1 May 1890: International voices unite for workers' rights

Trade unions lead a 1 May march in Malaga in 2001.
Trade unions lead a 1 May march in Malaga in 2001. / SUR
  • Barcelona was among the first places in Spain to hold a 1 May march after the date was declared International Workers Day at a Socialist congress in Paris in 1889

On 1 May 1890, workers took to the streets in Spain to mark the first International Workers Day.

The previous July, in Paris, the congress of the Second International, an organisation of Socialist and Labour parties, declared 1 May as an international day to call for workers' rights.

One of the principal demands at the time was for an eight-hour working day. This petition had also been behind the events that began on 1 May 1886 in Chicago and led the Socialists in Paris to choose that date for the annual commemoration.

Chicago was at the time America's capital of industry and thousands of workers supported an eight-hour-day strike. On the fourth day, however, violence broke out, leading to the Haymarket affair. A bomb was thrown, killing seven police officers. A group of anarchists were arrested and tried; seven were sentenced to death. The trial was later seen as a miscarriage of justice and the Haymarket Martyrs Monument was put up in 1893.

The biggest demonstration in Spain on the first International Workers Day on 1 May 1890 was in Barcelona, as Madrid had postponed events until 4 May, a Sunday, to ensure greater participation.

The city's workers' societies, influenced by anarchists, called a general strike from 1 May which was supported practically across the board. According to some reports, the rally held that morning in Barcelona attracted more than 20,000 workers.

1 May was declared a national holiday in Spain in 1931 during the Second Republic. This was abolished by Franco, although the dictator did have to acknowledge the Catholic Church's adoption of 1 May asthe universal feast of St Joseph the Workman, patron saint of workers, under Pope Pius XII in 1954.

The public holiday was reinstated in Spain in 1978 and since then 1 May marches have been held in cities around the country.

International Workers Day, also called Labour Day or May Day, is celebrated in the majority of countries around the world.

Curiously, in the United States, where the original 1 May events took place, Labor Day is celebrated in September.

This year, coronavirus has put paid to Workers Day street demonstrations in Spain and numerous other countries.