World workers express anger, gloom on May Day

1:46 PM, May 1, 2012   |    comments
Workers shout slogans during Tuesday's rally to mark May Day in Jakarta, Indonesia.
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MADRID - Banging drums and waving flags, hundreds of thousands of workers marked May Day in European cities Tuesday with a mix of anger and gloom over austerity measures imposed by leaders trying to contain the eurozone's intractable debt crisis.

Taking the baton from Asia, where unions demanded wage increases as they transformed the day from one celebrating workers rights to one of international protest, workers turned out in droves in Greece, France and Spain -- the latest focus of a debt nightmare that has already forced three eurozone countries to seek financial bailouts.

In the United States, demonstrations, strikes and acts of civil disobedience were planned, including what could be the country's most high-profile Occupy rallies since the anti-Wall Street encampments came down in the fall.

In New York City, around 100 protesters gathered in Bryant Park before heading off to picket at banks and other businesses in Manhattan, CBS Station WCBS New York reported. There were calls from organizers to protesters to disrupt traffic, but no incidents have been reported.

"A lot of what we see is wrong with the system is because corporations have so much influence over Congress," OWS organizer Alexis Goldstein told WCBS.

In downtown Chicago, a sit-in occurred involving 75 protesters that blocked the entrance to a Bank of America branch, CBS affiliate WBBM Chicago reported. With a police presence, no arrests have been reported as of late Tuesday morning. Protesters left after about an hour to join immigrant rights groups at a park. They planned to march back downtown for an afternoon rally.

Meanwhile, five men, at least three of them anarchists, plotted to blow up a bridge near Cleveland, but there was no danger to the public because the explosives were inoperable and were controlled by an undercover FBI employee, the agency said Tuesday in announcing the men's arrests.

Occupy Cleveland media coordinator Jacob Wagner said at least some of the suspects had attended the group's events but that they weren't affiliated with or representing the group.

In Boston, activities are being planned that will include a noon rally at City Hall, and a "Death of Capitalism Street Theater Funeral Procession" later in the evening, according to CBS Station WBZ Boston. Occupy Boston called for people to skip work and school, strike and not shop.

In San Francisco, the Golden Gate Ferry service was shut down Tuesday morning with protesters joining striking ferry workers, CBS affiliate KCBS San Francisco reported. Service would remain shut down until 2 p.m and could affect 6,000 riders. Also, 50 transit workers picketed outside of the San Francisco Ferry Building.

Protesters had backed away from earlier calls to block the Golden Gate Bridge, but scores of police - some carrying helmets and batons - lined the span during the morning rush hour nonetheless. Some protesters with signs stood nearby, but did not disrupt traffic.

In Los Angeles, four groups are scheduled to march before meeting up for an evening rally at Pershing Square, CBS Los Angeles reported. The L.A. rallies are expected to snarl traffic there. About 10,000 immigrant rights activists are expected to take part in the day's activities.

Meanwhile abroad, under a gray, threatening Madrid sky that reflected the dark national mood, 25-year Adriana Jaime confided she turned out because she speaks three foreign languages and has a masters degree as a translator -- but last worked for what she derided as peanuts in a university research project that was to last three years but was cut to three months. Jaime has been unemployed for six months, and sees her future as grim at best.

"I am here because there is no future for the young people of this country," she said as marchers walked up the city's main north-south boulevard, protesting health care and education spending cuts and other austerity measures. Many carried black and white placards, with the word NO and a pair of red scissors pictured inside the O.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is trying desperately to cut a bloated deficit, restore investor confidence in Spain's public finances, lower the 24.4 jobless rate, and fend off fears it will join Greece, Ireland and Portugal in needing a bailout.

Ana Lopez, a 44-year-old civil servant, said May Day is sacred for her but this year in particular, arguing the government is doing nothing to help workers and that the economic crisis is benefiting banks.

"Money does not just disappear. It does not fly away. It just changes hands, and now it is with the banks," Lopez said. "And the politicians are puppets of the banks."

In France, tens of thousands of workers, leftists and union leaders marked May Day with glee, hoping that a presidential runoff vote Sunday will put a Socialist - Francois Hollande - at the helm for the first time since 1988. Many voters fear Sarkozy will erode France's welfare and worker protections, and see him as too friendly with the rich.

"Sarkozy has allowed himself for too long to manhandle the lower classes," said Dante Leonardi, a 24-year-old in Paris. "Today we must show ... that we want him to leave."

Hollande has promised high taxes on the rich.

"We are going to choose Hollande because we want something else for France. We want to keep our jobs, we want to keep our industrial jobs, we want a new economy," said protester Serge Tanguy.

In debt-crippled Greece, more than 2,000 people marched through central Athens in subdued protests. Minor scuffles broke out in Athens when young men targeted political party stands, destroying two and partially burning another. There were no injuries.

Italian Labor Minister Elsa Fornero insisted on the need to reform labor market laws that make it virtually impossible for employers to fire workers in some situations, discouraging hiring. Because of that gridlock and the lack of work in Italy, she said, "It's not a nice May 1st."

Even in Germany, where the economy is churning and unemployment is at a record low, unions estimated that 400,000 people showed up at over 400 May Day rallies. The DGB union group sharply criticized Europe's treaty enshrining fiscal discipline and the resulting austerity measures across the continent, calling instead for a stimulus program to revive the eurozone's depressed economies.

DGB chief Michael Sommer told thousands of workers in Stuttgart that a "Marshall Plan" worth billions of euros (dollars) was needed to stimulate Europe's economy, the German news agency dapd reported.

In Moscow, the mood was resolutely pro-government, as 100,000 people - including President Dmitry Medvedev and President-elect Putin - took part in the main May Day march.

The two leaders happily chatted with participants as many banners criticized the Russian opposition movement. One read "Spring has come, the swamp has dried up," referring to Bolotnaya (Swampy) Square, the site of some of the largest opposition demonstrations.

Communists and leftists held a separate May Day rally in Moscow that attracted about 3,000. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov decried international economic troubles, saying that "without socialism, without respect for the working people who create all the main value in this land, it is not possible to get out of this crisis."

Police arrested 22 people at the rally.

Earlier, thousands of workers protested in the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan and other Asian nations, with demands for wage hikes amid soaring oil prices a common theme. They said their take-home pay could not keep up with rising consumer prices, while also calling for lower school fees and expressing a variety of other complaints.

An unemployed father of six set himself on fire in southern Pakistan in an apparent attempt to kill himself because he was mired in poverty, said police officer Nek Mohammed. Abdul Razzaq Ansari, 45, suffered burns on 40 percent of his body but survived.

In the Philippine capital, Manila, more than 8,000 members of a huge labor alliance, many clad in red shirts and waving red streamers, marched under a brutal sun for 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) to a heavily barricaded bridge near the Malacanang presidential palace, which teemed with thousands of riot police, Manila police chief Alex Gutierrez said.

Another group of left-wing workers later burned a huge effigy of President Benigno Aquino III, depicting him as a lackey of the United States and big business.

In Indonesia, thousands of protesters demanding higher wages paraded through traffic-clogged streets in the capital, Jakarta, where 16,000 police and soldiers were deployed at locations including the presidential palace and airports.

There were also protests in Taiwan, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

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