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International Workers' Day in Santiago de Compostela, 2009.

International Workers' Day (a name used interchangeably with May Day) is the commemoration of the Haymarket Riot of 1886 in Chicago, Illinois, and a celebration of the social and economic achievements of the international labor movement. The 1 May date is used because in 1884 the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, inspired by labor's 1872 success in Canada, demanded an eight-hour workday in the United States to come in effect as of May 1, 1886. This resulted in a general strike and the riot in Chicago of 1886, but eventually also in the official sanction of the eight-hour workday. The May Day Riots of 1894 and May Day Riots of 1919 occurred subsequently.

Due to these left-wing overtones, 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 Riot usually right as the first day of May begins. [citation needed] In the 20th century, May Day received the official endorsement of the Soviet Union; celebrations in communist countries during the Cold War era often consisted of large military parades and shows of common people in support of the government.

The Red Scare periods ended May Day as a mass holiday in the United States, a phenomenon which can be seen as somewhat ironic given that May Day originated in Chicago. Meanwhile, in countries other than the United States and United Kingdom, resident working classes fought hard to make May Day an official governmentally-sanctioned holiday, efforts which eventually largely succeeded. For this reason, May Day in most of the world today is marked by huge street rallies of workers led by their trade unions and various large socialist and communist parties — a phenomenon not generally seen in the U.S. (which has a history of strong anti-communism) or the UK.

In most countries other than the U.S. and UK, May Day is often referred to simply as "Labor Day".

Canada, Australia, and New Zealand celebrate their Labor Day on different dates, which has to do with how the holiday originated in those countries; see also Loyalty Day and Law Day, U.S.A.

Attempts to Co-Opt May Day

Historically, there have been many attempts around the world to permanently co-opt or subvert May Day's origin and Radical Left ideology, but only a few such efforts have survived to the present day. Perhaps the most notable among the attempts that have survived is in the United States, where instead of May Day, a special "Labor Day" is celebrated on the first Monday in September. This Labor Day is a specific creation of the modern U.S. labor movement which expunged communists from its leading ranks after the Red Scare periods. The day constitutes a patriotic yearly national tribute to the contributions American workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the country, and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of these workers.

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. Through this co-opting 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 fascist 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 a separate attempt to co-opt May Day, the Roman Catholic Church added another Saint Joseph's Day in 1955 that Christianized 1 May as the day of "Saint Joseph, the Worker". It is perhaps surprising that the Church did not take this step earlier, to distract attention from the traditionally virile pagan celebrations of May Day.

May Day in the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom in recent years the anti-capitalist movement has organised a number of large protests in London that have resulted in clashes with the police. In 2000 the clashes ended with a branch of McDonalds being smashed and a statue of Winston Churchill being given a green mohican as a protest at his alleged crimes. [1]

EuroMayDay [1]

Since 2001, EuroMayDay has become part of the celebration of the First of May, aiming to update the political content of the traditional May Day. The point of reference of EuroMayDay is not the industrial working class, but rather the multitude of increasingly precarized post-fordist flex/temp/networkers. EuroMayDay aims to create visible opposition against precarization of labour and life. EuroMayDay was originated in Milan, Italy, from where it first spread to Barcelona in 2004 and then to over a dozen cities all over Europe in 2005. In 2005, approximately 200.000 people took part in the Europe-wide EuroMayDay.

In 2005, the EuroMayDay network used the slogan Precarious of the world let's unite and strike 4 a free open radical Europe. The Middlesex Declaration of Europe's Precariat 2004 emerged from the Beyond ESF event held in parallel to the European Social Forum held in London in September 2004. In 2006, even more cities are taking part in EuroMayDay. The amount of participants has increased from 5000 people in Milan in 2001 to 50,000 in 2003 and 100,000 in 2004 (Milan and Barcelona altogether). EuroMayDay Cities have included Amsterdam, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Helsinki, Jyväskylä, L'Aquila, Leon, Liege, London, Maribor, Marseilles, Milan, Naples, Palermo, Paris, Seville, Stockholm and Vienna.


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