PARIS - Thousands joined May Day demonstrations around France on Friday to protest President Nicolas Sarkozy's social policies and his handling of the financial crisis.
Unions have organized nearly 300 marches and turnout is expected to be high, reflecting frustration about soaring unemployment, weak purchasing power and plant closures that have also led to a wave of bossnappings. [ID:nL9364335]
Union rallies are held on May Day in many European countries but turnout is expected to rise this year because of the crisis that has sent jobless numbers soaring.
In France the opposition Socialist party has called for its members to join the protests for the first time since 2002 and unions, which have been bickering over how to respond to Sarkozy, were trying to present a united front.
In a sign of how far disillusion has spread, even staff in management positions are expected to take part in marches.
It is absolutely not in our tradition to protest on May 1 but given the economic context in France and crisis we decided to join in, said Carole Couvert, a leader of the CFE-CGC union for executives.
It's a first for us because our method is negotiation.
The first marches started at around 0830 GMT in major towns such as Marseille, Toulouse, Le Mans, Orleans and Avignon. The Paris demonstration was due to start at 1130 GMT.
In Germany dozens of police were injured in clashes with protestors that erupted in the early hours of Friday.
Turkish riot police fired water cannon and tear gas in clashes with May Day demonstrators in Istanbul. The police cordoned off the city's main Taksim square.
Couvert's organization wants help from the government with training. Other unions are pushing for more support to help seniors and youths who are struggling to find jobs.
They also complain that the government's 26 billion euro investment-led stimulus put money in bosses' pockets but did nothing to help consumers.
French unemployment jumped by 63,400 to nearly 2.5 million in March, with a sharp rise in the number of young people seeking work.
The latest figures show that more than 440,000 jobs have disappeared in mainland France over the past year as the economic gloom has spread.
For young people this May 1 is important because we feel as though we're in the front line of this economic crisis, the front line of the rise in unemployment, said Jean-Baptiste Prevost, head of the Unef student union on LCI television.
The protests follow on from a March 19 day of protests attended by up to 3 million in the largest demonstrations since Sarkozy's election in 2007.
There have also been more violent protests with several managers at factory sites held for periods of 24 hours and more by angry workers threatened with plant closures, job cuts or reduced working hours.
A series of scandals over millions of euros in payouts to senior executives in companies that have benefited from government bailouts has fueled anger about Sarkozy's response.
Sarkozy has pledged tax cuts for the lower paid and extra support for youth training as part of a raft of measures to help struggling households. But he has resisted calls for more steps to help consumers as the left has demanded, pointing out that household spending has held up well throughout the crisis.
He can also take advantage of divisions among unions about how to respond to the crisis which could be seen on Friday despite the show of May Day unity.
Jean-Claude Mailly, head of the Force Ouvriere union suggested a 24-hour strike to follow up on the protests, an idea that is opposed by the moderate CFDT union.