Anger and rebellion have taken the form of despair in Europe as more bad news pours in about recession, job cuts and austerity measures, reflected in low turnouts on May Day rallies.

Unions are divided on how best to carry out labour reforms, stem unemployment and stimulate growth and this loss of direction and feeling of drift has worked to the advantage of far-right parties across Europe — be it in France, Spain, Britain or debt-ridden Greece.

In Greece, where a 24-hour strike severely curtailed transport and other public services, scuffles broke out between striking workers and the police. However, the numbers fell far short of those registered last year.

In Spain, workers demanded the government to forge a pact with unions to create more jobs. Fifty seven per cent of Spain’s young people have no jobs while the overall unemployment figures for this country of 39 million is 27 per cent, the highest since the Second World War.

In France, unions, unable to come together on major economic and social issues, held separate rallies, in a show of both despair and disunity. Francois Hollande’s first May Day as a French President was not a happy one. His ratings have plummeted — opinion polls indicated that were a presidential election to be held now, he would be knocked-off in the very first round by the extreme-right leader Marine Le Pen.

In Paris, the traditional left wing rally was upstaged by that of the xenophobic and anti-Europe National Front. Workers have been leaving the traditional left-wing parties in droves to join the National Front, seduced by its anti-immigrant and anti-Europe rhetoric. “We shall liberate France from the shadow of Europe,” thundered Ms. Le Pen in a rousing May Day speech.

“What we are seeing is a legitimate anger coupled with a sentiment of being abandoned and betrayed. This is going to feed radical actions, but also more worryingly, a sentiment of fatalism and despair,” said Agnes Nton, a leader of the hardline CGT trade union. Across Europe, populist, right-wing parties purveying hate messages towards Europe and foreign workers have made substantial inroads, increasing their share of the popular vote. “Dangerous times lie ahead,” Ms. Naton said.

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