May Day (1 May)

1 May is widely celebrated throughout the world as International Workers´ Day.

Belgrade, Serbia, 1 May 2010: “No to privatization and to debt slavery. All in strike. Today it is Greece, tomorrow it will be Serbia”

It is an annual holiday that has deep roots in the labour union movement. Although some countries, such as the USA and Canada, celebrate Labor Day (“Labour” in Canada) on the first Monday in September, more than 150 countries celebrate International Workers´ Day on 1 May.

Even the Catholic Church, in 1955, dedicated this day to Saint Joseph, the patron saint of workers. Long before the labour union movement, this date has held important significance in European history as the pagan celebration of the beginning of summer, with this day falling roughly between former notions of the spring equinox and the summer solstice.

International Workers´ Day is celebrated in memory of the 1886 demonstrations in Chicago where more than two hundred workers lost their lives in conflict with police forces. At that time, the workers’ main demand was reducing the work day to eight hours.

Throughout the 20th century and still nowadays, May Day has provided an opportunity for organized demonstrations and street marches throughout most of the countries of the world. Labor Day was an especially popular holiday in the Communist countries, but it has also gained importance for other political groups as well. As Nazi Germany had made the day a national holiday, neo-Nazi supporters in some countries have begun to celebrate this day as well. Even anarchists have found reason to celebrate on this day.

With the fall of Communism, International Workers' Day lost much of its former importance. The biggest 1 May celebrations always used to take place in the capitals of Communist countries, and usually included a large military display overseen by the president and/or the secretary general of the Party.

1 May 2010 in Zagreb, Croatia.

In Poland, from 1982 until the end of the decade, party leaders led the official parades. While 1 May is still a national holiday in post-communist Poland, the name was changed from Labour Day to "State Holiday" (Święto państwowe) in 1990.

In the Czech Republic, the day is celebrated by many different groups: social democrats and trade unionists, communist parties and anarchists, and most recently, neo-Nazis and supporters of marijuana legalization. This has also become an occasion for organizing “techno-parades.”

In Slovakia, while this day is most fervently commemorated by communists, socialists and labour groups, it has gained importance in many other circles as well, and is furthermore recognized as the anniversary of Slovakia’s accession to the European Union.

Due to the financial crisis of 2009, May Day was used as an occasion for workers´ protests all over Europe and the world, and the same situation was repeated in numerous European capitals in 2010, most dramatically, the one held in Athens.

In the rest of the Balkans, the situation varies from country to country. In Serbia, more than a half-million people went on picnics, while only two-hundred participants showed up for the (only significant) workers´ protest in Kruševac.

In neighbouring Montenegro, there was not a single protest meeting planned for that day. In Croatia, the four largest unions organized protests on the squares of four biggest Croatian towns, although there were many fewer people in attendance than expected, as it seems that barbecues in nature were more important to many of the citizens. In contrast to this, several thousand people attended a protest gathering in Priština.

Over the first weekend of May 2010, Bulgaria marked the 134th anniversary since the April Uprising against the Ottoman Empire.

This year it was decided by the Bulgarian Council of Ministers that workers throughout the country should also get four days off in the beginning of May to celebrate the traditional Bulgarian Day of St. George (Gergiovden), which is on 6 May.

International Workers’ Day was given significantly less importance and space in Bulgarian press than these two other holidays.

Published Aug. 24, 2010 3:13 PM - Last modified Dec. 8, 2010 10:58 AM