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Hundreds of people march in downtown Ottawa in protest of federal budget cuts.Adrian Wyld

Public-sector workers sang their souls out for a little respect Tuesday as hundreds marched on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office in downtown Ottawa in protest of budget cuts.

The protests were part of International Workers Day and in Ottawa, they took a more modern approach to celebrating the labour movement than in years past.

Gone were the traditional protest songs and in their place, hip hop, slam poetry and a little Aretha Franklin.

Pointing up towards Harper's office, union vice president Larry Rousseau led the crowd in a riff on her signature song Respect.

"Their political promises may be sweeter than honey," he sang.

"But guess what? So is my money. I'm telling you now, you don't mess with me. I want respect."

In Ottawa, protesters are concerned about thousands of jobs being lost because of budget cuts, but some in the crowd are also backing striking students in Quebec.

Union officials said a group of students was barred from crossing from Quebec into Ontario to join in the protest.

Police surrounded the protest and were videotaping the crowd, which was boisterous but peaceful.

"Stephen Harper hates me," read several buttons and a puppet version of the prime minister bopped along to the songs.

Union president John Gordon said Tuesday's protest won't be the last the Harper government hears of the civil service.

Over 12,000 workers have now been notified their jobs are on the line as the government seeks to cut $5.2 billion in spending. A total of 19,200 positions are being cut.

"We're not going to take this sitting down," Mr. Gordon told the crowd.

"We're going to be in every community, we're going to be in your face every single day because communities are losing services."

In Toronto, the main event starts with a rally at City Hall, followed by a march several blocks west to a park.

Members of Occupy Toronto say they are also planning an evening march to an as-yet undisclosed "re-occupation" site, which they plan to take over for 24 hours.

Among other causes, organizers say they want to show respect for aboriginal sovereignty, urge more public services, and push for an end to corporate handouts.

Activists have been urging people to call in sick Tuesday and attend the events.