May Day 2022: What to expect in France

May 1st is traditionally a day of demonstrations in France - here's what is planned this year.

May Day 2022: What to expect in France
A May 1st event in Paris in 2021. Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP

May 1st, the international workers’ day, is traditionally marked with demonstrations and union-organised events in France. In 2020 and 2021 events were scaled down or cancelled because of the pandemic, but this year there is a lot planned.

May 1st falls on a Sunday this year, which unfortunately means no extra day off work, but there will be plenty going on.

The biggest event in Paris is the joint trades union organised demonstration. It’s described as a “united demonstration for the convergence of the struggles of different groups (social, environmental, feminists etc) and for freedom”.

The various different unions say they will be focusing on the ongoing struggle over standards of living and the climate emergency.

The gathering begins at 2pm in Place de la République, and the march will move off at 2.30pm, heading towards Nation.

Map: Google maps

There are other demos in addition to the main march, some of them ‘pre-march’ events on a specific topic, whose participants will then join the main march.

The radical CNT union is holding its own march starting at 12 noon in Place des Fêtes, and will then join the main demo.

The ‘yellow vests’ (yes, they’re still going) are also holding a pre-march event starting at 10am at the Place du Maréchal Juin. Turnout at ‘yellow vest’ events has been small for many months now.

A pre-march event is being held to raise awareness of workers within the culture sector who are on short-term contracts or working intermittently, and the effect that proposed changes to the benefits system will have on them. This starts at 10am at Place de l’Odéon.

In the morning an event will be held at Père Lachaise cemetery to mark 150 years since the Paris Commune. Yves Veyrier, general secretary of the Force ouvrière union, will lead a memorial at the Mur des Fédéres, commemorating the Communards.

The above events are all additions to the main march, but there is one that is planned to be an alternative – that’s the demo organised by the far-right Les Patriotes group.

That begins at Place de la Bourse at 3pm before moving off on a march through the city centre.

Map: Google maps

There are hundreds of demos organised across France, with most towns or cities having one. You can find your nearest event on the interactive map HERE

The union-organised marches themselves are generally well-organised and peaceful, but there is sometimes trouble from other groups or from the extreme ‘Black Bloc’ demonstrators at the end of demonstrations. In Paris it is likely that officials will close some Metro stations in the city centre while the marches are going on. 

It’s not all demonstrations though, you will see the pretty white muguet flowers (lily-of-the-valley) on sale everywhere, and in rural areas there are also other May Day traditions such as planting a tree outside the home of someone you wish to marry.

READ ALSO Marches and muguet: Why May 1st is a big deal in France

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Traffic warnings for France ahead of holiday weekend

This weekend represents the first chance to 'faire le pont' and have a long holiday weekend - and the French seem set to make the most of it with warnings of extremely heavy traffic from Wednesday.

Traffic warnings for France ahead of holiday weekend

Thursday, May 26th marks the Christian festival of Ascension and is a public holiday in France.

More importantly, it’s the first time this year that French workers have had the opportunity to faire le pont (do the bridge) and create a long weekend.

In France, most public holidays fall on different days each year and if they happen to fall on the weekend then there are no extra days off work.

This year that happened on New Year’s Day (a Saturday) and both of the early May public holidays (the workers’ holiday on May 1st and VE Day on May 8th, which both fell on a Sunday).

READ ALSO Why 2022 is a bad year for public holidays

But as Ascension is on a Thursday, workers have the option to take a day of annual leave on Friday and therefore create a nice four-day weekend.

And it appears that many are planning on doing just that, as the traffic forecaster Bison futé is predicting extremely heavy traffic from Wednesday evening, as people prepare to make their after-work getaway and head to the coast, the countryside or the mountains to fully profit from their holiday weekend.

According to Bison futé maps, the whole country is coloured red – very heavy traffic – on both Wednesday and Thursday as people take to the roads to leave the cities.

Map: Bison futé

Meanwhile Sunday is coloured black – the highest level, meaning extremely heavy traffic and difficult driving conditions – across the whole country. 

Map: Bison futé

If you were hoping to take the train instead you might be out of luck, SNCF reports that most TGV services are sold out for over the holiday weekend.