PARIS — The police in France fired tear gas after violence broke out at a May Day rally in Paris on Wednesday when masked and hooded vandals smashed vehicles, as the government warned that the traditional labor march risked being overtaken by hooligans.
French television stations showed images of the vandals smashing the windshield of a parked van, as clouds of tear gas floated elsewhere over demonstrators who were amassing on the Left Bank of the French capital for the annual union march across the Montparnasse District.
The police charged groups of vandals and demonstrators on the Boulevard du Montparnasse, and were met with hurled rocks and other projectiles.
Some violence always accompanies the May Day rally, but this year the government had warned that the risk was higher since the demonstration would unite the violent tail end of the monthslong “Yellow Vest” movement, labor militants and the so-called Black Blocs — a loose international group of anarchist and anticapitalist vandals dressed in black who smashed numerous shop windows last year.
This year, Black Bloc called on social media for a mass gathering in Paris on May Day, from across Europe to raise mayhem. Officials said that as many as 2,000 Black Bloc marchers were expected.
The official May Day march was set to begin at 2:30 p.m. Paris time, but large crowds had gathered well before that on the Boulevard du Montparnasse.
President Emmanuel Macron tried to appease the Yellow Vests at a news conference last week with promises to lower taxes and raise pensions. These measures, along with earlier concessions, are expected to cost the government some $19 billion.
But the Yellow Vests — whose movement is named for the fluorescent safety garment all drivers in France must carry in their vehicles — have largely rejected Mr. Macron’s proposals, and France’s unions have said they are not enough.
After the clashes broke out on Wednesday, protesters said that the police were more repressive than they had been during the first weeks of Yellow Vest demonstrations.
“Nothing has changed; it’s May 1 but we’re being repressed with the same violence,” said Jérôme Rodrigues, a well-known figure of the Yellow Vest movement who was injured in the right eye by a rubber bullet this year.
The Yellow Vest protesters have avoided associating their movement with the unions, which on Wednesday led the May Day march. But while some protesters condemned the Black Bloc and booed those who threw projectiles at the police, many welcomed them in their ranks.
“Who got the advantages that Macron promised? I don’t know any,” said Omar Koucha, a 57-year-old factory worker who came to the march by bus with 120 other protesters from Moselle, in eastern France.
“We asked for a citizens’ referendum, we asked that they fight against tax fraud, we asked for higher taxes on the rich, and we’ve got nothing,” Mr. Koucha added.
Nicole Courte, 56, a maid who was marching with Mr. Koucha, said Mr. Macron’s response to the movement had been: “I’ve heard you, but shut up, I won’t change anything.”
“I’ve been protesting since the first act, on Nov. 17, but I boycotted the so-called Great National Debate,” Ms. Courte said, referring to the national consultation initiated by Mr. Macron as an attempt to quell the protesters’ anger.
Ms. Courte, who said she earned minimum wage in Saint-Avold, a village in Moselle, also lashed out at the millionaires and others who had donated to restore Notre-Dame cathedral, which was gutted by a fire last month. In such times, she said, donating for a building and not for the poor was “indecent, shameful.”
“How many housings for the poor and the homeless could we build with a billion euros?” she asked, referring to the amount that was raised for Notre-Dame in 10 days.
Orignially published in NYT.