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May Day is a day accompanied by demonstrations around the world. It has become a symbol of the struggle for the rights of workers and solidarity with them. Its roots go back to the end of the 19th century, when workers in different countries began to organize and protest for better working conditions.

In this article, we will recall the history of May 1st, and you will also be able to read an interview with the Czech Federation of Anarchists (Afed) about what this day means to them, how it is celebrated in the Czech Republic, as well as view a photo report made by our comrades from various cities in Germany, from the traditional annual May Day demonstrations.

Action on May Day, 2024, Czech, Prague. Photo by Zewlakk_foto

History of May Day.

One of the key moments in the history of May Day is the movement for the eight-hour workday, which was achieved but is now being lost as we agree to work 12-hour days, six days a week. In the mid-19th century, workers in the United States, Europe, and Australia were often forced to work 10-12 hours a day, often in harsh conditions and for low pay, which they found unacceptable. In response to these conditions, strike movements and protests began in various countries.

The demand for an eight-hour workday was first raised by Australian workers on April 21, 1856. Since then, this day in Australia has become an annual day of solidarity among workers and a day of struggle for workers’ rights.

Following the example of Australian workers, on May 1, 1886, anarchist organizations in the United States and Canada held a series of meetings and demonstrations. During the dispersal of one such demonstration in Chicago on May 4, 1886 (later called “Bloody Monday”), six demonstrators were killed. The next day, mass protests began against the brutal actions of the police, and as a result, unknown individuals threw a bomb. Eight police officers were killed, at least 50 people were injured, and in the ensuing shootout between workers and police, at least four workers were wounded, and several dozen people were injured. Eight anarchist workers were arrested and subsequently sentenced to death for organizing the explosion (three of them had their sentences commuted to 15 years of hard labor when the main prosecution witness confessed to framing all eight anarchists).

In honor of these events, in memory of the executed anarchist workers, in 1889 at the International Socialist Congress in Paris, at the suggestion of American workers, it was decided to establish May 1 as International Workers’ Day, which would become a symbol of workers’ solidarity in their struggle for their rights.

Action on May Day, 2024, Czech, Prague. Photo by Zewlakk_foto

Interview with the Czech Federation of Anarchists (Afed).

– Hi, could you introduce yourself?

– Hello, I’m a Prague anarchist, a member of the Anarchist Federation, and one of the organizers of this year’s May Day demonstration. I’ve been involved in the movement since around 2010. My main interests lie in anti-fascism, creating autonomous spaces, and international coordination. Since February 2022, I’ve also been organizing support for Ukrainian anti-fascists resisting Russian aggression. I want to note that due to the sensitivity of some topics, I won’t be using my real name; you can call me Adam, for example.

– Tell us about Afed, what do you do, what is your activity?

– Formerly known as the Czechoslovak Anarchist Federation, our organization has been operating since 1995 as one of the main spaces for organizing and coordinating the activities of the Czech anarchist movement. Of course, we don’t encompass all anarchists in the Czech Republic, but several local groups are united within us. We are a non-hierarchical, informal organization involved through the interests and priorities of individual members in a wide range of anti-authoritarian, ecological, feminist, and other activities.

For example, recently we participated in organizing a successful blockade of a clerofascist march in Prague, we are involved in managing the anarchist info center Trhlina in Prague, and we engage in extensive publishing activities. Our members participate in the activities of organizations like Food Not Bombs and various other collectives. After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, we also closely cooperate with solidarity collectives there, providing various support to anti-fascists fighting Z-fascism.

– What does May Day mean for Afed and Czechs?

– I think these are two different questions. For us, May Day is an important day and usually one of the largest events we organize throughout the year. In recent years, we plan it at least six months in advance, and at least in Prague, we put a lot of effort into this day. It’s a demonstration of the current state of anarchism in the Czech Republic when the voice calling for freedom, equality, and solidarity must sound particularly loud.

For Czechs in general, May Day carries the heavy burden of the times of the Bolshevik regime and mandatory parades glorifying the party and the Soviet Union. But I think most people are just happy to have a day off. On the eve, on Walpurgis Night, Czechs traditionally get drunk and light huge bonfires, so May Day is probably most associated with hangovers.

Action on May Day, 2024, Czech, Prague. Photo by Zewlakk_foto

How do you view May Day – as a communist holiday or an anarchist one, or simply as a day of solidarity with workers? After all, many consider it a communist holiday.

– Well, it’s a space that you can fill with whatever you want. As anarchists, we certainly have a very close connection to May Day and the continuity of the struggle for free labor. But even the distortion of this holiday by the Bolshevik regime shows that anything can be attached to such big days. By the way, right-wing parties also gather on May Day, and in the past, neo-Nazis regularly organized marches on it. May Day will be what we make of it.

– Tell us about the history of May Day in the Czech Republic, how have the demonstrations changed over the years? Were they radical or were they peaceful demonstrations?

