Berlin (dpa) – Tens of thousands of people took part in traditional May Day marches across Germany on Wednesday. As of midday in Berlin (1000 GMT), about 8,000 people were marching towards the Brandenburg Gate, according to a spokeswoman for the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB). The DGB had called for marches across Germany in favour of a Europe-wide minimum wage. The main demonstration was planned in the eastern city of Leipzig. There, DGB chief Reiner Hoffmann addressed a crowd of about 1,500, drawing attention to the continuing disparity in living standards between the former East and West Germany. “It cannot go on that in many businesses, people are working three or four hours longer than in the west,” he said, according to a script of the speech.
He also criticized the lack of collective bargaining agreements in eastern Germany. “Collective bargaining agreements must apply everywhere again,” he said. Left-wing demonstrators were also expected to take to the streets across the country, with their main protest expected to take place in Berlin’s Friedrichshain neighbourhood in the evening. Police said a total of 5,500 officers would be deployed in Berlin including 2,000 in Friedrichshain, and called on demonstrators to remain peaceful. Demonstrations were also planned in Hamburg by the trade union Verdi, where the organization’s head, Frank Bsirske, addressed the crowds. He called for collective bargaining agreements to be strengthened in Germany and urged German citizens to vote in the upcoming European Parliament elections.
In previous years violence has frequently broken out between police and left-wing extremists. In an interview with dpa, DGB boss Hoffman called on voters to make their ballots count in European Parliament elections later this month. “Europe stands for peace and the increase of prosperity,” he said. Nation states were too small on their own to tackle key trends including digitalization, globalization, migration and climate change, he said. “In the digital era, work isn’t national, it’s European and global,” he said. German workers have traditionally demonstrated for better working conditions and wages on May 1, with the first such protests taking place in 1890.