World’s workers rally on May Day; France braces for protests
A worker holds up a smoke stick during a May Day rally in Jakarta, Indonesia, Monday, May 1, 2023. Workers and activists across Asia are marking May Day with protests calling for higher salaries and better working conditions, among other demands. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — People squeezed by inflation and demanding economic justice took to the streets of cities across Asia and Europe to mark May Day on Monday, in a global outpouring of worker discontent not seen since before the COVID-19 pandemic sent the world into lockdowns.

French unions pushed the president to scrap a higher retirement age. South Koreans pleaded for higher wages. Spanish lawyers demanded the right to take days off. Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon marched in a country plunged in economic crisis.

While May Day is marked around the world on May 1 as a celebration of labour rights, Monday’s rallies tapped into broader frustrations at the state of today’s world. Climate activists spray-painted a Louis Vuitton museum in Paris, and protesters in Germany demonstrated against violence targeting women and LGBTQ+ people.

Celebrations were forced indoors in Pakistan and tinged with political tensions in Turkey, as both countries face high-stakes elections. Russia’s war in Ukraine overshadowed scaled-back events in Moscow, where Communist-led May Day celebrations were once massive affairs.

Across Asia, this year’s May Day events unleashed pent-up frustration after three years of COVID-19 restrictions. This year’s events had bigger turnouts than in previous years in Asian cities, as activists in many countries argued governments should do more to improve workers’ lives.

France is expecting its biggest May Day demonstrations in years, as unions march against President Emmanuel Macron’s recent move to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. Organisers see the pension reform as a threat to hard-fought worker rights and France’s social safety net.

France’s powerful unions were joined by environmental activists and other groups fighting for economic justice, or just expressing anger at Macron and what is seen as his out-of-touch, pro-business leadership. Activists opposed to the Paris 2024 Olympics and their impact on society and the environment are also expected to join the fray.

Police are deploying in force for France’s protests, and have come under fire for plans to use drones to film eventual disruptions in some cities.

In Turkey, police prevented a group of demonstrators from reaching Istanbul’s main square, Taksim, and detained around a dozen protesters, the independent television station Sozcu reported. Journalists trying to film demonstrators being forcibly moved into police vans were also pushed back or detained.

The square has symbolic importance for Turkey’s trade unions after unknown gunmen opened fire on people celebrating May Day at Taksim in 1977, causing a stampede. Dozens were killed.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has declared Taksim off-limits to demonstrations, leading to frequent clashes between police and protesters trying to reach the square. Meanwhile, small groups were allowed to enter Taksim to lay wreaths at a monument there.

In Pakistan, authorities banned rallies in some cities due to a tense security situation or political atmosphere. In Peshawar, in the country’s restive northwest, labour organisations and trade unions held indoor events to demand better workers’ rights amid high inflation.

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