International Workers' Day

International Workers' Day

International Workers' Day (a name used interchangeably with "May Day") is a celebration of the social and economic achievements of the international labour movement. May Day commonly sees organized street demonstrations and street marches by millions of working people and their labour unions throughout most of the countries of the world — though, as noted below, rarely in the United States and Canada.

International Workers' Day is the commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago in 1886, when Chicago police fired on workers during a general strike for the eight hour day, killing a dozen demonstrators. In 1889, the first congress of the Second International, meeting in Paris for the centennial of the French Revolution and the Exposition Universelle, following a proposal by Raymond Lavigne, called for international demonstrations on the 1890 anniversary of the Chicago protests. These were so successful that May Day was formally recognized as an annual event at the International's second congress in 1891. The May Day Riots of 1894 and May Day Riots of 1919 occurred subsequently. In 1904, the International Socialist Conference meeting in Amsterdam called on "all Social Democratic Party organizations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on May First for the legal establishment of the 8-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace." As the most effective way of demonstrating was by striking, the congress made it "mandatory upon the proletarian organizations of all countries to stop work on May 1, wherever it is possible without injury to the workers."

May Day has long been a focal point for demonstrations by various socialist, communist, and anarchist groups. In some circles, bonfires are lit in commemoration of the Haymarket martyrs, usually right as the first day of May begins [ May Day] . It has also seen right-wing massacres of participants as in the Taksim Square massacre of 1977 in Turkey.

Due to its status as a celebration of the efforts of workers and the socialist movement, May Day is an important official holiday in Communist countries such as the People's Republic of China, Cuba, and the former Soviet Union. May Day celebrations typically feature elaborate popular and military parades in these countries.

In countries other than the United States and Canada, resident working classes sought to make May Day an official holiday and their efforts largely succeeded. For this reason, in most of the world today, May Day is marked by massive street rallies led by workers, their trade unions, anarchists and various communist and socialist parties.

In the United States, however, the official Federal holiday for the "working man" is Labor Day in September. This day was promoted by the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor organized the first parade in New York City. The first Labor Day celebration was held on September 5, 1882, and was organized by the Knights of Labor. The Knights began holding it every year and called for it to be a national holiday, but this was opposed by other labor unions who wanted it held on May Day (as it is everywhere else in the world). After the Haymarket Square riot in May, 1886, President Cleveland feared that commemorating Labor Day on May 1 could become an opportunity to commemorate the riots. Thus he moved in 1887 to support the Labor Day that the Knights supported. []

National May Day celebrations around the World

The Soviet Union

May Day was an important official holiday of the Soviet Union, celebrated with elaborate popular parade in the centre of the major cities. It was first openly celebrated on May 1, 19th. The biggest celebration was traditionally organized on the Red Square, where the General Secretary of the CPSU and other party and government leaders were greeting the crowds from the Lenin's Mausoleum.

Eastern Bloc

Soviet type May Day days were obligatory, leaders greeting the crowds. In Poland since 1982 party leaders led the official parades, anti-Communist counter-parades were also organized.


The first May day celebrations took place in Italy in 1890. It started initially as an attempt to celebrate workers' achievements in their struggle for their rights and for better social and economic conditions.It was abolished under the Fascist Regime and immediately restored after the Second World War.It is now a very important celebration in Italy.Very popular is the "Concerto del Primo Maggio" (let: "1st May's Concert") organized by "Italian Labour Unions"in Rome in Piazza San Giovanni, which is attended by more than 300.000 people every year with the participation of many famous bands and songwriters. The concert is usually broadcasted live by Rai Tre.


The first May Day celebration in India was organised in Madras by the Labour Kisan Party of Hindustan on May 1, 1923. [ [ :: Singaravelar - Achievements :: ] ] This was also the first time the red flag was used in India.M.V.S. Koteswara Rao. "Communist Parties and United Front - Experience in Kerala and West Bengal". Hyderabad: Prajasakti Book House, 2003. p. 110] The party leader Singaravelu Chettiar made arrangements to celebrate May Day in two places in 1923. One meeting was held at the beach opposite to the Madras High Court; the other meeting was held at the Triplicane beach. "The Hindu" newspaper, published from Madras reported,

The Labour Kisan party has introduced May Day celebrations in Chennai. Comrade Singaravelar presided over the meeting. A resolution was passed stating that the government should declare May Day as a holiday. The president of the party explained the non-violent principles of the party. There was a request for financial aid. It was emphasized that workers of the world must unite to achieve independence. [ Report of May Day Celebrations 1923, and Formation of a New Party ("The Hindu" quoted in Murugesan, K., Subramanyam, C. S. "Singaravelu, First Communist in South India". New Delhi: People's Publishing House, 1975. p.169 ]

May Day is a nationwide bank holiday in India. The holiday is tied to labour movements for communist and socialist political parties. In Maharashtra and Gujarat, respectively, it is officially called Maharashtra Day and Gujarat Day, since it was on this day in 1960 that each attained statehood, after the division of the old Bombay State on linguistic lines.


