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May Day

Chris John Agee

Subject Social History » Labor History
Sociology » Social Movements

Place World

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1800-1899, 1900-1999

Key-Topics immigration, labor movements, labor unions, revolution

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405184649.2009.00998.x


May Day is International Workers' Day. In what has become a major event celebrated on May 1 of every year in many countries, May Day draws millions of people around the globe to rally for workers' rights. While May 1 protests originally grew out of the late nineteenth-century American labor movement , festivities spawned around the world and have, at times, included spectacular marches accompanied with cheering crowds, triumphant music, colorful banners, and large placards. Throughout the twentieth century, the event also served as a forum for protests against war and imperialist policies and often culminated in rallies calling for social justice. Despite efforts to undermine the meaning surrounding the event by business, capitalist classes, and conservative governments, May Day festivities and protests continue to be held in countries around the world. Originally the date of pagan festivals praising spring and the onset of summer, May 1 is marked with bonfires in Ireland and Scotland on Beltane (Bealtaine) or, as it is referred to in Northern Europe, Walpurgisnacht. Other cultures, such as in Egypt and India, celebrate early May with fertility festivals. In medieval England, people danced around maypoles decorated with greenery and flowers. Notwithstanding the traditional festivals, the birth of the modern May Day celebration can be traced back to the late nineteenth-century ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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