May 1st is the day many countries celebrate all that workers have done and continue to do to make the world a better place for all.
Recent headlines have clamored over the first-ever Amazon union in New York—a timely topic when discussing how laborers are celebrated throughout the world on May Day!
While Labor Day always falls on the first Monday in September in the U.S. and Canada, many parts of the world—66 countries, in fact—celebrate workers on or around May 1st.
Read on to learn how some countries honor the economic, political, and social contributions of workers and the struggle many have undergone to gain fair hours, wages, and working conditions.
May 1st is Workers’ Day in Argentina and major cities host celebrations and demonstrations related to labor. The first Workers' Day celebration in Argentina was in 1890, but it wasn’t established as an official holiday until 1930. Today, stores and public services close for the day, and politicians speak about pressing issues connected to workers’ rights. Friends and family often gather for an asado or traditional Argentine barbecue.
Italy celebrates La Festa dei Lavoratori on May 1st with all-day concerts, the largest held in Piazza San Giovanni in Rome. Over half a million people attend every year to hear famous singers perform. Some Italians participate in maypole celebrations, where maypoles are greased with lard, topped with prosciutto, mortadella, and money, and people attempt to climb them. Eventually, after many efforts, the grease wears off and someone gets the prize.
Every May 1st in Bulgaria, people celebrate Irminden, or “snake day.” Legend has it that snakes start coming out of their burrows every year on March 25, but the snake king comes out on May 1st. Historically, anyone who worked in the fields that day was likely to get bitten, so agricultural workers got the day off. Today, the holiday extends to nearly all workers, and bonfires keep the snakes away during celebrations to welcome the coming summer.
May 1st is a federal holiday in Mexico that also commemorates the Cananea Strike of 1906, in which Mexican copper miners in Sonoro went on strike to demand better working conditions and the same pay as American workers who worked in the same mine. Today, workers and students usually get a holiday on Dia del Trabajo, and people celebrate with a day of parades and leisure.
In France, May 1st is the only day of the year when non-essential workers are legally obliged to be given a day off. Demonstrations and marches are a Labor Day tradition in France, as is offering a lily of the valley to friends or family. This custom dates back to 1561, when King Charles IX, aged 10, gave a lily of the valley to each lady in his court.
Peruvian Labor Day was established as an official public holiday on May 1st, 1905, after the first employment laws regulating child labor, non-discrimination against women, Sundays off, mandatory holidays, and workers’ compensation were introduced. Today, most people in Peru spend the day relaxing with friends and family, but labor unions still hold marches and demonstrations in Lima.
Celebrate May Day in your classroom with these activities.
1. Ask students to research the Haymarket Riots, the event many historians cite as the beginning of Labor Day recognitions worldwide. Have them report their findings on a poster created in the target language where they can show visuals, such as illustrations, old newspaper articles, maps, or timelines. Students can then present their posters to each other in small groups or to the class.
2. Have students select a news article or video about a recent labor-related issue in a target language country or region. Maybe workers went on strike recently? Perhaps an employer extended benefits without being told to? Maybe a major source of income closed and workers had to find new ways to earn a living? Have students show the video or summarize the article, and after all students have presented their research, ask them to discuss whether they have noticed these issues in their own community.
3. Have students research a local organization that focuses on economic justice in a target language region or country. After they have learned what the organization does, ask each student to write a short email to the organization's director, explaining in the target language what they find important or inspirational about the work being done.
4. Have pairs of students role-play this situation: A candidate is coming in for an interview at the company of their dreams. While they are being interviewed by their future manager, the candidate realizes that the company has major labor-related issues and is a very dysfunctional workplace. Ask students to use real examples of labor issues, but to have fun and be creative with their role-playing.
Share the Love with Language is Limitless
While the old saying might be that love makes the world go round, really it is the labor of billions of people worldwide that gives us the goods and services we need to function daily. From the doctor who helped bring us into the world, to the teacher who put us on the right career path, to the person who raised the food we’ll eat for dinner tonight, everything in our lives is dependent upon the work of people we will never meet but owe so much too.
Have fun celebrating workers worldwide with your students.
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While Labor Day always falls on the first Monday in September in the U.S. and Canada, many parts of the world—66 countries, in fact— celebrate workers on or around May 1st.