Workers around the world protest conditions

Protesters clashed with Turkish riot police during a May Day rally in Istanbul, Turkey.
Protesters clashed with Turkish riot police during a May Day rally in Istanbul, Turkey.

ISTANBUL — Workers around the world united in anger during May Day rallies Wednesday — from fury in Europe over austerity measures that have cut wages, reduced benefits, and eliminated many jobs, to rage in Asia over relentlessly low pay, the rising cost of living, and hideous working conditions that have left hundreds dead in recent months.

In protests, strikes, and other demonstrations, activists lashed out at political and business leaders they allege have ignored workers’ voices or enriched themselves at the expense of laborers. In some places, the demonstrations turned violent, with activists clashing with police.

Many nations have struggled with economic downturns for several years, and workplace disasters in developing countries are not new, but the intensity of Wednesday’s gatherings suggested workers’ frustrations have grown acute, with many demanding action to address their concerns.


The anger was painfully evident in Bangladesh, where the collapse last week of an illegally built eight-story facility housing garment factories killed more than 400 in a suburb of Dhaka. The collapse followed a garment factory fire in November that killed 112 people, and has increased pressure on the global garment industry to improve working conditions.

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In Greece and Spain, increasing numbers are losing jobs. Both countries have unemployment over 27 percent.

Unions in Greece held a May Day strike that brought ferry and train service to a halt, and peaceful protest marches through central Athens.

While the austerity drive has succeeded in reducing budget deficits, it has been at a huge cost: under the terms of its latest loan disbursement, Athens has agreed to sack about 15,000 civil servants through 2014.

‘‘We are here to send a message to ... those in power in Europe, that we will continue our struggle against unfair, open-ended policies that are destroying millions of jobs on a national and European level,’’ said Kostas Tsikrikas of Greek public sector labor union ADEDY.


More than 100,000 Spaniards infuriated by austerity measures and recession took to the streets of some 80 cities with the largest protests in Madrid, Barcelona, and Bilbao.

Under banners reading ‘‘Fight for your rights,’’ union leaders Ignacio Fernandez Toxo of Workers Commissions and Candido Mendez of the General Workers Union called on the government to reverse its austerity drive and urged politicians to agree an all-party economic plan to create jobs.

In Indonesia, the fourth-most populous country, tens of thousands of workers rallied for higher pay and other demands.

In the Philippines, an estimated 8,000 workers marched in Manila to also demand better pay and regular more jobs.

More than 10,000 Taiwanese protested a government plan to cut pension payouts.


And in Cambodia, more than 5,000 garment workers marched in Phnom Penh, demanding better working conditions and a salary increase.