Hooded, black-clad demonstrators clashed with police in Paris on Saturday 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.
Trade unionists were joined by members of the “Yellow Vest” movement, which triggered a wave of anti-government protests three years ago, and by workers from sectors hit hard by pandemic restrictions such as culture.
Marchers, most wearing masks in line with coronavirus rules, carried banners reading, “Dividends, not unemployment benefits are the income of lazy people,” and, “We want to live, not survive”.
The Prefecture de Police, which deployed 5,000 officers in Paris, said it had prevented ‘Black Bloc’ anarchists from forming a group.
“Loads of money is going to those who have plenty and less for those who have nothing as reflected in the unemployment insurance reform plan that we want scrapped,” Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT labour union said.
About 300 rallies were organised in cities including Lyon, Nantes, Lille and Toulouse.
Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon and far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who both plan to challenge President Emmanuel Macron in next year’s presidential election, attended May Day events.
“My wish for the working class is that it can be free of the fear of being unemployed,” Melenchon told a march in Lille, adding he hoped to return to the northern city as president.
Le Pen, who had earlier laid a wreath in Paris at the statue of Joan of Arc, her party’s nationalist symbol, warned of “total chaos” if Macron is re-elected.
Macron, the former investment banker who won the presidency in 2017 promising a new way of doing politics, has seen his reform agenda become bogged down in fights with unions, while the pandemic has halted his planned pension system overhaul.
France, which has the world’s eighth-highest tally of coronavirus deaths, will start unwinding its third pandemic lockdown restrictions from Monday after a fall in infection rates.