May 7, 2021

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May Day protesters demand workers’ rights amid pandemic

2 min read

Workers and union leaders have dusted off bullhorns and flags that had stayed furled during coronavirus lockdowns for slimmed down but still boisterous May Day marches, demanding more labour protections amid a pandemic that has turned economies and workplaces upside down.

In countries that mark May 1 as International Labour Day, the annual celebration of workers’ rights produced a rare sight during the pandemic: large and closely packed crowds, with marchers striding shoulder-to-shoulder with clenched fists behind banners.

But in Turkey and the Philippines, police prevented the May Day protests, enforcing virus lockdowns.

In Istanbul, a few labour leaders were allowed to lay wreaths at Taksim Square, but riot police stopped many others from reaching the plaza. The Progressive Lawyers’ Association said more than 200 people were detained.

Hooded, black-clad demonstrators clashed with police in Paris as thousands of people joined traditional May Day protests across France to demand social and economic justice and voice their opposition to government plans to change unemployment benefits.

Police made 34 arrests in the capital, where garbage bins were set on fire and the windows of a bank branch were smashed, momentarily delaying the march.

About 300 rallies were organised in cities including Lyon, Nantes, Lille and Toulouse.

For labour leaders, the day was a test of their ability to mobilise workers in the face of profound economic disruptions.

The face masks worn by many were a reminder of how much life has changed since the last traditional May Day celebrations in 2019, before the coronavirus epidemic wrecked lives and livelihoods and eroded civil liberties, often including the right to demonstrate.

Some marches, constricted by coronavirus restrictions, were less attended than was traditional before the pandemic. But they still served as outlets for workers’ concerns over jobs and protections.

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