MAY 1 saw supporters of the political left out in force – with 289 marches around France.
The right also marked the date – with Marine Le Pen zand Nicolas Sarkozy organising rallies in the capital.
An anti-Sarkozy feeling was strong as some 316,000 people marched, according to the police, up from 77,000 last year (750,000 according to one of the largest unions, the CGT - six times more than last year).
This included 48,000 (250,000) in Paris as well as large marches in such cities as Toulouse, Marseille and Lyon, and many smaller ones.
Marches are typical on the Fête du Travail (May 1), which has always been associated with workers’ rights. The main demands were typical – defence of jobs, salaries, protection against insecurity, fighting discrimination… - but they took a particularly political turn this year, just a few days before the second presidential election round.
This comes as tonight sees the two candidates face off in their last television debate before the second round.
In Paris the march was headed by the union leaders like Bernard Thibault of the CGT, who called on supporters to vote for Hollande, and François Chérèque of the CFDT. Many left-wing political movements joined in.
“May 1 has always been red,” said Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the Front de Gauche candidate, who came fourth in the first election round with 11%.
He made a speech in the Port-Royal district, saying: “No social demands have been wrenched away apart from through struggles.”
“They are usurpers,” he added, referring to Nicolas Sarkozy, who was organising “the real Fête du Travail” at La Place du Trocadéro, and Marine Le Pen, who had paid homage to Joan of Arc in front of the Opera.
“Today they are being given the lesson they need – that of mobilisation,” he said.
Socialist leader Martine Aubry also spoke at Port-Royal, saying it was “shocking that the president has tried to cause divisions again” with a kind of “counter May 1”.
In front of a sea of Tricolores and the Eiffel Tower, which is a “strong symbol of work” according to Training Minister Nadine Morano, the president said the unions should “put down the red flag and serve France”. He claimed 200,000 supporters turned up.
Tonight’s presidential election debate will be at 21.00 on TF1 and France 2. It will last at least two hours and deal with topics like the economy, security, immigration and foreign policy.