This year, May Day made headlines in the United States as Occupy Wall Street used the traditional holiday in honor of labor to stage protests against inequities in the global economy. Many of the protests turned violent.
Around the globe, meanwhile, others staged demonstrations that reflected a more traditional perspective on the first day of May, which has ancient origins as a festival day. Now it’s often celebrated as International Workers’ Day; the worker connotation started in the 1880s, when American labor used the date for massive rallies in favor of the eight-hour day. In countries where communism isn’t a dirty word, marchers proudly held aloft images of Argentine-cum-Cuban revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, flags bearing the hammer and sickle and other time-honored leftist symbols.
That’s not to say other countries’ May Day demonstrations didn’t turn into agitation. In countries where the gap between the rich and poor yawns significantly wider than in the U.S., riot police sometimes were called out to respond to protesters’ calls for workers to unite.
Similar communist themes cropped up throughout Latin America, where leftists have long protested against American and European exploitation of the region’s resources.
May Day demonstrations throughout Europe also evoked the Cold War in their criticism of the world economic order. Counter-intuitively, many East Europeans, including younger people who weren’t even born at the time, now look back nostalgically at the communist era.
In other parts of the world, May Day turned confrontational. Often, the agitation took its cue from the Occupy Wall Street movement. Elsewhere, local concerns were center stage.
In France, where a heated presidential race is in full swing, local concerns almost entirely eclipsed May Day, at least from some people’s point of view.