Although May Day is not officially designated by the Japanese government as a national holiday, the fact that it lies sandwiched between other national holidays such as April 29 ("Shōwa Day", former birthday of Emperor Hirohito), May 3 ("Constitution Memorial Day"), May 4 ("Greenery Day") and May 5 ("Children's Day") which make the so-called "Golden Week", is either given as a day off by many employers or either taken as a "paid leave" day off by the vast majority of Japanese employees and workers, not much with the purpose to join street rallies or labor union gatherings but rather to enjoy the opportunity to take a few days of vacation in an uninterrupted string, since in the Japanese corporate culture taking weekdays off for personal pleasure is widely frowned upon.Usually in this day some of the major labor unions organize rallies and demonstrations in Tokyo. In 2008 the National Confederation of Trade Unions, known also as "Zenrōren" held a rally in Yoyogi Park attended by 44,000 participants, while the National Trade Unions Council, also known as "Zenrōkyō" held its May Day rally at Hibiya Park. However the largest Japanese trade union, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, better known as "Rengō", held its May Day rally on the following Saturday (May 3rd), allegedly to distance itself from the more radical labor unions.

Japan's official "Labor Thanksgiving Day" holiday, established in 1873 by the Meiji government as an "Imperial harvest" festival and later renamed by the postwar government in 1948, falls on November 23.


May Day is celebrated in Nepal since 1963. [ [ (newsflash) Arc379) ] ] The day became a public holiday in 2007. [ [, news from Nepal as it happens ] ]

People's Republic of China

In the People's Republic of China, May 1 marked the start of one of the country's three "Golden Weeks". Three days off work were given, and one of the surrounding weekends was, for no more than 3 days.


May Day is a nationwide holiday in Germany. Traditionally, the day has a political connotation in most regions, and is also referred to as "Labor Day". Berlin witnesses yearly demonstrations on May Day, the largest organized by labour unions, political parties and others by the radical left and Autonomen.

Since 1987 it has also become known for heavy riots in some districts of Berlin. After police action against the radical leftist block in that year's annual demonstrations, the Autonome scattered and sought cover at the ongoing annual street fair in Kreuzberg (three years prior to the reunification, violent protests would only take place in the former West Berlin). The former protesters began tipping over police cars, violently resisting arrest, and began building barricades after the police withdrew due to the unforeseen resistance. Cars were set on fire, shops plundered and burned to the ground. The police was eventually able to end the riots the following night.These violent forms of protests by the radical left, including the punk rock scene, later increasingly involved participants without political motivation.

However, violence has been on the decline. Annual street fairs have proven an effective way to prevent riots, and May Day in 2005 and 2006 have been among the most peaceful known to Berlin in nearly 25 years. In recent years, neo-nazis and other groups on the far right like the NPD have also used the day to schedule public demonstrations, often leading to clashes with left-wing protesters, which turned especially violent in the historical city of Leipzig in 1998 and 2005.

The 1987 protests were not the first to turn violent though. In 1929, the social democratic SPD government prohibited the annual May Day workers' demonstrations in Berlin. The communist party KPD, which was the strongest party in Berlin, called demonstrations nonetheless. By the end of the day, 32 demonstrators, workers and bystanders had been killed by the police, at least 80 were seriously injured. The Berlin police, under control of the supposedly pro-labour social democratic government, had fired a total of 11,000 rounds of live ammunition. This incident, remembered in the German language as "Blutmai" ("blood May") deepened the split between the workers' parties KPD and SPD, that eventually gave an advantage to the NSDAP over their anti-fascist opponents in the parliament.


In Brazil, the Workers' Day is an official holiday, and unions commemorate it with day-long public events. It is also when salaries for most professional categories and the minimum wage are traditionally readjusted.

United States

The United States has its own Labor Day holiday, celebrated on the first Monday in September instead of on May Day. The U.S. version of Labor Day was a creation of the Knights of Labor, and was adopted officially in 1887 in an effort to disassociate labor activism from the radical left. Subsequent efforts to officially switch Labor Day to the international date of May 1 have failed. In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed May 1 both as Loyalty Day and as Law Day.

