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Cost-of-living crisis in Europe adds intensity to May Day

In Europe, it's May Day and that means workers and labor unions are on the march and in the streets. This year's International Workers' Day is even more poignant as Europe struggles with inflation.

(CN) — Europeans took to the streets on Monday for large-scale May Day marches amid a wave of strikes and protests in France, Portugal, Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Greece over inflation and a cost-of-living crisis.

For months, Europe has seen a series of strikes as workers demand higher wages in the face of rising costs caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the war in Ukraine and global supply chain disruptions.

Europe's economic pain added poignancy to this year's May Day, a holiday also known as International Workers' Day, as millions of Europeans took the day off work with scores joining marches and protests in cities and towns.

“People are unhappy and that is pretty understandable because after such a big and important inflation shock throughout Europe wages have lost in terms of real purchasing power,” said Lorenzo Codogno, an economist at the London School of Economics and Political Science, in a telephone interview. “The loss has been substantial and therefore there is social uneasiness, social unrest, social protest that sometimes is not able to be channeled into the political discourse.”

While prices seem to have stabilized for many goods after months of increases, inflation remains a major drag on Europe's economy. The EU reported that core inflation continued to rise in March from 5.6% to 5.7%. Core inflation excludes the volatile prices of energy, food, alcohol and tobacco and furnishes an accurate picture of the state of an economy.

On Monday, France was the scene of most intense May Day events with massive street demonstrations that also saw clashes break out between protesters and police in Paris, Nantes and Lyon. Most of the marches were peaceful, but there were numerous reports of property damage, violence and the use of tear gas by police. Dozens of protesters were arrested in Paris and other cities and there were reports of numerous injuries among demonstrators and police.

Police also deployed drones in Paris and Bordeaux to survey the crowds after winning court approval only hours before the marches were set to kick off. Human rights groups had tried to stop the use of drones, saying they were a violation of privacy.

Anger continues to rage against French President Emmanuel Macron's decision in March to raise the age of retirement from 62 to 64 without a vote in parliament. On Friday, the rating agency Fitch downgraded France's economic outlook in part due to the unrest caused by the pension reforms.

Macron is accused of putting the interests of businesses over those of French workers.

“He is more a manager of a start-up than the manager of the country,” a pastry chef named Sofiane told Le Monde newspaper while he and his family took part in Paris May Day protests. “France is not a business. You have to deal with everyone.”

France's Interior Ministry estimated that 782,000 people took part in marches across the country with 112,000 demonstrators in Paris. Trade unions gave much higher estimates for participation.

The strikes in Europe have hit numerous sectors with workers demanding better pay to keep pace with inflation and improved working conditions.

In Germany, striking transportation workers have caused major disruptions at airports, bus and train stations. German truck drivers, postal workers and hospital workers also have gone on strike or threatened to do so.

Pay disputes are taking place in Britain too with workers from several sectors demanding higher wages. Strikes in schools, on railways and in hospitals have become frequent.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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