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Workers protest over social cuts

Union members marched passed the parliament building in Bern Keystone

Switzerland has marked International Labour Day with demonstrations against social inequality and the massive pay increases awarded to some top managers.

This content was published on May 1, 2005 - 16:03

Despite minor skirmishes in Zurich and Lucerne, the May 1 marches passed off peacefully.

More than 6,000 people took part in trade union-led demonstrations in Basel, Bern and Zurich on Saturday and Sunday. Around the same number are estimated to have joined rallies in northern and western Switzerland, including 1,500 demonstrators in Geneva.

Many speakers criticised the dismantling of social welfare and the "excessive" salaries earned by top managers in the country, while others raised fears over wage dumping.

Demonstrators in Geneva also demanded that the position of illegal immigrants be regularised and called for equality between men and women.

In Zurich around 4,000 people took part in the traditional march. Trade union representatives led the procession through the city centre carrying placards calling for the free movement of people and an end to pressure on salaries.

Christian Levrat, president of the Communication Union, condemned what he said was a growing divide between rich and poor, and called for resistance to social cuts.

Action against poverty

Christine Goll, head of the public service union, also spoke out against attempts to dismantle the social state.

At a demonstration of 2,000 people in Basel, Goll called for a national strategy to fight the poverty which she said was spreading in Switzerland. Other demands included a flexible retirement age and health insurance premiums linked to income.

In Bern the city mayor Alexander Tschäppät addressed the theme of wage dumping. He said the problem was not caused by the free movement of people but by some irresponsible employers.

Speaking in Biel, Vasco Pedrina - the co-president of Switzerland’s largest union, Unia - warned that in the long-term there could be no social stability without social justice.

Ticking bomb

The gulf between the highest and lowest incomes was an "existential and human tragedy" for those at the bottom of the scale and a "ticking bomb" for society, Pedrina said.

The president of the centre-left Social Democrats, Hans-Jürg Fehr, rounded on Switzerland's top managers in a speech in Thun on Saturday. Complaining about their "greed", he said they had "lost all sense of moderation".

According to police, clashes broke out following the end of the official May Day event in Zurich on Sunday afternoon. Left- and rightwing extremists threw bottles and fireworks at each other, but caused no injuries or damage.

In Lucerne, around 100 militants managed to break through a police blockade and enter the old town. The group was protesting against a ban on the far-right group PNOS holding its own demonstration.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Union-led demonstrations took place on Saturday and Sunday in several Swiss cities and towns including Bern, Basel, Zurich and Lucerne.
At least 6,000 people took part in the May Day marches in Zurich, Bern and Basel.
Speakers called for social equality and condemned wage dumping.

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