1st May – Dia del Trabajor

These days, when we take for granted all manner of rights and laws covering our well-being at work, the holiday that is celebrated on the first of May, known in Spain as ‘el día del trabajo’ – ‘Work Day’ – serves to remind us that it was not always thus. The marches held on this day are now peaceful enough, but they pay homage to a struggle that came to a head in protests in Chicago in 1886.

At that time, working conditions for manual workers were appalling. Your working day would typically last sixteen hours, your wages would be low, your standard of living likewise. Children worked from the age of six, women would have to do the night shift to augment their husbands’ wages. Thousands of workers went on strike at the beginning of May, 1886, and demonstrated for the right to a 48-hour week or an 8-hour day. In circumstances that remain controversial to this day, violence erupted, several people were killed, many were arrested and some were even subsequently executed following farcical trials, becoming known as the Haymarket Martyrs.

The date of May 1st, already a day dedicated to some pagan festivals, later became an emblematic day for the labour movement and a national holiday in some countries. Every year in Spain since 1976 there have been marches organized by the trades unions on this day, the slogan this year being “Por la igualdad, empleo de calidad”, ie to achieve equality we need good-quality employment.

Immediately surrounding 1st May are the Cruces de Mayo, or May Crosses.


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