– It would take a lot of time to tell you about the various forms that May Day demonstrations have taken. For example, in 1992, an anarchist procession ended with a spectacular attack on a neo-Nazi demonstration – the first large-scale violent and truly victorious clash with them in the Czech Republic. In other May Day events, the main or even sole goal was, for example, to block Nazi parades. In other cases, they were protest marches, street parties, basically anything, sometimes escalating into chaos, sometimes not. For several years, large alternative May Day celebrations with a political slant were organized by Antifascist Action.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, continuity was certainly disrupted, but even before that, the anarchist May Day was in some ways a search, and attendance was often not very good. Over the past two years, we have practically built the tradition of processions and concerts from scratch.

– In which cities in the Czech Republic did the demonstrations take place?

– If we are talking about purely political events, I think the anarchist May Day in Prague was essentially the only one, if we don’t consider the promotional activities of political parties. However, there is a fairly common tradition of “May Day” celebrations, student May Day holidays. These are fun, joyful events, sometimes with a lighter political undertone. There is a long tradition of holding them, just remember Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Kral Majales,” which he wrote during his escape from Czechoslovakia in 1965.

– How many people participated in them?

– There were about 300 people in the Prague anarchist May Day march itself and about 500 at the culmination of the subsequent concerts. This is slightly more than last year.

– Who usually participates in the demonstrations? What political movements?

– Usually, it’s a mix of anarchists of all generations, people from environmental movements, LGBTQ+ initiatives, anti-authoritarian leftists in general, and young people from anarchist subcultures. In the past, there have been a few “misunderstandings,” for example, with people displaying symbols of the Soviet Union, but they have already understood quite clearly that we don’t want to see them there. But overall, it’s an open and very diverse space.

Action on May Day, 2024, Czech, Prague. Photo by Zewlakk_foto

– What is the usual agenda for May Day in the Czech Republic? And what was the agenda this year? What slogans were heard?

– In the past, events were sometimes dedicated to specific themes, not only anti-fascist, but also socio-economic or environmental. Now, as we mainly restore the tradition of May Day processions through the center of Prague, it’s not so clearly defined. This year, there were speeches on various topics – from anti-capitalist ideas about work and the economy, the need to organize against growing authoritarianism or LGBTQ+ issues, to a message from Ukrainian anarchists from the “Solidarity” collectives. However, it’s not excluded that in the future, we will focus on some specific agenda.

The main slogan of the demonstration was: “Down with this government, let people govern themselves” – which sounds a bit silly in English but rhymes in Czech. I think it’s a good way to express how, roughly speaking, uncertain May Day is now. We joked that it’s a banner we can always use, regardless of the specific people in government.

– How do the state and the police view the demonstration? Are there any problems with them?

– Neither this year nor last year did we have any serious problems. But, of course, it all depends on the circumstances. I remember May Day, especially those with an anti-fascist focus or planned to oppose some Nazi march, where things were not so straightforward.

– What are the current problems of workers and the world in general, in your opinion?

– This is a very broad question, so I will focus on local aspects. The acute problem is that the main party of the current government is openly right-wing and openly works for the wealthiest class of society. It threatens to cut workers’ rights – for example, rights protecting them from arbitrary dismissal; it also threatens to take other anti-social measures.

This is particularly problematic given that in the Czech Republic, we suffer from cheap labor, or, in simpler terms, we are paid little for a lot of work, especially in combination with the rising cost of living and the lack of affordable housing. We are extremely tied to the European market, but separated from it by an “iron curtain” of wages.

Many skilled professionals take unstable jobs or leave peripheral regions for big cities to find decent work. This problem is likely to grow. In the Czech Republic, there are several regions that are usually quite poor and full of social problems, largely dependent on coal mining. Given the climate crisis, we need to get rid of coal as soon as possible, but at the same time, we must talk about a socially just transition that will not throw thousands and thousands of workers employed in fossil fuel extraction out onto the streets.

The problem is that the left practically has no loud voice that could at least slow down the current anti-worker line. Trade unions are clearly weakened, partly due to the foolish political ambitions of the main union bosses. As an anarchist, I certainly feel at home in unofficial politics, but it becomes an objective problem that the left party here has practically disappeared, and the only de facto opposition to the right is the populist oligarch (ANO party) and the racist (SPD).

Action on May Day, 2024, Czech, Prague. Photo by Zewlakk_foto

– What, in your opinion, is missing in the May Day celebrations these days?

– We lack greater connection to the theme of labor. Both this year and last year, May Day events were largely subcultural. It’s a great achievement that the events are growing, and we are especially happy about it this year, but we need to discuss to what extent it should be a celebration of the good that already exists in our movement, and to what extent it should be a political protest focused on a specific current issue, and as such, attract more people who are not quite part of the “scene.”

– Any final words for the readers?

– The shittier the world gets, the more we need each other. Solidarity, friendship, and the desire to change the world for the better, together – that’s all we have. And it’s a much more powerful tool than many think.

Photo report from the annual May Day demonstrations in German cities.

Action on May Day, 2024. Germany, Berlin:

Photo Dmitry Okrest, Marat Ismagilov

Action on May Day, 2024. Germany, Köln:

Photo by Vadim Braydov

Action on May Day, 2024. Germany, Dresden:

The photo is anonymous

P.S. Remember your job and your rights, which have become achievable the hard way.