May Day protesters demand more job protections amid pandemic

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PARIS (AP) — Workers and union leaders dusted off bullhorns and flags that had stayed furled during coronavirus lockdowns for slimmed down but still boisterous — and at times violent — May Day marches on Saturday, demanding more labor protections amid a pandemic that has turned economies and workplaces upside down.

In countries that mark May 1 as International Labor 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.

In Turkey and the Philippines, police prevented the May Day protests, enforcing virus lockdowns and making hundreds of arrests. In France, some marchers battled with riot police.

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

In France, thousands took to the streets with union banners and flags, hemmed in by and sometimes scuffling with riot police. The face masks worn by many marchers were a reminder of how much life has changed since the last traditional May Day celebrations — in 2019, before the spreading coronavirus wrecked lives and livelihoods and eroded civil liberties, often including the right to demonstrate.

Riot police clashed with some demonstrators in Paris and the southern city of Lyon, while burning roadblocks threw clouds of smoke into the Paris air. Police charged crowds to catch suspected troublemakers and fired small amounts 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 passed off without incident.

Some demonstrations, constricted by coronavirus restrictions, were markedly less well-attended than those before the pandemic. Russia saw just a fraction of its usual May Day activities amid a coronavirus ban on gatherings. The Russian Communist Party drew only a few hundred people to lay wreaths in Moscow. For a second straight year in Italy, May Day passed without the usual large marches and rock concerts.

But in France, Germany and other places where rallies were allowed, workers vented their concerns over jobs and protections. In Bosnia, coal miner Turni Kadric said he and his colleagues are “barely surviving.”

In Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, thousands voiced anger at a new jobs law that critics fear will reduce severance pay, lessen restrictions for foreign workers and increase outsourcing as the nation seeks to attract more investment. Protesters in the capital of Jakarta laid mock graves on the street to symbolize hopelessness and marches were being held in some 200 cities.

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