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Wages, pensions, ecology: over 100,000 protest on Labour Day in France

Small outbreaks of vandalism and violence in Paris disrupted largely peaceful demonstrations

Demonstrations took place in around 250 different towns and cities in France on May 1, 2022. Picture is representative and shows previous Labour Day protest Pic: GERARD BOTTINO / Shutterstock

Around 250 demonstrations took place around France yesterday (May 1) as part of the traditional protests to raise awareness for workers’ rights for the Journée internationale des Travailleurs et Travailleuses (International Workers’ Day). 

It is the first time since the establishment of France’s Fifth Republic in 1958 that Labour Day has fallen after the presidential election second round. Emmanuel Macron was reelected head of state, winning against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. 

Fabrice Angéi, secretary at labour union the CGT, told Le Figaro that the organisation of the demonstrations had been somewhat overshadowed by the election. “Our concern recently was to ensure that the far-right was defeated…if we had had a fortnight more to prepare [for May 1], it would have been better,” he said.

Now that far-right former candidate Marine Le Pen has been “defeated”, he said, “it is now a question of how to make this the first protest meeting of the new [Emmanuel Macron] five-year period”.

Read more: Traditional May 1 marches expected to be quiet in France today

France’s interior ministry reported that 116,500 people took to the streets, while the CGT claimed there were over 210,000. 

Around 21,000 demonstrators turned out in Paris, while there were several thousand in Marseille, around 2,000 in Montpellier and Nantes and several hundred in Bordeaux and Nice.

The protests were largely peaceful, but violence did break out in Paris with several shops and services vandalised and eight police officers injured. In one incident a woman attacked a fireman attempting to put out a small fire. 

France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin condemned these acts, saying “thugs are disrupting the May 1 protests with unacceptable violence”. 

He said that 45 people had been arrested, but that there were “no failures” on behalf of the police and gendarmes in maintaining order. 

What happened in Paris?

A group of around 300 protestors clad in black clothes, gloves and masks broke away from the main procession shortly after it departed from the Place de la République, and clashed with police forces. 

Further along the route, a McDonalds was sprayed with anticapitalist slogans, Franceinfo reported. 

Banks, real estate agencies, insurance companies and a shop selling organic food products were also vandalised. 

In one incident, a woman attacked a firefighter who was in the process of spraying water on a pallet that was ablaze. The woman attempted to prevent the firefighter from putting out the fire, and hitting them twice on their helmet. 

“Shame on this savagery,” the sapeurs-pompiers de Paris tweeted. 

“It is incomprehensible – this new aggression against the Paris fire service who were carrying out their duty to protect the people, the city property and the progress of the demonstration. 

What did the labour unions say about the protests?

The central themes of the protests this year were spending power, wages, the environment, pensions and social equality. 

The CGT wrote in a press release published this morning (May 2):

“In the context of accelerating social and economic destruction, wars and conflicts, and the progression of extreme right-wing ideas…Labour Day was marked by the unity of workers in their deep attachment to the values of freedom, equality, fraternity and solidarity between peoples.

“Economic and fiscal policies that benefit big business and the wealthy are at the root of social inequality. The re-elected President must change his policies and listen to the aspirations of the working class.

“Everyone expressed with determination the urgent need for a response to the demands for a fairer society, based on solidarity and respect for the environment, on employment, increased wages and pensions, public services, social protection and, in particular, retirement, with a categorical refusal of a retirement age of 65.”

Mr Macron, the newly re-elected president, has long been fighting a battle to increase France’s retirement age from 62 to 65, a policy that many on the Left and Right politically strongly oppose. 

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