Workers across France clashed with police at hundreds of International Workers’ Day demonstrations in protest of President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform bill that raised the country’s retirement age.
Macron last month signed a law to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, despite months of strikes against the bill. Labor unions remain incensed by the change and asked workers to voice their discontent by taking to the streets this May Day.
“This is wrong,” Sacha Crombecque, a 27-year-old government environmentalist, said at a protest in Paris. “The government says we are in need of money to pay the pensions but there is money. There are a lot of rich people in France.”
“The money is here — you just have to take it,” he added. “But, Macron is a friend of rich people and he criticizes real people.”
More than 500 workers from 24 labor organizations marched on the streets between 16th Street BART Plaza and City Hall on Monday to demand rights for workers and immigrants.
The protest was part of the International Workers’ Day on May 1.
While the United States doesn’t officially join the more than 160 countries in recognizing International Labor Day, immigrant workers in San Francisco’s Mission District set the tone for the day.
Skirmishes between protesters and police grew particularly heated in Paris and Lyon. Demonstrators lit ride-share bicycles on fire and threw Molotov cocktails or small petrol bombs in the capital and lit cars on fire in Lyon, according to Reuters. In one instance, a police officer’s vest caught on fire.
Paris authorities said they extinguished a building fire on the Place de la Nation, a square famous for having the most active guillotines during the French Revolution. It’s unknown whether anyone was hurt or the extent of the damage.
Many alleged black bloc agitators were part of the growing violence that included the smashing of bank and business windows across numerous cities.
And Raechel writes in this article, “May Day was born in Chicago in 1886. During the late 19th century, workers, tired of 10 to 16 hour days and little pay began to organize along socialists and anarchist principles. Whether informal unions, political parties or cultural groups, working class people in the United States were motivated by their dismal conditions and the hope they found in anti-capitalist ideas. With discussion about unfair working conditions spreading like a fever, the 1884 Convention of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, or the FOTLU, concluded with a declaration that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1st, 1886.” Both the FOTLU and the Knights of Labor would support strikes and demonstrations to achieve it. When May 1st finally arrived, 40,000 workers went on strike in Chicago and over 300,000 workers across the United States walked off their jobs.
For two days, rallies and demonstrations ensued without violence. But on May 3rd, police attacked and killed picketing workers at the McCormick Reaper Works plant. Labor leaders called for a public meeting to protest the deaths set for the evening of May 4th in Haymarket Square. The events that ensued at Haymarket are fuzzy. A chaotic scene of protestors and police became the site of a bomb explosion whose source has never been proven, followed by gunshots. When things were quiet, the scene left nearly a dozen dead. The exact numbers are disputed, but the Illinois Labor History Society states that seven policemen and four workers were killed. Despite having no hard evidence on their side, the police placed blame on eight people they to be anarchists: Albert Parsons, August Spies, Samuel Fielden, Oscar Neebe, Michael Schwab, George Engel, Adolph Fisher and Louis Lingg. These charges were rooted in not only anti-anarchist and anti-communist sentiment of the time, but also deeply entrenched xenophobia.
“It commemorates the struggle of workers over the centuries to be human,” said Liz Medina, Executive Director of Vermont’s State Labor Council.
The U.S. Labor Movement took off in the 1880′s as union workers in Chicago rallied for an eight hour day. The peaceful demonstrations came to an end in Haymarket Square as a bomb was thrown into the crowd, killing eleven people.
“This is really day of celebrating the achievements workers have achieved over the years such as an eight hour work day, safety, better wages, healthcare…but also looking forward,” Medina said. She continues on to say more unions and the ‘Pro Act’ would improve working conditions here in Vermont.
One of its sponsors is Progressive Representative Emma Mulvaney-Stanak. “The Pro Act stands for protecting the right to organize,” she said.
The ‘Pro Act’ is currently being worked on in a house committee. The bill has three primary functions which are to make becoming a union a one step process, banning mandatory staff meetings meant to discourage unions, and allowing farm workers to unionize. “They can’t organize under federal law,” Mulvaney-Stanak explained. “They’re in a no-mans land of labor rights. This would be a significant workers right issue for domestic workers and agriculture workers, who are mostly folks of color and women.”
Organizations that are already unionized such as the Howard Center and Starbucks say unionizing allows them to advocate in the workplace, making it a win for everyone. Though, many employers are against unions for fear of profit loss or lawsuits.
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