Happy May Day

Today is “International Workers Day” a.k.a. Labor day in the U.S., May Day in England, and here in France we celebrate the same thing, la fête du travail. Along with a number of pagan festivals which have always celebrated May, it’s specifically a commemoration of the Haymarket Riot of 1886 in Chicago, Ill. when the 8 hour working day was fought for.

It’s a day where the unions traditionally march in protest of the latest government policies. In England it’s the anti-capitalist movement, in France they’re out against the CNE, the special contract for young employees in their first jobs. This is considered the “brother” of the CPE which caused an outpouring of violence, protest and general unrest earlier in the year.

On that urban issue, I noticed an article about the recent unrest in France written by an old lecturer and friend of mine at Warwick University, Jim Shields. He suggests :

Ethnic minorities remain almost entirely unrepresented on French television, as in the higher echelons of business, the civil service and the professions; and there is not a black face among the 555 deputies representing mainland France in the National Assembly. In no other European country are immigrants more brutally segregated, and in none other is the political elite more loftily exclusive. At the same time, no European country has been so resolute in refusing the ‘Anglo-Saxon model’ of multiculturalism and banishing expressions of religious difference from its schools and public sector.

So France embark on more protests against policies aimed (ostensibly) to improve youth unemployment issues. Sadly the urban issues pull much harder at my conscience on this day which we celebrate the start of summer* – and the day that is 6 months from All Saint’s Day, the start of winter*.

*There are several times of year that you can celebrate either of these events…


  1. Oops… Labor Day is always the first Monday in September in the United States. May 1st is not any kind of holiday here.

    Just to clarify that point.

  2. Simon

    4/5/2006 at 6:18 pm

    I’ve updated the article… so it’s not a holiday :-(.

    That’s a shame really, considering how it all started in the US and in Europe a number of countries have the day off.

    Thanks for pointing that out Dave!


  3. The “Red Scare” from 1917 to 1920 ended all celebration of May Day because of anti-socialist and communist sentiment, in spite of the fact that it did originate here, in Chicago, in 1886, during the Haymarket Riot.

    Labor Day today is just a celebration for ALL workers. Government employees and banks get the day off, as do schools, but that’s about it. It’s pretty much just another day to me.

  4. Simon

    5/5/2006 at 10:44 am

    The US really does go a long way to suppress socialist sentiment – probably the underlying reason as to why they misunderstand the French so much.

    Trade unions did so much to improve the lot of the manual labourer, especially in the US, so it’s a delicious irony that they are now tarred with the same brush as extreme régimes like the Soviet or Chinese governments.


  5. I think the core of the issue stems from our free market society. Americans don’t want an awful lot of social handout programs. It raises taxes. If you want something, work for it. This is the land of opportunity. Same thing with unions. They demand a lot from companies and that causes prices to go up. Americans don’t want to pay high prices. Besides, it prices us out of the market. Look what foreign auto manufacturers have done to GM, for example. Labor is cheaper elsewhere. In any event, unions have their time and place and they’re not as popular as they once were.

    Isn’t it true no one can get fired from their job in France?

  6. Simon

    6/5/2006 at 1:30 pm


    It’s not true that you can’t get fired. What is difficult, however, is justifying the dismissal. Suing for wrongful dismissal is very easy, and if you are to be sacked the company has to have a very solid defence with written records on your performance and recorded warnings, etc.


  7. Thanks for that bit of info, Fruey. My father, quite the conservative and FOX News fanatic, has maintained that opinion for a long time. I don’t have much respect for couch political pundits who only believe what FOX and Rush Limbaugh preach. How come people who have never been to France know more about it than actual people who live there?

  8. ‘It’s a day where the unions traditionally march in protest of the latest government policies.’

    Yes… In the UK we tend to call those ‘days-ending-in-the-letter-Y’…

    Sorry… 😉

  9. Simon

    16/5/2006 at 2:46 pm

    Hi Aidan,

    Yeah well you’re right that there’s no need for an excuse to march against government policies, and for some it’s a hobby.

    France is very similar. You could almost say that the national pastime is marching combined with striking.


  10. I came across your site as I am thinking of moving to Paris and came across your interesting article. To further confuse things my counterparts in the US did have Monday May 1st off as did we in UK and in France. Can’t remember why but New York celebrates with a day off for something around the May 1st.

  11. Simon

    14/6/2006 at 9:22 am

    Hi Prudence,

    Thanks for dropping in and leaving a nice comment.

    Paris is a great place to live, feel free to browse the archives and the list of links in the sidebar to find other English speakers living in or near Paris who have tons of information on their sites.