Protests

French union members violently targeted at May Day march in Paris

Members of French trade union CGT resume marching after a halt due to clashes between protesters and police during the annual May Day rally in Paris on May 1, 2021.
Members of French trade union CGT resume marching after a halt due to clashes between protesters and police during the annual May Day rally in Paris on May 1, 2021. AFP - BERTRAND GUAY

46 people were arrested on Saturday in Paris after violent clashes broke out at the annual May Day workers' march. The militant CGT trade union confederation says it was targeted in particular, with more than 20 of its rank and file injured, two seriously.

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It is not unusual to see protests in Paris ending in sometimes violent clashes between demonstrators and police. Saturday's May Day march was no exception.

Police made 46 arrests in the capital, 56 nationwide. 6 police officers were injured, three in Paris.

In recent years, notably during anti-government Yellow Vest demonstrations or more recently protests against the global security bill, clashes have broken out or been fomented by rioters "casseurs" whom the police tend to refer to as "black blocs" because of their black-clad attire. Some have an ultra-Left agenda and take pride in targeting symbols of capitalism: banks, car concessions and often bus shelters.

In a strange twist, it would appear that on Saturday the rioters targeted the anti-capitalist CGT trade union.

Violence broke out as the march was coming to an end in Paris's place de la Nation. Several journalists captured the clashes on film.

The rioters are heard shouting “CGT Collabo” (collaborator) before throwing stones at vehicles and union activists. Punches were thrown. The CGT announced “at least 21 injured, 4 seriously”. 

The CGT is one of the least government-friendly of the French unions and this year's march was focused on opposition to the government's plan to change unemployment benefits. But the accusations of "collaboration" suggest the rioters feel the CGT is still not tough enough.  

Extreme violence

In a statement published on Saturday evening, the CGT union denounced the “unacceptable violence against the world of work”.

Violence broke out at the end of the march when a “large group of individuals, including some claiming to be "yellow vests" used “extreme violence” against the demonstrators, the statement read. “Homophobic, sexist, racist insults were followed by vandalising of [union] vehicles and, more seriously, hatred expressed by punches and the throwing of projectiles. Our organisation, the CGT, was targeted in particular.”

Images of black-clad protestors attacking CGT vehicles and personnel, throwing projectiles were widely circulated on social media. CGT security teams used tear gas in response.

Interviewed on French TV channel LCI, Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT, said it was “scandalous that our vans and militants had stones thrown at them”. He claimed the problem had been exacerbated by the issue of security during the demo because their "vehicles had been prevented" from leaving place de la Nation at the end of the protest.

"It's absolutely unacceptable, and intolerable" agreed the French minister for citizenship, Marlène Schiappa, speaking to France Info radio on Sunday morning.

"I've observed that demonstrations are not attracting as many people as they used to, but they are increasingly violent, they are changing," she said, expressing her support to those who were attacked at the rally as well as police officers caught up in the violence.

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