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In pictures: May Day through history

Officers cordon off an area near a performer staging a street protest during a Russian Communist Party march marking May Day in downtown St. Petersburg May 1, 2009.
Officers cordon off an area near a performer staging a street protest during a Russian Communist Party march marking May Day in downtown St. Petersburg May 1, 2009. Copyright APDmitry Lovetsky
Copyright AP
By Euronews
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May Day has always been a lot of different things to different people.


As an international event to mark the plight of workers, May Day began in the U.S. in the 1800s but in the 200 or so years since it has spread to dozens of countries worldwide.

For the most part, it has always been a day commemorated by the political left, although at various times in modern history it has been appropriated by the far-right. During the Nazi era, Adolf Hitler made 1 May a national holiday and it was marked by fascist rallies and street demonstrations.

Given that the day has traditionally been about defending the working rights of the poor, May Day has tended to have strong anti-government sentiment in most countries. But at the same time, in Communist China today and in the USSR prior to 1989, it was a state-backed event.

Read more: May Day: The dark origins of International Workers' Day

Since the end of the Soviet era in Russia, May Day has become a rallying point for Russians who are nostalgic for the Communist era. In many other countries, it has brought disparate groups - mostly on the left - representing the political left, environmentalists and civil rights campaigners.

Euronews looks back at some historic May Day events in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

Moscow, 1928

This is a view of the May Day Parade in Moscow's Red Square, on May 1, 1928.AP

Thousands throng Moscow's Red Square on May 1, 1928, four years after the death of Lenin in 1924.

Germany, 1933

View of the enormous May Day celebration on the Tempelhofer Field in Berlin on May 1, 1933.AP

The Nazis appropriated May Day from the German left, and after Adolf Hitler became German Chancellor in 1933 it was marked by mass rallies in Berlin and other cities.

England, 1936

(AP Photo/Robert Rider-Rider)
London's biggest ever May Day demonstrations were held on May 3, 1936, in Hyde Park.(AP Photo/Robert Rider-Rider)

In the UK, May Day is celebrated on the first Monday in May. On May 3, 1936, major Clement Attlee, Labour Party leader, was one of the speakers. In 1945, Atlee would be elected prime minister.

Cuba, 1961

Long lines of workers and soldiers parade under an arch in Havana bearing a sign that reads "Unity for workers of the world," May 1, 1961, during the May Day parade.AP

After Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, May Day became a huge annual event for the island's new communist government.

China, 1967

AP/Chie Nishio
Spectator cheer and wave their Mao's Thoughts books as the foreign visitors leave the park after the conclusion of the entertainment.AP/Chie Nishio

May Day has always been a major event in Communist China. In 1967, it was marked in the first year of Mao Tse Tung's Cultural Revolution, which would last until the Chinese leader's death in 1976 and result in the deaths of up to 20 million people.

Paris, 1970

Thousands of left-wing Parisian workers march through the city in their annual May Day demonstration of solidarity in Paris in May 1970.AP

A holiday in France since 1948, in 1970 thousands of left-wing Parisian workers marched through the city bearing banners protesting against repressive labour laws.

London, 2007

British police officers provide security as demonstrators, holding a placard with the picture of Karl Marx, participate in a march on May 1, 2007.AP/LEFTERIS PITARAKIS

Even after the demise of communism in Russia and eastern Europe, Marxist iconography and images of the German thinker and philosopher, Karl Marx, remain common on May Day.

Russia, 2009

Officers cordon off an area near a performer staging a street protest during a Russian Communist Party march marking May Day in downtown St. Petersburg May 1, 2009.APDmitry Lovetsky

During the Soviet era, May 1 was a major celebration of worker solidarity, Soviet might and the advent of spring. After the Soviet collapse, it provided an opportunity for Communists and others angry over the switch to lopsided capitalism to vent criticism.

Philippines, 2018

AP/Bullit Marquez
Philippines May DayAP/Bullit Marquez

Beyond Europe, May Day is a festival in a number of Asian nations, including Japan and the Philippines, where the labour movement today uses it to attack President Rodrigo Duterte.

In this image from May 1, 2018, protesters burn an effigy of the controversial president.

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