It is May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day, in many parts of the world – a celebration of ordinary working people. The day was originally held to mark deadly clashes between strikers and police in Chicago in the United States in 1886 when trade unions pushed for an eight-hour working day.
By the early 1900s the call for shorter working hours had reached Europe and in 1919 the eight-hour day became law in France. The fact that May Day was embraced with such enthusiasm by the Soviet Union, with military parades through the centre of Moscow, meant that the United States preferred to honour workers with a holiday on September 1. By 1936 the French government had made May 1 an official holiday. After World War II more people were marking it with trips to the beach than attending the traditional union organised street parades. But through much of the 1960s and 70s radicalism was again the order of the day. And not everyone in Europe can wait until the first of the new month. In Finland they have already held their celebrations, which as well as honouring workers also heralds the arrival of spring.