From Bangladesh to Europe, workers sound off on poor conditions

May Day gatherings protest austerity and ‘slave labor’


Tens of thousands of angry protesters staged May Day rallies in several countries of the crisis-wracked eurozone on Wednesday, while fury also erupted at demonstrations in Bangladesh after a deadly building collapse.

Although numbers were lower than in previous years, thousands took to the streets in Spain, some brandishing flags reading “6,202,700” — a reference to the record number of people out of work in the recession-hit country.

“This austerity is ruining and killing us,” read one banner in Madrid, blasting the unpopular German-led policy of squeezing budgets in response to the eurozone’s three-year debt crisis, hiking the unemployment rate to 27 percent of Spain’s working population.

Meanwhile, a strike in Greece stopped ferry services and disrupted public transport in Athens as workers marched against austerity in a country whose jobless rate is also around 27 percent. Waving brightly colored flags, nearly 13,000 people answered the call of unions and leftist groups to rally in the country, facing its sixth year of recession and making painful job cuts in efforts to appease international creditors.

Unemployment has reached a staggering 59 percent among Greece’s under-25s.

In France, where unemployment has hit a record-high 3.2 million people, the far-right National Front party of Marine Le Pen, which also traditionally marches May 1, called for a light of hope in a country “locked in the darkness of Europe.”

France “is sinking into an absurd policy of endless austerity . . . because it’s about always saying yes to Brussels, to Berlin of course, and to financial moguls in all circumstances,” she said.

Pope Francis used a Mass at his residence to mark May Day, urging political leaders to fight unemployment in a sweeping critique of “selfish profit” that he said “goes against God.” He slammed as “slave labor” conditions in the Bangladesh factory that collapsed last week, killing more than 400 workers. Its employees were paid just $50 a month.

In Dhaka, protesters holding red banners and flags chanted “Hang the Killers, Hang the Factory Owners” after the devastating caving in of the garment factory, as rescuers warned the final toll could surpass 500. Police put the number of protesters at the main rally at more than 20,000, with smaller-scale protests elsewhere in the capital and other cities across Bangladesh.

In Turkey’s biggest city, Istanbul, police fired tear gas and water cannon at stone-throwing protesters trying to gather for a banned demonstration. More than 30 people, mostly police, were injured and 72 arrests made as fighting erupted in three neighborhoods leading to Taksim Square — a traditional hub for leftist May Day protests — where authorities had blocked off the streets.

And some 20,000 protested in Croatia, where unemployment stands at 22 percent and union leaders warned they were giving their government a “last chance to change direction.”

Thousands also marched in Portugal, with anger directed against the so-called Troika of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund that has imposed strict austerity measures in return for bailouts worth billions of euros.

In Berlin, a traditional scene of May Day clashes, far-left militants smashed bank windows, vandalized cars and threw stones at police, officers said.

Earlier, members of the neo-Nazi NPD faced off with counterdemonstrators. Police said stones and bottles had been thrown, and some 20 arrests were made. About 40,000 residents of the southern district of Kreuzberg, usually plagued by violent incidents, turned out to demonstrate for peace.

Even in relatively wealthy Switzerland, which is not part of the European Union, nearly 13,000 people demonstrated against the income gap between bosses and employees.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin revived the Soviet-era May Day tradition of handing out “Hero of Labor” awards. “Creating a strong, wealthy Russia is possible only with hard work,” Putin said as he awarded medals to five people, including prominent conductor Valery Gergiev and a Siberian coal miner.

Police in Sunni Muslim-ruled Bahrain fired tear gas to disperse May Day demonstrators demanding the reinstatement of Shiites sacked from their jobs during prodemocracy protests two years ago, witnesses said.

In Morocco, thousands took to the streets of Rabat and Casablanca demanding jobs and higher pay.