May Day marches merged with protests against major financial institutions in cities across North America Tuesday, marking the most significant protest action in many areas since the Occupy movement cooled last fall.

In Seattle, demonstrations turned violent when a group of about 50 black-clad protesters broke away from the main May Day group, and began vandalizing property in the city core.

Employing Black Bloc tactics, police said the group then shed their black clothing and melted back into the main group as officers attempted to coral them after the 30-minute burst of violence.

The vandalism prompted Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn to make a special declaration that allowed officers to confiscate items that could be used as weapons.

In Oakland, California, police used tear gas to disperse crowds that blocked intersections in the city core in a bid to create a general strike.

And in New York, where the Occupy Wall Street movement began, heavily armed guards watched as dozens of activists marched in front of a Bank of America building, chanting "Bank of America. Bad for America."

Meanwhile, Canadians rallied and marched in major cities across the country to mark International Workers' Day -- also known as May Day -- and not all demonstrations were peaceful.

While community activists and union members staged a sit-in at a busy Toronto intersection and organized a garden potluck in support of workers' rights, protesters in Montreal threw chunks of asphalt, bottles and sticks at police.

The anti-capitalist demonstrators joined students who have long been protesting the Quebec government's plan to raise tuition fees.

Montreal police declared the May Day march illegal after some windows were smashed at a bank on Ste-Catherine Street downtown. At least three people were arrested.

Earlier in the day, one group of Quebec students was barred from crossing into Ontario to join the May Day protest in Ottawa, union organizers said.

A workers' march in Canada's capital ended in front of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's downtown office, where demonstrators recited poetry and sang Aretha Franklin's "Respect" to draw attention to the thousands of job-loss notices that have been handed out to federal employees.

A total of 19,200 positions are being cut as the government tries save $5.2 billion.

"We're going to be in your face every single day because communities are losing services," union president John Gordon said.

Protesters also held up cut-outs of federal cabinet ministers wearing T-shirts with critical messages.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was depicted wearing a shirt that said "Drill Baby Drill," likely in reference to the government's recent decision to streamline the approval process for major energy projects that sparked an outcry from environmental groups.

A cut-out of International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda included a shirt with a picture of a limousine, in reference to the fact she hired a car and driver to get her to a conference in London, England, after moving from the hotel the conference was held at to another, more expensive, hotel.

May Day protests were also held in Halifax, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.

Around the world, demonstrators filled the streets of cities in Greece, Spain, France and the United States, among other countries.

With files from The Canadian Press