International Workers' Day
(a name used
interchangeably with May Day
) is a
celebration of the social and economic achievements of the
international labor movement
commonly sees organized street demonstrations and street marches by
millions of working people and their labour
union 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 several demonstrators and resulting in
the deaths of several police officers, largely from friendly fire. 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
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
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
all this turmoil in the northern hemisphere, the Stonemasons
Society in the then colony of Victoria, now the State of
Victoria in Australia led the battle for the 8 Hour Day, the
most dramatic achievement of the early trade Union Movement.
By 1856, Australian workers were benefiting from the results of a
decision by the Collingwood Branch of the Stonemasons Society of
Victoria. The same year it was recognized in New South Wales, followed by Queensland in 1858 and South Australia in 1873. A memorial statue with the numerals 888,
representing 8 hours of work, 8 hours of recreation, and 8 hours of
rest, sits on the corner of Lygon Street and Victoria Parade in
Melbourne, Australia to this
May Day has long been a focal point for demonstrations
by various socialist
groups. In some circles,
bonfires are lit in commemoration of the
martyrs, usually right as the first day of May
It has also seen right-wing massacres of
participants as in the Taksim
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
May Day celebrations typically feature
elaborate popular and military parades in these countries.
countries other than the United States and Canada, resident
working classes sought to make May Day
an official holiday and their efforts largely succeeded.
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
was promoted by the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor organized the first parade
in New York
The first Labor Day celebration was held on
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
commemorating Labor Day on May 1
an opportunity to commemorate the riots. Thus he moved in 1887 to
support the Labor Day that the Knights supported. 
May Day celebrations around the World
May 1 is a national holiday in Albania, Armenia, Argentina, Aruba, Austria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Colombia, Costa
Rica, China, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech
Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hong
Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iraq, Italy, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar
, Nepal, Nigeria, North
Korea, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, the Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South
Korea, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Sweden, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia, and
May Day was celebrated by some early European settlers of the
continent. In some parts of the
States, May Baskets are made.
These baskets are
small and usually filled with flowers or treats and left at
someone's doorstep. The person leaving the basket rings the
doorbell, and is supposed to run away. The person receiving the
basket tries 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. Among the largest ceremonies 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 2006, May 1 was chosen by mostly Latino
groups in the U.S. as the day
for the Great American
, a general strike
illegal immigrant workers and supporters to protest H.R. 4437
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 illegal immigrant workers ended with
a widely televised assault by LAPD
In March 2008, the International
Longshore and Warehouse Union
announced that dockworkers
will move no cargo
at any West Coast
ports on May 1,
, as a protest against the continuation of
the Iraq War
and the diversion of resources
from domestic needs.
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
While celebrations by more radical socialist, anarchist and
occur on May 1, the government of Prime
Minister John Sparrow
declared the first Monday in September as
Canada's official Labour Day in 1894.
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
At that time, union
activity was technically still illegal and the organizers were
jailed, at the behest of George Brown
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
The tradition had a renaissance at the time of the
mass strike of 1972. On the 1973 May Day, the first contemporary
demonstration was organised by the major trade union confederations
(FTQ, CSN, CEQ). Over 30,000 trade unionists took part in this
States has its own Labor Day holiday, celebrated on
the first Monday in September instead of on May Day.
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.
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
There are many examples in the U.S. of people honoring both May 1's
"Green Root" (pagan) and "Red Root" (labor) traditions.
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.
May Day celebration in India was
organised in Madras by the Labour Kisan Party of
Hindustan on May 1, 1923. This was also the first time the red flag was used in India.
party leader Singaravelu
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
newspaper, published from Madras reported,
The Labour Kisan party has introduced May Day
celebrations in Chennai.
Comrade Singaravelar presided over the
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.
is a nationwide bank holiday in India.
holiday is tied to labour movements for communist and socialist
political parties. In Maharashtra and Gujarat, it is officially called Maharashtra Day and Gujarat Day respectively, since on this day in
1960 each attained statehood, after the old Bombay State became divided on linguistic
May Day is not officially designated by the Japanese government as
a national holiday. But because it lies between other national
holidays, it is a day off work for the vast majority of Japanese
workers. Many employers give it as a day off by, and otherwise
workers take it as "paid leave". May 1 is occurs in the "Golden Week
" of holidays, together
withApril 29 ("Shōwa Day
of former Emperor Hirohito
), May 3
"), May 4 ("Greenery Day
May 5 ("Children's Day
Thus workers take May 1 is off work not so much to join street
rallies or labor union gatherings but rather to take a few days of
vacation in an uninterrupted string. In the Japanese corporate
culture, taking weekdays off for personal pleasure is widely
on this day, some of the major labor unions organize rallies and
demonstrations in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.