Despite the prevailing sentiment for observance of Labor Day in September, some unions and union locals in the United States — especially in urban areas with strong support for organized labor — have attempted to maintain a connection with more radical labor traditions through their own unofficial observances on May 1. Some of the largest examples of this occurred during the Great Depression of the 1930s when thousands of leftist workers marched in May Day parades in New York's Union Square.

There are many examples in the U.S. of people honoring both May 1's "Green Root" (pagan) and "Red Root" (labor) traditions. Among the largest is the May Day Parade and Pageant created by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, an event that has taken place every year since 1974 in Minneapolis and now attracts some 35,000 people. [Colleen J. Sheehy (Ed.), "Theatre of Wonder: 25 Years in the Heart of the Beast," pp. 79-89; Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.]


May Day was also celebrated by some early European settlers of the American continent. In some parts of the United States, May Baskets are made. These baskets are small and usually filled with flowers or treats and left at someone's doorstep. When you ring the bell, you are supposed to run away. The person receiving the basket would try to catch the person running away. If they caught the person, a kiss was to be exchanged.

Modern May Day ceremonies in the U.S. vary greatly from region to region and many unite both the holiday's "Green Root" (pagan) and "Red Root" (labor) traditions [Colleen J. Sheehy (Ed.), "Theatre of Wonder: 25 Years in the Heart of the Beast" (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 79-89.] . Among the largest is the May Day Parade and Pageant created by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, an event that has happened every year since 1974 in Minneapolis and now attracts some 35,000 people.

In 1984, Ronald Regan restated that, in the United States, May first would be know as "Law Day, ... a celebration of our 200-year-old partnership between law and liberty, ... one day after announcing that the United States would disregard the proceedings of the International Court of Justice that later condemned the U.S. government for its 'unlawful use of force' and violation of treaties in its attack against Nicaragua." [Noam Chomsky, "Necessary Illusions," (Boston: South End Press, 1989), 29.]

In 2006, May 1 was chosen by mostly Latino immigrant groups in the United States as the day for the Great American Boycott, a general strike of immigrant workers and supporters to protest H.R. 4437, immigration reform legislation which they felt was draconian. In various news media, the strike actions were publicly said to have been timed to coincide with International Workers' Day. On May 1, 2007, a mostly peaceful demonstration in Los Angeles in support of immigrant workers ended with a widely televised assault by LAPD officers.

In March 2008, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union announced that dockworkers will move no cargo at any West Coast ports on May 1, 2008, as a protest against the continuation of the Iraq War and the diversion of resources from domestic needs. [ [ "Longshoremen to close ports on West Coast to protest war"] by Jack Heyman, "San Francisco Chronicle," April 9, 2008]


While celebrations by more radical socialist, anarchist and anti-globalization activists may occur on May 1, the government of Prime Minister John Sparrow David Thompson declared the first Monday in September as Canada's official Labour Day in 1894.

The origins of Labour Day in Canada can be traced back to a printer's revolt in 1872 in Toronto, where labourers tried to establish a 54-hour work week. At that time, union activity was technically still illegal and the organizers were jailed, at the behest of George Brown. Protest marches eventually led Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald to repeal the anti-union laws and guarantee the rights of unions to organize.

Labour Day remains an annual public holiday, many Canadians now simply regard Labour Day as the Monday of the last long weekend of summer rather than a day of protest.

However, May Day is an important day of trade-union and community group protest in the French-speaking province of Quebec. Celebration of the international Labour Day, or "Workers' Day" (fête des travailleurs) in Montreal goes back to 1906, organised by the "Mutual Aid circle", but experienced a renaissance at the time of the mass strike of 1972, with the 1973 May Day the first contemporary demonstration organised by the major trade union confederations (FTQ, CSN, CEQ). Over 30,000 trade unionists took part in this demonstration.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom in recent years, the anti-capitalist movement has organised a number of large protests in London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Doncaster. In London, these have resulted in clashes with the police. (see footage [ May Day Footage] ) In 2000 the clashes ended with a branch of McDonalds being smashed and a statue of Winston Churchill being given a grass mohawk as a protest at his alleged crimes, the Cenotaph was also defaced with graffiti. Violence at May Day protest]

The last few years, however, have seen little trouble, with protests consisting of peaceful marches and gatherings, particularly in central London. [ Workers in London May Day march] This downturn in civil disorder is usually attributed to either popular distasteFact|date=February 2007 at the events of 2000 or a tougher stance by the British government on violent protest, or a combination thereof. This process has been satirised by the Space Hijackers.

