MADRID (AP) — On the front lines of May Day protests this year, along with the traditional chants, banners and marches, a gamut of emotions flowed through the crowds.
Anger. Fear. Elation. Satisfaction. Despair.
With Europe’s unemployed denouncing austerity measures and Asia’s laborers demanding higher salaries, Tuesday’s May Day demonstrations were less a celebration of workers’ rights and more a venting of fury over spending cuts, tax hikes and soaring unemployment.
The protests came just days ahead of key elections in Greece and France, whose leaders have acutely felt popular anger over policies many feel are strangling any hopes of economic recovery. The rallies reflected deep pessimism in Spain, whose fragile economy is in the cross-hairs of the European debt crisis.
Yet optimism and national pride emerged too. Over 100,000 turned out in Russia for May Day rallies that celebrated Vladimir Putin’s government. And tens of thousands of workers rallied with joy in France, hoping this would be the last week of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative leadership.
In the United States, demonstrations, strikes and acts of civil disobedience were planned, including the country’s most high-profile Occupy rallies since the anti-Wall Street encampments came down in the fall.
Under a gray Madrid sky that reflected the dark national mood, 25-year Adriana Jaime turned out to march. Jaime speaks three foreign languages and has a masters degree as a translator, but works for what she derided as peanuts in a university research project that has been cut from three years to three months due to a lack of funds.
She 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 many marchers carried black-and-white placards with the word NO and a pair of red scissors.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is trying desperately to cut a bloated deficit, restore investor confidence in Spain’s public finances, lower its 24.4 jobless rate, and fend off fears the country will join Greece, Ireland and Portugal in needing a bailout.
Despite his efforts, Ana Lopez, a 44-year-old civil servant, argued that the government is doing nothing to help workers and that the economic crisis is only 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.