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May 1 is a symbol of social struggles and the spring season, resonating differently across the globe. Originating in the United States in 1886 amid labor demands for an 8-hour workday, this day evolved under the impetus of the Second International into a crucial international rendez-vous for workers.

In France, May 1 has a dual aspect. On one hand, union-led demonstrations marked by major social victories such as the 8-hour workday law in 1919 and paid vacations in 1936, characterize this day. On the other, a lighter, floral tradition took root: the offering of lily of the valley. Initiated by King Charles IX in the 16th century, this custom has become a staple in France. French people annually spend over 20 million euros to gift these white bell-shaped flowers, symbols of happiness and spring renewal.

Beyond these French specificities, May 1 encompasses a plethora of traditions worldwide. In Northern Europe, like in Finland, it is a day of student celebrations and family picnics, creating a carnival-like atmosphere. Parks fill with people, students parade through the streets wearing colorful caps. In Italy, May 1 is synonymous with a major concert in Rome, drawing thousands to Piazza San Giovanni. Throughout the day, artists take turns on stage to celebrate labor and solidarity.

In the former communist bloc, May 1 held a different significance. In Russia, China or Cuba, it was one of the most important holidays on the calendar, marked by massive military parades and strong state propaganda. Workers were honored, but within a framework tightly controlled by the government. Today, these countries still celebrate May 1, albeit more subdued, with union and political gatherings.

Other countries have a more contentious relationship with May 1. In Myanmar and Libya, public demonstrations are banned on this day, with authorities fearing unrest. In Turkey, Indonesia or Pakistan, gatherings are often suppressed despite the holiday. These tensions underscore that the struggle for workers’ rights is a protracted battle, still facing significant hurdles in some parts of the world.

In the United States, the historical birthplace of May 1, the celebration takes a different turn. It is Labor Day, observed on the first Monday of September, that honors American workers. This date stems from a railroad strike in 1894, unrelated to the foundational events in Chicago. Despite this calendar peculiarity, American unions remain active in defending social rights, in a country where inequalities are stark.

With more than 130 years since the inception of May 1, this day remains a potent symbol of social struggles worldwide. Despite obstacles and repression, millions of workers continue to mobilize to defend their rights and aspire to a fairer society. Even though traditions vary from country to country, whether lily of the valley accompanies demonstrations, May 1 remains a call to international solidarity and vigilance against social setbacks.

So, whether you are cheerfully toasting at a spring picnic, marching on the streets chanting slogans, or gifting a sprig of lily of the valley to loved ones, remember the deep meaning of this May 1. A day to celebrate past, present and future struggles, to reaffirm the vital importance of labor in our societies, and to weave bonds of fraternity across borders. May 1 reminds us that social achievements are never definitively secured, and that civic mobilization is everyone’s responsibility to build a more humane and equitable world of work.