Hundreds of thousands of people across the globe joined traditional International Labour Day protests, gathering despite coronavirus restrictions.

Protesters clash with police during the annual May Day (Labour Day) rally in Paris on May 1, 2021.
Protesters clash with police during the annual May Day (Labour Day) rally in Paris on May 1, 2021. (AFP)

Workers and union leaders dusted off bullhorns and flags that had stayed furled during coronavirus lockdowns for slimmed down but still boisterous — and at times violent — May Day marches, demanding more labour protections amid a pandemic that has turned economies and workplaces upside down.

READ MORE: Covid-19 threatens jobs of nearly half of global workforce 

In countries that mark May 1 as International Labour Day on Saturday, the annual celebration of workers' rights produced a rare sight during the pandemic: large and closely packed crowds, with marchers striding shoulder-to-shoulder with clenched fists behind banners. 

In  the Philippines, police prevented the May Day protests, enforcing virus lockdowns and making hundreds of arrests. In France, some marchers scuffled with riot police.

For labour leaders, the day was a test of their ability to mobilise workers in the face of the profound economic disruptions.

In France, thousands took to the streets with trade union banners and flags, hemmed in by and sometimes scuffling with riot police. 

The face masks worn by many marchers were a reminder of how much life has changed since the last traditional May Day celebrations — in 2019, before the spreading coronavirus wrecked lives and livelihoods and eroded civil liberties, often including the right to demonstrate.

Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions stage a May Day rally in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, May 1, 2021.
Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions stage a May Day rally in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, May 1, 2021. (AP)

Some demonstrations, constricted by coronavirus restrictions, were markedly less well-attended than those before the pandemic. 

Russia saw just a fraction of its usual May Day activities amid a coronavirus ban on gatherings.  For a second straight year in Italy, May Day passed without the usual large marches and rock concerts.

READ MORE: Unions go virtual as virus wipes out May Day marches 

But in France, Germany and other places where rallies were allowed, workers vented their concerns over jobs and protections.

Demonstrations turn violent 

In Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, thousands voiced anger at a new jobs law that critics fear will reduce severance pay, lessen restrictions for foreign workers and increase outsourcing as the nation seeks to attract more investment. 

Protesters in the capital of Jakarta laid mock graves on the street to symbolise hopelessness and marches were being held in some 200 cities.

Labour activists take part in a protest on May Day or International Workers' Day in Surabaya on May 1, 2021.
Labour activists take part in a protest on May Day or International Workers' Day in Surabaya on May 1, 2021. (AFP)

Several arrested in Paris

In France, most demonstrations were peaceful, although riot police scuffled with demonstrators in Paris and the southern city of Lyon. 

Police made 46 arrests in the capital, where garbage bins were set on fire and the windows of a bank branch were smashed, momentarily delaying the march. 

More than 106,000 people marched throughout France, including 17,000 in Paris, according to the Interior Ministry.

In the French capital, trade unionists were joined by members of the "Yellow Vest" movement that triggered a wave of anti-government protests three years ago and by workers from sectors hit hard by pandemic restrictions such as culture.

In Germany, where previous May Day demonstrations have often turned violent, police deployed thousands of officers and warned that rallies would be halted if marchers failed to follow coronavirus restrictions. 

Protests in Berlin called for lower rents, higher wages and voiced other concerns. Also marching were far-right coronavirus deniers and opponents of anti-virus measures, police said.

Police use a water cannon during a left-wing May Day demonstration in Hamburg, Germany, May 1, 2021.
Police use a water cannon during a left-wing May Day demonstration in Hamburg, Germany, May 1, 2021. (Reuters)

In Italy, police faced off against a few hundred demonstrators in the northern city of Turin. In Rome, Italy’s head of state paid tribute to workers and health care workers.

“Particularly heavy has been the impact from the crisis on female labour and on the access of young people to jobs,’’ Italian President Sergio Mattarella said.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies