Share this article

print logo

Globally, anger and fear overshadow some joy

On the front lines of the world's May Day protests this year, along with the traditional chants, banners and marches, a gamut of emotions flowed through the crowds: Anger. Fear. Elation. Despair.

With Europe's unemployed denouncing austerity measures, Asia's laborers demanding higher salaries and U.S. protesters condemning Wall Street, Tuesday's demonstrations by hundreds of thousands were less a celebration of workers' rights than a furious venting 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, dealing with a fragile economy and 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 V. 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.

Under a gray Madrid sky that reflected the dark national mood, Adriana Jaime, 25, turned out to march. Jaime speaks three 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. "I am here because there is no future for the young people of this country," Jaime 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 percent jobless rate, and fend off fears the country will soon need a bailout like Greece, Ireland and Portugal. But Ana Lopez, 44, a civil servant, argued 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.

In debt-crippled Greece, more than 2,000 people marched through central Athens in subdued May Day protests centered on the country's harsh austerity program.

In Havana, Cubans marked May Day not with protest but with a mass demonstration dedicated to "preserving and perfecting socialism," the slogan on a huge banner carried by medical workers who led the march.