In countries marking May 1 as International Labor Day, the annual celebration of workers’ rights produces a rare sight during the pandemic: large, crowded crowds, with marches walking shoulder to shoulder with their fists behind banners.
In Turkey and the Philippines, police prevented May Day protests, imposed virus lockdowns and made hundreds of arrests. In France, some demonstrators fought riot police.
For labor leaders, the day was a test of their ability to mobilize workers in the face of severe economic disruption.
In France, thousands of people took to the streets carrying union banners and flags, surrounded and sometimes clashed with riot police. The face masks worn by many demonstrators are a reminder of how much life has changed since the last traditional May Day celebrations – in 2019, before the spread of the coronavirus destroyed lives and livelihoods and eroded civil liberties, often including the right to demonstrate.
Riot police clashed with several demonstrators in Paris and the southern city of Lyon, while a burning roadblock threw a cloud of smoke into Paris’ air. Police demanded the crowd to arrest the suspected troublemaker and fire a small amount of tear gas. Police in Paris said they made 34 arrests. Authorities also reported five arrests and 27 police officers injured in Lyon. But most of the dozens of marches across France took place without incident.
Some of the demonstrations, limited by coronavirus restrictions, were attended by far fewer than they were before the pandemic. Russia has seen only a fraction of the usual Labor Day activities amid a coronavirus ban on gatherings. The Russian Communist Party attracted only a few hundred people to lay wreaths in Moscow. For the second year in a row in Italy, May Day passed without the usual big parades and rock concerts.
But in France, Germany, other places where demonstrations are allowed, workers take their worries over work and protection. In Bosnia, coal miner Turni Kadric said he and his colleagues “barely survived”.
In Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, thousands of people voiced anger at a new labor law that critics fear will reduce severance pay, reduce restrictions for foreign workers and increase outsourcing as the country seeks to attract more investment. Protesters in the capital Jakarta laid mock graves on the streets to symbolize despair and marches were held in about 200 cities.
In the Philippine capital Manila, where a month-long coronavirus lockdown has been extended by two weeks amid a surge in infections, police prevented hundreds of workers from demonstrating in a public square, said protest leader Renato Reyes. But protesters briefly gathered on Manila’s busy highways, demanding pandemic cash assistance, wage subsidies and a COVID-19 vaccine amid rising unemployment and hunger.
“Workers are mostly left to fend for themselves while locked up,” said labor leader Josua Mata.
In Turkey, some labor leaders were allowed to lay wreaths on Istanbul’s Taksim Square but riot police stopped many others from reaching the square. The Istanbul governor’s office said 212 people were detained for violating coronavirus restrictions. Turks are barred from leaving their homes, except to collect essential food and medicine, under a May 17 lockdown aimed at stopping a spike in infections.
In Germany, where previous May Day demonstrations have often turned violent, police have deployed thousands of officers and warned that demonstrations will stop if demonstrators fail to keep up with coronavirus restrictions. The Berlin protests called for lower rents, higher wages and raised other concerns. Also lining up are right-wing coronavirus deniers and opponents of anti-viral action.
Late Saturday, one of Berlin’s larger left-wing protests turned violent with protesters throwing bottles and stones at police and burning trash containers and wooden pallets in the streets, the dpa news agency reported. An unknown number of officers and protesters were injured and several demonstrators were detained.
In Italy, police confronted several hundred demonstrators in the northern city of Turin. In Rome, the head of state of Italy pays homage to workers and health care workers.
“The most severe is the impact of the crisis on the female labor force and young people’s access to work,” said Italian President Sergio Mattarella.
Across the Atlantic in Brazil, thousands of demonstrators supporting President Jair Bolsonaro’s anti-lockdown stance rallied on Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Copacabana beach – one of several such gatherings across the country.
Bolsonaro’s office said he flew by helicopter over a similar demonstration in the capital, Brasilia, where some demonstrators carried banners urging him to call the military. There have also been protests in Brasilia and other cities against Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic. Brazil has seen more than 400,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19, the second toll after the United States.
Karmini reported from Jakarta, Indonesia, and Leicester from Le Pecq, France. AP journalists around the world are contributing.
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