1 May, the origins and traditions of Labour Day

Labour and Workers’ Day

In Italy it is synonymous of Concertone, because since 1990 the CGIL, CISL and UIL trade unions, together with the municipality of Rome, have organised this important media and cultural event, but the 1st of May is a universal holiday, celebrating work and in particular the struggles of workers. In many places in Italy this holiday is celebrated in various ways, some of them rather picturesque. For example, in Cocullo, Abruzzo, the Serpari surround the statue of San Domenico Abate with snakes before carrying it in procession, while in Volterra, older people eat tripe to honour the tradition of workers in the alabaster quarries.

Labour Day 1st May 1945;
Trade unions march united through the streets of the capital

How we celebrate in Europe, USA and China

In France, people attend trade union parades in the main cities and are given a lily of the valley flower for good luck.

In Germany it is a day of rest and is commemorated by wearing a red carnation flower.

In England it is celebrated on the first Monday of the month. Known as May Day, it is a day dedicated to workers’ rights and welcomes spring.

In Finland, the day is dedicated to workers and students and is celebrated on Vappu, one of the biggest picnics in the world, which becomes a kind of carnival as everyone is dressed in eccentric masks and accessories.

In the USA, the national holiday is celebrated on the first Monday of September. It is not a celebration of work, but a protest against government policies towards immigrants.

In China, a whole week is celebrated in which the government grants paid holidays to workers.

The origins of the celebration

The choice of the first day of May as a holiday was due to the commemoration of the events in Chicago, in what is now remembered as the Haymarket Massacre. Then the International Workers’ Association, at the First International in Geneva in 1866, brought the holiday to Europe.

But even in Italy the history of this holiday has been troubled.

In 1898, the feast day took place at the same time as the bread riots and the protests against entering the First World War. During the Fascist regime it was brought forward to join Christmas in Rome on 21 April.

In 1945 the celebration returned to the first of May, the climate of the Liberation turning the Workers’ Day into a unique day. Just two years later, however, it was stained with innocent blood, following the Portella della Ginestra massacre, in which eleven people taking part in the demonstrations were killed. Even today, there are still many shadows surrounding the massacre, which seems to have Mafia roots. It was only in 1970 that workers returned to the square to celebrate, without being divided by political or trade union flags.

Much has changed since then and the concert held every year in Rome best represents the values of celebration.

Rome, the Concertone of 1st May

St Francis of Assisi said: “He who works with his hands is a worker. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”

Cast Bolzonella wish you a happy 1st May

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