Five ways International Workers Day is celebrated around the world

Breanna Diaz | April 30, 2021

International Workers Day, also recognized as May Day, originated from a walkout of over 300,000 workers on May 1, 1886. The walkout was the crux of a lengthy battle for an 8-hour workday, which included labor organizations such as the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions. The Haymarket Massacre, the violent class between the police and labor protesters on May 4, 1886, further catalyzed the commemoration of May Day in the United States as a symbol of worker rights and solidarity. 

Ultimately, International Workers Day is an official holiday commemorating workers in 66 countries, and it has become a symbol of mobilization for the immigrant community in Los Angeles. Below we’ve listed the ways May Day is celebrated across the globe.

May Day march in Los Angeles rally near MacArthur Park in 2019.

1. Ghana

Ghana celebrated its first International Workers Day in 1965, shortly after it gained independence in 1957. An annual national parade and celebratory events mark the special day for workers. The celebrations carry a different theme each year, such as “Labour and Nation Building: Fifty Years and Beyond” or “Sustainable pension for all; the role of social partners.” These celebrations offer workers the opportunity to call attention to and advocate for issues workers are facing in Ghana. 

2. Kenya

In honor of the economic and social gains made in Kenya, as well as to show support for workers’ rights, Kenyans gather on May 1st for commemorative events usually organized by the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU). 

People come together in Uhuru Park in Nairobi, Kenya to hear speeches from the president and the general secretary of COTU, participate in parades and enjoy performances. Today, many Kenyans struggle with finding jobs and small business owners, particularly entrepreneurs who work in the informal sector, advocate for their working conditions to be improved. 

3. Cuba

Cuba’s Plaza de Revolución becomes populated with advocates for the working class, and the island-wide celebrations normally pull more than a million attendees. During the celebratory parades, people show off signs and flags denoting their work sectors, and labor leaders.  Attendees listen to speeches from government labor officials in support of the working class. 

However, in the wake of COVID-19, 2020’s May Day celebrations looked different from years past. Instead of the usual marches and parades, Cubans celebrated in the safety of their homes by hanging flags and singing the National Anthem together. 

4. Mexico 

On “Dia del Trabajo” in Mexico, workers and students usually get the day off as it is a public holiday. People usually celebrate with a day of rest and leisure, but in Mexico City, a parade forms part of the celebration for workers and advocacy for workers’ rights. 

5. Los Angeles, California

Here in Los Angeles, an annual march demanding rights for immigrants, women, and other marginalized workers is held in downtown Los Angeles. The May Day Coalition of Los Angeles, which organizes these annual demonstrations, is planning this year’s march centered around the theme “The Fight Continues/La Lucha Sigue.” A car caravan is also joining the movement, as organziers and partidcpats advocate for undocumented immigrants and union protection laws. 

Celebrate May Day locally or virtually! Click here to learn more about how you can participate in the Los Angeles May Day March, or here to contribute from home.