Thousands of people joined traditional May Day demonstrations across France on Saturday, gathering despite coronavirus restrictions to call for economic and social justice and voice their opposition to government plans to change unemployment benefits.
Around 300 rallies were organised in Paris and other cities including Nantes, Lyon, Toulouse and Lille.
In the French capital, trade unionists were joined by members of the “Yellow Vest” movement that triggered a wave of anti-government demonstrations three years ago and by workers from sectors hit hard by pandemic restrictions such as culture.
Marchers, most wearing masks in line with pandemic rules, brandished banners reading: “Dividends, not unemployment benefits are the income of lazy people” and “We want to live, not survive”.
Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT labor union, said”loads of money is going to those who have plenty and less to those who have nothing as reflected in the unemployment insurance reform plan that we want scrapped.”
Most protests were peaceful, although Lyon police scattered a group of around 200 people who were throwing fireworks, the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes prefecture wrote on Twitter.
Seventeen people were detained in Paris, where 5,000 police have been deployed, the Paris Prefecture de Police told Reuters.
A few hooded, black-clad protesters clashed with police or hurled stones and garbage bins. Police said they had prevented ‘Black Bloc’ anarchists from forming a group.
France, which has the world’s eighth-highest tally of COVID-19 fatalities, will start unwinding its third pandemic lockdown from Monday after a drop in infection rates.