Europeans marked International Workers' Day, May 1, with traditional lily of the valley flowers and street protests. But this year’s mood was grim, with many countries feeling the health and economic backlash of COVID-19, including a double-dip recession in the 19-member euro currency zone.
The weather was cold and damp in Paris as thousands of protesters marched down Boulevard Voltaire to Place de la Nation — or Nation’s Square — a favorite guillotine spot during the French Revolution.
There was no such bloodshed during Saturday afternoon's march, but there was a similar spirit of revolt. “We’re here, we’re here … even if Macron doesn’t like it, we’re still here,” protesters chanted, referring to President Emmanuel Macron. They brandished signs that said “The Profiteers Must Pay for the Covid Crisis” and “Slavery by Banks.”
Jean-Pierre, a member of the Lutte Ouvriere workers union, said it was important to fight, especially against capitalists using the pandemic to enrich themselves.
Retiree Frikia lambasted Macron’s government for many reasons, including what she said was its lack of support for COVID-19-hit hospitals.
Last year’s International Workers' Day protests were canceled because of the pandemic. A year later, COVID-19 has hit many professions hard here, with restaurants, museums, theaters and nightclubs shuttered under rolling lockdowns and curfews.
But although the eurozone overall has tipped into a new recession, France posted a slight growth this quarter, along with a small drop in unemployment. The government plans to slowly end lockdown, although COVID-19 case numbers remain high.
Young people have been hit especially hard in this economy, however, with reports of university students going hungry. American Brennan McClure, studying in Paris, joined some of the student demonstrators.
“We’re manifesting against the change of tariffs for university, for foreign students," he said. "A lot of things pertaining to the university and how the public system is being neglected. They’re wanting more money to create equality for all the students in France.”
A year before presidential elections, Saturday's protests had particularly sharp political overtones. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who placed her party’s annual wreath at the Joan of Arc statue in Paris, warned that another term for Macron would be a disaster for France. A number of prominent leftist leaders joined the Paris march.