International Workers' Day (a name used interchangeably with may day) is a celebration of the social and economic achievements of the international labor movement. May Day commonly sees organized street demonstrations and street marches by millions of working people and their labor unions throughout most of the countries of the world — though, as noted below, rarely in the United States and Canada.
International Workers' Day is the commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago in 1886, when Chicago police fired on workers during a general strike for the eight hour day, killing several demonstrators and resulting in the deaths of several police officers, largely from friendly fire. In 1889, the first congress of the Secound International, meeting in Paris for the centennial of the French Revolution and theExposition Universelle, following a proposal by Raymond Lavigne, called for international demonstrations on the 1890 anniversary of the Chicago protests. These were so successful that May Day was formally recognized as an annual event at the International's second congress in 1891. The May Day Riots of 1894 and may Day Riots of 1919 occurred subsequently. In 1904, the International Socialist Conference meeting in Amsterdam called on "all Social Democratic Party organizations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on May First for the legal establishment of the 8-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace." As the most effective way of demonstrating was by striking, the congress made it "mandatory upon the proletarian organizations of all countries to stop work on May 1, wherever it is possible without injury to the workers."
Through all this turmoil in the northern hemisphere, the Stonemasons Society in the then colony of Victoria, now the State of Victoria in Australia led the battle for the '8 Hour Day', the most dramatic achievement of the early trade Union Movement. By 1856, Australian workers were benefiting from the results of a decision by the Collingwood Branch of the Stonemasons Society of Victoria. The same year it was recognized in New South Wales, followed by Queensland in 1858 and South Australia in 1873. A memorial statue with the numerals 888, representing 8 hours of work, 8 hours of recreation, and 8 hours of rest, sits on the corner of Lygon Street and Victoria Parade in Melbourne, Australia to this day.
May Day has long been a focal point for demonstrations by various socialist, communist, and anarchist groups. In some circles, bonfires are lit in commemoration of the Haymarket martyrs, usually right as the first day of May begins. It has also seen right-wing massacres of participants as in the Taksim Square massacre of 1977 in Turkey.
Due to its status as a celebration of the efforts of workers and the socialist movement, May Day is an important official holiday in Communist countries such as the People's Republic of China, Cuba, and the former Soviet Union. May Day celebrations typically feature elaborate popular and military parades in these countries.
"Eastern-bloc" countries such as the USSR and most countries of Central and Eastern Europe that were under the rule of Communist governments held May Day celebrations in every town and city, during which leaders greeted the crowds. Workers carried banners with political slogans and many companies decorated their company cars to display during the parade. The biggest celebration of May 1 usually occurred in the capital of a particular communist country and usually included a military display and the presence of the president and the secretary general of the Party. In Poland, since 1982 party leaders led the official parades. See also subsection Russia.