Citizens and trade unions in cities around Europe were taking to the streets on Sunday for May Day marches, and put out protest messages to their governments, notably in France where the holiday to honor workers was being used as a rallying cry against newly reelected President Emmanuel Macron.
May Day is a time of high emotion for participants and their causes, with police on the ready.
Turkish police moved in quickly in Istanbul and encircled protesters near the barred-off Taksim Square – where 34 people were killed In 1977 during a May Day event when shots were fired into the crowd from a nearby building.
On Sunday, police detained 164 people for demonstrating without permits and resisting police at the square, the Istanbul governor’s office said. At a site on the Asian side of Istanbul, a May Day gathering drew thousands, singing, chanting and waving banners, a demonstration organized by the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey.
In Italy, after a two-year pandemic lull, an outdoor mega-concert was set for Rome with rallies and protests in cities across the country. Besides work, peace was an underlying theme with calls for an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Italy’s three main labor unions were focusing their main rally in the hilltop town of Assisi, a frequent destination for peace protests. This year’s slogan is “Working for peace.”
“It’s a May Day of social and civil commitment for peace and labor,” said the head of Italy’s CISL union, Daniela Fumarola.
Protests were planned far and wide in Europe, including in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, where students and others planned to rally in support of Ukraine as Communists, anarchists and anti-European Union groups held their own gatherings.
In France, the May Day rallies – a week after the presidential election – are aimed at showing Macron the opposition he could face in his second five-year term and to power up against his centrists before June legislative elections. Opposition parties, notably the far left and far right, are looking to break his government’s majority.
Protests were planned across France with a focus on Paris where the Communist-backed CGT union was leading the main march through eastern Paris, joined by a handful of other unions. All are pressing Macron for policies that put the people first and condemning his plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 65.
In a first, far-right leader Marine Le Pen was absent from her party’s traditional wreath-laying at the foot of a statue of Joan of Arc, replaced by the interim president of her National Rally party. Le Pen was defeated by Macron in last Sunday’s runoff of the presidential election, and plans to campaign to keep her seat as a lawmaker.
“I’ve come to tell the French that the voting isn’t over. There is a third round, the legislative elections,” said Jordan Bardella, “and it would be unbelievable to leave full power to Emmanuel Macron.”
Nicole Winfield in Rome, and Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul, contributed to this report.