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 furious venting over spending cuts, tax hikes and soaring 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 economic recovery. The rallies reflected deep pessimism in Spain, dealing with a fragile economy is in the cross-hairs 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 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 U.S., 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. There were no immediate reports of arrests.
Under a gray Madrid sky that reflected the dark national mood, 25-year Adriana Jaime turned out to march. Jaime speaks three languages and has a masters degree as a translator, but works for what she derided as peanuts in a university research project that has been cut from three years to three months due to a lack of funds.
"I am here because there is no future for the young people of this country," Jaime said as many marchers carried black-and-white placards with the word NO and a pair of red scissors.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is trying desperately to cut a bloated deficit, restore investor confidence in Spain's public finances, lower its 24.4 percent jobless rate, and fend off fears the country will soon need a bailout like Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
But Ana Lopez, a 44-year-old civil servant, argued the government is doing nothing to help workers and that the economic crisis is only benefiting banks.
"Money does not just disappear. It does not fly away. It just changes hands, and now it is with the banks," Lopez said. "And the politicians are puppets of the banks."
In France, tens of thousands of workers, leftists and union leaders marked May Day with glee, hoping that a presidential runoff vote Sunday will put a Socialist — Francois Hollande — at the helm for the first time since 1988. Many voters fear Sarkozy will erode France's welfare and worker protections, and see him as too friendly with the rich.
"Sarkozy has allowed himself for too long to manhandle the lower classes," said Dante Leonardi, a 24-year-old in Paris. "Today we must show ... that we want him to leave."
Hollande has promised high taxes on the rich.
"We are going to choose Hollande because we want something else for France. We want to keep our jobs, we want to keep our industrial jobs, we want a new economy," said protester Serge Tanguy.
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