yes, Labour Day is the celebration of trade unionism and I can not accept that here in France, there may be a battle on May 1 against trade unionism.’
Sources: Reuters, Ansa, El Pais, Humanite, Kathimerini