New Zealand and Australia

In New Zealand, Labour Day is a public holiday held on the fourth Monday in October — but the traditions of this October day are borne of International Workers' Day and are not the situation of Canada or the United States.

The origins of this day in New Zealand are traced back to the eight-hour working day movement that arose in the newly founded Wellington colony in 1840, primarily because of carpenter Samuel Parnell's refusal to work more than eight hours a day. He encouraged other tradesman to also only work for eight hours a day and in October 1840 a workers' meeting passed a resolution supporting the idea. On 28 October 1890, the 50th anniversary of the eight-hour day was commemorated with a parade. The event was then celebrated annually in late October as either "Labour Day" or "Eight-Hour Demonstration Day". In 1899 government legislated that the day be a public holiday from 1900 onward. The day was celebrated on different days in different provinces. This led to ship owners complaining that seamen were taking excessive holidays by having one Labour Day in one port and then another in their next port. In 1910 the government "Mondayised" the holiday so that it would be observed on the same day throughout the nation. [ [ Labour Day: A History - from] ]

In Australia, the Labour Day public holiday is fixed by the various states and territories' governments. Depending on the territory in question, the celebrations involved may or may not be connected to International Workers' Day. The day is on the first Monday in October in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and South Australia, while in Western Australia, Labour Day is the first Monday in March, and in both Victoria and Tasmania, it is the second Monday in March (Tasmania calls it "Eight Hours Day"). In both Queensland and the Northern Territory the holiday is on the first Monday in May itself. ("May Day").

Nordic Countries

In Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland, Labour Day is a public holiday, celebrated by many different socialist parties and groups with political demonstrations and speeches. In Sweden and Finland, however, it merges with Walpurgis Night, a carnival-type festivity. In Denmark Labour Day is not regarded a public holiday.


May Day was officially celebrated under the Communist regime, and remains a public holiday. Traditionally, the day was marked by the dancing of May trees, which were danced around. [ Mayday traditions and events in Hungary]

Co-Opting May Day

It was the Nazis, not the social democratic parties of the Weimar Republic, who made May Day a holiday in Germany, calling it the "day of work", which is its official name in the country.Fact|date=February 2007 Through this proclamation, the Nazis tried to take up the connotations of International Workers' Day, but did not permit socialist demonstrations on this day. Instead, they adapted it to national socialist purposes. Then, on May 2, 1933, the Nazis outlawed all free labour unions and other independent workers' organizations in Germany, which subsequently formed their own secret amalgamation.

In the United States, Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September instead of on May 1. This Labor Day was a creation of the 1880s Knights of Labor and was adopted officially in 1887 in the U.S. in an attempt to disassociate labor activism from the radical left. In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed May 1 both as Loyalty Day and as Law Day. Each year, the sitting president proclaims these observances on May 1.

Canada follows a similar course. While Labour Day parades and picnics are organized by unions, many Canadians simply regard Labour Day as the Monday of the last long weekend of summer. Non-union celebrations include picnics, fireworks displays, water activities, and public art events. Families with school-age children take it as the last chance to travel before the end of summer. Some teenagers and young adults view it as the last weekend for parties before returning to school.

In a separate May Day-related proclamation, the Roman Catholic Church added another Saint Joseph's Day in 1955 that Christianized 1 May as the day of "Saint Joseph, the Worker". Saint Joseph is the only patron saint of "people fighting communism".cite web|url= |title=Communism, those who fight against it |accessdate=2007-03-30 |work=PATRON SAINT INDEX |publisher=Catholic Community Forum]

In Poland, May 1 was renamed "State Holiday" in 1990; "see: Holidays in Poland".

ee also

*Industrial Workers of the World
*Labour Day

Photo gallery


External links

* [ May Day Songs in the Public Domain]
* [,1,6794043.story?coll=chi-news-hed "Roots of May Day are in Chicago"] By Ron Grossman, Chicago Tribune staff reporter, published May 1, 2007.
* [ May Day Archive at the Marxists Internet Archive]
* [ May Day: Festival for the Workers] , Keith Flett, Socialist Review, May 2002
* [ Listing of 2007 May Day events around the world]
* [ "What you need to know about May Day" by Leo Panitch]
* [ "The Capitalist Workday, The Socialist Workday" by Michael A. Lebowitz]

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