May Day In­ter­na­tional Work­ers’ Day

The Star (St. Lucia) - - MAY DAY -

In­ter­na­tional Work­ers’ Day, known also as Labour Day, is the hol­i­day which is com­monly as­so­ci­ated with a com­mem­o­ra­tion of the achieve­ments of the labour move­ment in Chicago on 4 May 1886.

The 1st May date is used be­cause in 1884 the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Or­ga­nized Traders and La­bor Unions de­manded an eight-hour work­day, to come in ef­fect as of 1 May 1886.

May Day is a tra­di­tional Euro­pean spring cel­e­bra­tion. It is a na­tional pub­lic hol­i­day in many coun­tries, but only in some coun­tries is it specif­i­cally cel­e­brated as “Labour Day” or “In­ter­na­tional Work­ers’ Day”.

Dur­ing Ro­man times, 1 May was seen as a key time to cel­e­brate fer­til­ity and the ar­rival of spring. The Ro­man fes­ti­val of Flora, the god­dess of flow­ers and the sea­son of spring, was held be­tween 28 April and 3 May.

Why is May Day Cel­e­brated?

In­ter­na­tional Labour Day, or May Day, is cel­e­brated to recog­nise the fight for an eight-hour work day. In the 19th cen­tury work­ing con­di­tions of the labourer were harsh and work­ing hours could be as many as 16 a day in some­times un­safe con­di­tions. Deaths, in­juries and un­healthy and un­san­i­tary con­di­tions were com­mon at the work­place dur­ing the 1860s and work­ing peo­ple were dis­grun­tled.

After much ef­fort from work­ers, unions and so­cial­ists, eight hours was de­clared as the max­i­mum daily le­gal time for work­ers by the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of La­bor at the na­tional con­ven­tion at Chicago in 1884.

Many peo­ple sac­ri­ficed their lives dur­ing what came to be known as the Hay­mar­ket Mas­sacre, a protest held in Chicago dur­ing the work­ers’ strike of 1884. May Day is cel­e­brated to recog­nise those who cam­paigned, in me­mory of those killed, and to pro­mote the so­cial and eco­nomic achieve­ments of work­ing peo­ple.

In­ter­na­tional Work­ers Day in Europe

In the United King­dom and Ire­land the bank hol­i­day is not fixed as May 1st but is ob­served on the first Mon­day of May.

A key May Day cel­e­bra­tion in Italy is the the an­nual Con­certo del Primo Mag­gio which takes place in Rome and is at­tended by more than half a mil­lion peo­ple.

In Swe­den May day is also a Chris­tian cel­e­bra­tion; the Mass of Saint Wal­burga or Walpur­gis Night is cel­e­brated on the evening of 30 April.

In Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina, Croa­tia, Mon­tene­gro, Mace­do­nia and Ser­bia most peo­ple cel­e­brate the hol­i­day by vis­it­ing nat­u­ral parks and re­sorts. In some places pub­lic events are also or­gan­ised.

In Switzer­land Labour Day is a hol­i­day in the fol­low­ing 11 can­tons: Ap­pen­zell Ausser­rho­den, Basel-Land­schaft, Basel-Stadt, Fri­bourg, Jura, Neuchâ­tel, Schaffhausen, Solothurn, Thur­gau, Ti­cino and Zurich. The sta­tus of the hol­i­day may vary be­tween the can­tons, for in­stance in Solothurn it is a hol­i­day in the af­ter­noon.

Demon­stra­tions and marches are a Labour Day tra­di­tion in France where trade unions or­gan­ise pa­rades in ma­jor cities to de­fend work­ers’ rights. It is also cus­tom­ary to of­fer a lily of the val­ley flower to friends or fam­ily.

In Greece 1 May is an op­tional pub­lic hol­i­day. The Min­istry of Labour re­tains the right to clas­sify it as an of­fi­cial pub­lic hol­i­day on an an­nual ba­sis, and it cus­tom­ar­ily does so.

May Day was cel­e­brated il­le­gally in Rus­sia un­til the Fe­bru­ary Rev­o­lu­tion en­abled the first le­gal cel­e­bra­tion in 1917. It be­came an im­por­tant of­fi­cial hol­i­day of the Soviet Union, cel­e­brated with an elab­o­rate pop­u­lar pa­rade in the cen­tre of the ma­jor cities. Since 1992 May Day is of­fi­cially called “The Day of Spring and Labour”.

Or­ga­nized traders and Labour Unions de­manded an eight-hour work­day, to come in ef­fect as of 1 May 1886, fol­low­ing the Hay­mar­ket ri­ots in Chicago.

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