MADRID - 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 venting over spending cuts, tax hikes and 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 recovery. The rallies reflected deep pessimism in Spain, dealing with a fragile economy is in the crosshairs 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.
In the United States, protesters lined major financial institutions in the country's most high-profile Occupy Wall Street rallies since the encampments protesting the gap between the superrich and poor came down in the fall. Crowds blocked intersections in Oakland, Calif., trying to force businesses to shut down for not observing calls for a "general strike"; police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd. Police in riot gear faced dozens of Occupy activists marching in front of a Bank of America in New York City, chanting "Bank of America. Bad for America." At least 15 people were arrested.
About 50 members of the Occupy London movement brought tents and camping supplies to move into a square that houses the London Stock Exchange.
Even in Germany, where the economy is churning and unemployment is at a record low, unions estimated that 400,000 people showed up at over 400 May Day rallies. The DGB union group sharply criticized Europe's treaty enshrining fiscal discipline and the austerity measures across the continent, calling instead for a stimulus program to revive the 17-nation eurozone's depressed economies.