May Day protests take place in several EU capitals as workers decry austerity

Demonstrators of the UGT (General Workers’ Union) march along Avenue of Liberdade (Freedom) in Lisbon yesterday. Photograph: José Manuel Ribeiro

Demonstrators of the UGT (General Workers’ Union) march along Avenue of Liberdade (Freedom) in Lisbon yesterday. Photograph: José Manuel Ribeiro


Workers hit by lower living standards and record high unemployment staged May Day protests across Europe yesterday, hoping to persuade euro zone governments of the case for easing austerity measures and boosting growth.

Thousands of protesters marched in Madrid, snaking up the Gran Via central shopping street, waving flags and carrying placards reading “austerity ruins and kills” and “reforms are robbery”.

“The future of Spain looks terrible, we’re going backwards with this government,” said former civil servant Alicia Candelas (54) who has been without a job for two years.

The Spanish economy has shrunk for seven consecutive quarters, and unemployment stands at a record 27 per cent.

There had “never been a May 1st with more reason to take to the streets”, said Candido Mendez, head of UGT, one of two main unions that called on workers and the unemployed to join more than 80 demonstrations across the country.

String of protests
Trains and ferries were cancelled in Greece. Bank and hospital staff walked off the job after the main public and private sector unions there called a 24-hour strike, the latest in a string of protests in a country in its sixth year of recession.

About 1,000 police officers were deployed in Athens, but the demonstration passed off peacefully, with about 5,000 striking workers, pensioners and students marching to parliament holding banners reading: “We won’t become slaves, take to the streets!”

Earlier, hundreds of protesters affiliated with the Communist KKE party raised their arms in a clenched fist salute on Syntagma Square, scene of violent clashes between police and protesters during previous protests. “The economy won’t be resurrected by the bankrupt banks and the corrupt political system but by the workers and their fight,” Alexis Tsipras, leader of the anti-bailout Syriza party, told protesters.

“Our message today is very clear: ‘Enough with these policies which hurt people and make the poor poorer,’ ” said Ilias Iliopoulos, general secretary of public sector union ADEDY.

Turnout in Greece was lower than last year when 100,000 marched on Syntagma Square. The May 1st holiday falls a few days before Greek Orthodox Easter, so public schools were shut and many workers have left for holidays.

Apart from the Republic, euro zone states Greece, Portugal and Cyprus have also received sovereign bailouts.

With little or no sign of growth in the single currency area the European Central Bank is expected to cut interest rates to a record low 0.5 per cent at its policy meeting today.

But analysts say that alone will do little to lift the euro zone out of recession and several governments are openly discussing policies to try to boost growth.

Austerity mantra
Italy’s new prime minister Enrico Letta told Germany on Tuesday that his government would meet its budget commitments but expected Europe to drop its austerity mantra and do more to lift growth. German Chancellor Angela Merkel struck a conciliatory tone, saying “budget consolidation and growth need not be contradictory”.

Tens of thousands marched in Italy’s major cities to demand government action to tackle unemployment – at 11.5 per cent overall and 40 per cent among the young – and an end to austerity and tax evasion. Most marches were peaceful, but demonstrators in Turin threw hollowed eggs filled with black paint at police.

Pope Francis made a May Day appeal for governments to tackle unemployment, as “work is fundamental to the dignity of a person”.’

“I think of how many, and not just young people, are unemployed, many times due to a purely economic conception of society, which seeks selfish profit, beyond the parameters of social justice,” he told a packed St Peter’s Square. – (Reuters)