In countries that mark May 1 as International Labor Day, the annual celebration of workers’ rights produced a rare spectacle during the pandemic: large and tight crowds, with protesters marching side by side, fists clenched behind streamers. Police in Turkey and the Philippines have blocked May Day protests, imposing virus locks and making hundreds of arrests. In France, some demonstrators clashed with riot police.
For union leaders, this day was a test of their ability to mobilize workers in the face of deep economic disruption.
In France, thousands of people took to the streets with banners and union flags, surrounded by riot police and sometimes fighting with them. Face masks worn by many protesters were a reminder of how life has changed since the last traditional May 1 celebrations – in 2019, before the spread of the coronavirus destroyed lives and livelihoods and eroded civil liberties, including often understood the right to protest.
Some protests, limited by coronavirus restrictions, were significantly fewer than those before the pandemic. Russia has seen only a fraction of its usual May 1 activities amid a coronavirus ban on gatherings. The Russian Communist Party attracted only a few hundred people to lay wreaths in Moscow. For a second consecutive year in Italy, May 1 took place without the usual large marches and rock concerts.
But in France, Germany and other places where gatherings were allowed, workers have expressed concerns about jobs and protections. In Bosnia, coal miner Turni Kadric said he and his colleagues “barely survived”.
In Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, thousands have expressed anger over a new jobs law that critics say will cut severance pay, reduce restrictions on workers foreigners and will increase outsourcing as the country seeks to attract more investment. Protesters in the capital city of Jakarta put up false graves in the streets to symbolize desperation and marches were held in some 200 cities.
In the Philippine capital of Manila, where a month-long coronavirus lockdown has been extended for two weeks amid an upsurge in infections, police have stopped hundreds of workers from protesting in a public square, the said. leader of the demonstration Renato Reyes. But protesters briefly gathered on a busy boulevard in Manila, demanding cash assistance in the event of a pandemic, wage subsidies and COVID-19 vaccines amid rising unemployment and hunger.
“The workers were largely left to fend for themselves while being locked up,” union leader Josua Mata said.
In Turkey, a few union leaders were allowed to lay wreaths in Taksim Square in Istanbul, but riot police prevented many more from reaching the square. Istanbul governor’s office said 212 people have been taken into custody for violating coronavirus restrictions. Turks are not allowed to leave their homes except to collect essential food and medicine, as part of a lockdown until May 17 that aims to stem an upsurge in infections. Protests have also been banned around Taksim Square.
In France, riot police argued with protesters in Paris and the southern city of Lyon. Burning roadblocks threw clouds of smoke into the air in Paris. Police blamed the crowds in apparent efforts to catch the suspected troublemakers. Broadcaster BFM-TV reported that police fired small amounts of tear gas. Paris police said they had made 10 arrests. But the majority of the dozens of nationwide marches in France went off without incident.
In Germany, where previous May 1 protests have often turned violent, police have deployed thousands of officers and warned rallies will be halted if protesters violate coronavirus restrictions. Protests in Berlin called for lower rents, higher wages and expressed other concerns. Far-right coronavirus deniers and opponents of anti-virus measures have also demonstrated.
In Italy, police clashed with a few hundred demonstrators in the northern city of Turin. In Rome, the Italian head of state paid tribute to workers and health workers.
“The impact of the crisis on women’s work and on young people’s access to employment has been particularly heavy,” said Italian President Sergio Mattarella.
Karmini reported from Jakarta, Indonesia, and Leicester from Le Pecq, France. AP journalists from around the world contributed.
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