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
However the largest Japanese trade union,
the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, better known as
, held its May Day rally on the
following Saturday (May 3), allegedly to distance itself from the
more radical labor unions.
Japan's official "Labor
" 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.
has been celebrated in Nepal since
The day became a public holiday in 2007.
People's Republic of China
Republic of China, May 1 marked the start of one
of the country's three "Golden
Three days off work were given, and one of the
surrounding weekends was, for no more than 3 days. From 2008
, only one day would still be given, with the other
two days being rescheduled on Qingming
in early April and Duanwu
in early June, respectively.
Eastern bloc under Communist governments
"Eastern-bloc" countries such as the
USSR and most countries of Central and Eastern Europe
that were under the rule of Communist governments held May Day
celebrations in every town and city, during which leaders greeted
Workers carried banners with political slogans
and many companies decorated their company cars to display during
the parade. The biggest celebration of May 1 usually occurred in
the capital of a particular communist country and usually included
a military display and the presence of the president and the
secretary general of the Party. In Poland, since 1982 party leaders
led the official parades. See also subsection Russia
Germany, May Day was a single-occurrence holiday in 1919
under the leftist revolutionary government, but it became a regular
yearly holiday only in 1933, when it was introduced as "Holiday of
National Labour" by the Nazi government.
After the war, the "National" epithet was stripped and the day has
been called simply "Day of Labour" ever since.
Traditionally, the day has a political connotation in most regions
since long before it became an official holiday. In communist East Germany, workers were de facto required to
participate in large state-organized parades on this date.
Berlin witnesses yearly demonstrations on May Day, the
largest organized by labour union,
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.
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 of Germany
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 eventually ended the riots the
following night. These violent forms of protests by the radical
left, later increasingly involved participants without political
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
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.
Stamp of GDR's 1.
There were violent protests before 1987. 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
("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 Portugal, the 1st of May celebration was harshly repressed
during the fascist dictatorship regime, although, since 1974, it's
now celebrated by the several leftist political parties with
parades and demonstrations. It has become an opportunity for the
several precarious workers groups to show their discontent for
existing work conditions, in a parade called May Day. It has
considerable strength among unionized workers and militants from
leftist political parties.
In Spain, the 1st of May celebration was established after the end
's dictatorship in 1975;
before that, it had been celebrated during the Spanish Second Republic
(1931-1939), but it was banned afterwards by the fascist francoist
regime. The first time it was celebrated was in 1977, when the
spanish communist party was legalized. Since then, it has become an
official holiday that has been traditionally used by trade unions
and leftist parties for social and
labour vindications. Commonly, pacific demonstrations and parades
are made in most big cities.
The May 1st celebrations are characterised by demonstrations.
Participation, however, has dropped significantly during the last
decade. All major parties participate. Greek
May Day was officially celebrated under the Communist regime, and
remains a public holiday. Traditionally, the day was marked by
dancing around designated "May trees."
May day celebration in Italy took place
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
immediately restored after the Second
. (During the fascist period, a "Holiday of the
Italian labour" (Festa del lavoro italiano
) was celebrated
on the 21st of April, the date of Natale di Roma
ancient Rome was allegedly born.)
Day is a very important celebration in Italy.
popular is the Concerto del Primo Maggio ("1 May's
Concert"), organized by Italian Labour Unions in Rome in Piazza
It is attended by more than 300,000 people
every year, and involves participation of many famous bands and
songwriters. The concert is usually broadcasted live by Rai Tre
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 recent years, non-socialist
parties have also held meetings and speeches along with the
socialist parties. In Sweden and Finland, however, it merges with
, a carnival
-type festivity. In Denmark, Labour Day is not regarded a public
May Day was celebrated illegally until the February Revolution
enabled the first
legal celebration in 1917
. The following year,
after the Bolshevik seizure of power
, the May Day
celebrations were boycotted by Mensheviks
, Left Socialist
. It became an
important official holiday of the Soviet Union, celebrated with elaborate popular parade in the
centre of the major cities. The biggest celebration was traditionally
organized on the Red
Square, where the General Secretary of the CPSU
and other party and government leaders stood atop Lenin's
Mausoleum and waved to the crowds.
