May Day at République

marchers at republique
Tress hide a good many of the assembling paraders.

Grey Skies and Laid-Back Marchers

Paris:- Friday, 1. May 1998:- The radio is repeating over and over that Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National is marching from Châtalet to Opéra today. M-R saw a stage being erected in front of the Palais Garnier yesterday, so now I know who it is for.

On May Day, the right-wingers used to gather in the place des Pyramides where there is an equestrian statue of Jean d'Arc by Fremiet, but there were many objections to this by straight-arrow republicans - so now they get the place de l'Opéra instead. I can see this tonight on TV-news.

After carefully listening to the radio, it finally says workers, teachers, the no-papers, and the unemployed will be marching from place de la République to place de la Nation, as usual. The mainly civil servant and office-workers' union, the F.O., is doing its thing at Trocadéro.

What is not usual on this wrong-weather-forecast again - grey - first of May, is the absence of all labor leaders except the head of the communist-oriented CGT. That the right-wing publicity machine has the media well-informed, is sort of standard procedure fordancing kurds May Day. Although this is Europe's 'Labor Day - the day when just about everybody has a holiday, workers have to head for République nearly by instinct alone.

The Kurds heat things up with a bit of fast dancing.

It's okay. We have 'good' instincts. We know Le Pen doesn't have an 'exclusive' right to Jean d'Arc or to the Opéra, just as we don't 'own' République. The civil authorities would really like Le Pen and his followers to stay well away from east Paris today. In 1995 the two camps were too close together, and there was a tragedy nobody wants to see repeated.

With no idea of what to expect, I emerge from the underground at métro Strasbourg-St-Denis on the Grands Boulevards. Sometimes I feel like a submarine and when I come out of the métro the world emerges as if I am a periscope. Ah, this part of the 'Grands Boulevards' is a little different with sidewalks at higher elevations than the road's surface.

A few blocks further along, past just about all closed shops, République is signaled by loud noises. Close up, the noises are much louder and there are many more of them.

The place de la République is the assembly point for a great many street parades in Paris and it has a lot of room for this. It also has a lot of room for a variety of marching bands to be tuning up too.

The few open cafés are chock-full and the one with cigarettes has a long line hanging out of it. Thereon monument at republique is also a certain frenzy about the toilets, because there are not many of them, and there won't be any once the march gets under way.

Various varieties of reds have hung their flags over the statute to the Republic in the centre of the place, so I do not see the famous bas reliefs by Dalou representing famous events in the history of the République.

If your May Day does not have a lot of red in it, it's probably not authentic.

I do see a lot of Turkish or Kurdish written on placards and banners, and from the base of the statute I get a good view of Kurdish dancing accompanied by very loud music. It seems like a gay crowd and there is a tingle of anticipation in the cool air.

From my viewpoint I can see a fair way down the boulevard Voltaire, in the direction the march will take. It already seems to extend a couple of blocks down it, but it is stationary.

There are the usual rough stands set up for selling drinks and snacks, and there seem to be hundreds of non-descript vans, all of which contain either provisions or parade material. I wonder where they all come from; maybe they are borrowed for the day from employers.

Nothing seems to be happening except my ears are beginning to ring from the racket, so I start to wander down boulevard Voltaire, in and out of the vans which are parked helter-skelter in the middle of the street.

Some marchers are in position, waiting for the take-off signal, holding their street-wide banners. I dodge around these and pick up a few stray leaflets that are thrust at me.

The pizza-chain guys are still on strike on account of 34 of them getting canned. I saw them before at one of the locations in Les Halles some good many weeks ago.

Hiring in general in picking up, but a lot of it is for temporary service-like jobs, and the CGT is working on getting these workers organized. A lot of people work for the temporary agencies full-time, so they probably haveCGT badge a interest in being organized, because there is a little bit of safety in numbers.

I see a fellow with a plastic sack full of CGT badges which I think may be free, but they are not and he is nice and lets me drop in ten francs and pick one out for myself. Another one has a selection of anti-FN leaflets and I sort through these to find one I think is suitable, and that's another ten francs.

My very own official CGT badge - only 10 francs.

While I am doing things like this the parade seems to be getting under way. But I've gotten so far ahead that I've run into more paraders who are sort of arrayed in front of the wider space in front of the Saint-Ambroise church.

These seem to be concerned with the Saint-Denis teacher's strike which has just been settled, and I see the number '93' all over and it takes me more than two minutes to figure out this is the number of that department. They seem to be waiting for the parade to arrive so they can join it; but every once in a while they launch an uneven chant, a bit as if their conductor is elsewhere.

Presently a big fellow with an electric bullhorn comes by, telling them to stand back as some of the street-wide banners will need a bit more space to get past.

Whether they are part of the main parade or an advance group I can't tell, but the first to arrive are the 'Sans-Papiers.' These, as their banner says, are not the clandestine ones - but the ones who have no papers for one reason or another.

The 'paperless' have been having demonstrations in the Paris area for a couple of years now. There seem to be countless administrative reasons why some people do not have various papers, like residence permits. I have had these problems too and they are not easy to overcomethe 'sans-papiers' march with the best of cases. For difficult cases, the answer sometimes involves being forcibly put on a jet flying to another continent.

The banner says, 'Without papers - but not underground.'

The megawatt sound vans are getting closer and the day is not getting warmer, and Saint-Ambroise is only about a third of the way to place de la Nation, which is the parade's destination. Last year I had to look around a lot for the parade and this year I found it straight off, but I don't feel like walking to the end.

I put myself down the métro entrance that is right here, ride under the boulevards to Franklin, change and hit La Défense and a train home right away.

Evening TV-news has good parade coverage and mentions that the turn-out was high. The F.O. had a good crowd at Trocadéro, and the F.N. seemed to fill up the place in front of the Opéra. Other parades from around the country are shown too.

So that's it. May Day in Paris, 30 years after May '68. I like my CGT badge. It says, 'Un printemps qui marche!' It has footprints on it, showing one set going to Germany, another to Spain, and a third set seeming to be walking in from Italy.

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