Since 1992, May Day
is officially called "The Day of Spring and Labour", and remains a
major holiday in the present-day Russia.
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
and a statue of Winston Churchill
being given a grass mohawk
protest at his alleged crimes. The Cenotaph was also defaced with graffiti.
In the last few years, demonstrations have been more peaceful, with
marches and gatherings, particularly in central London. This
downturn in civil disorder is usually attributed to either popular
distaste 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 activist group the Space Hijackers
New Zealand and Australia
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.
holiday originated with the eight-hour work day movement that arose
in the newly-founded Wellington colony in 1840.
The carpenter Samuel Parnell
refused 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"
holiday so that it would be observed on the same day throughout the
, the Labour Day public
holiday is fixed by the various states and territories
governments. In some territories, the celebrations are connected to
International Workers' Day, while in others they are not.
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 Queensland and the Northern Territory, the holiday is on the first Monday in May
Co-opting May Day
Over the course of history, several different governments and
non-working-class organizations have attempted to add their own
holidays on May 1 to compete with International Workers' Day, or
have decreed that a holiday in honour of labour is to be held at
some other time of the year.
Germany, May Day celebrations have been organized
independently by the Social Democratic Party
since the late 19th century and by the Communist Party since
However, for a long time the day was not made an
official state holiday, even when the Social Democrats came to
power in the years after the First World
, because both the social democrats and the communists
believed that the workers should organize their own holiday without
the involvement of the (traditionally conservative) German state
bureaucracy. In April 1933, the recently installed Nazi
government declared May 1 the "Day of
National Work," an official state holiday, and announced that all
celebrations were to be organized by the government. Any separate
celebrations by communists, social democrats or labour union
were banned. After the Second World War, May 1 remained a state
holiday in both East and
Today it is simply called the "Day of
Labour" ("Tag der Arbeit"
), and there are numerous
demonstrations and celebrations by independent workers'
States, Labor Day
is celebrated on the first Monday in September instead of on
This Labor Day was a creation of
the 1880s Knights of Labor
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
and as Law Day
. Each year, the sitting president proclaims
these observances on May 1.
Canada follows a
While unions organize Labour Day parades and
, 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
Saint Joseph's Day
in 1955 that
May 1 as the day of
"Saint Joseph, the Worker
Joseph is the only patron saint of "people fighting
Poland, May 1 was renamed "State Holiday" in 1990;
see: Holidays in
Image:May 1, 2008 in Stockholm.JPG|May Day
Demonstration in Stockholm, 2008.Image:Agartala-mayday151.jpg|May Day meeting
in Agartala, IndiaImage:May_Day_in_London.jpg|May Day
Demonstration in London, 2008.Image:1maj2006soc.dem.sthlm.jpg|Social Democratic May Day
demonstration in Stockholm, Sweden,
2006Image:1majmumbai.JPG|A May Day rally in
Mumbai.Image:Forstamaj.jpg|A rally in Stockholm, Sweden
1899.Image:MayDayInNazarth.JPG|May Day meeting in
NazarethImage:Колонна РКРП-РПК на первомайской
демонстрации.jpg|May Day demonstration in Izhevsk, Russia, 2008
- From the diary of Anatoly Vasilyevich Lunacharsky; 1 May
- May Day
- Colleen J. Sheehy (Ed.), Theatre of Wonder: 25 Years in the
Heart of the Beast (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, 1999), 79-89.
- "Longshoremen to close ports on West Coast to
protest war" by Jack Heyman, San
Francisco Chronicle, April 9, 2008
- Colleen J. Sheehy (Ed.), Theatre of Wonder: 25 Years in the
Heart of the Beast, pp. 79-89; Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
- :: Singaravelar - Achievements ::
- M.V.S. Koteswara Rao. Communist Parties and United Front -
Experience in Kerala and West Bengal. Hyderabad:
Prajasakti Book House, 2003. p. 110
- 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
- Nepalnews.com (newsflash) Arc379)
- Nepalnews.com, news from Nepal as it
- Mayday traditions and events in Hungary
- Violence at May Day protest
- Workers in London May Day march
- Labour Day: A History - from NZHistory.net.nz