The French Labour Day
Whether you give a bouquet of lily of the valley or dog rose flowers to a loved one, or participate in one of many demonstrations advocating for workers rights, May 1, also known as La Fête du Travail (Labour Day) and May Day, remains a widely celebrated and cherished holiday. As a public holiday in France, Labour Day is recognized for its rich history and traditions of appreciating others and campaigning for workers rights. While the tradition of the flowers is specific to France, celebrating and advocating for workers rights on May 1st is recognized all over the world.
In 1886, there was a demonstration by workers at the Haymarket Square in Chicago. As a general strike for the eight-hour work day, this event would become known as the Haymarket Affair. In the years that followed, efforts continued in attempts to organize an international demonstration of workers demanding the eight-hour work day. In order to organize an international demonstration, May 1 was chosen in coordination between workers across various countries as a day to collectively demonstrate and recognize the efforts of the past labour movements.
The recognition of May 1 as the day for international Worker’s rights, and as a day for demonstrations and protests meant to continue the work required to secure rights for workers all over the world, is especially significant in France’s history since it was specifically the Second International in Paris where these various countries met, and with help from the American Federation of Labor, decided upon May 1 in 1890.
To symbolize this international movement, workers and supporters of the demonstrations and protests began to wear a red triangle meant to symbolize the the three parts of the desired work day—8 hours for work, 8 hours for leisure, and 8 hours for sleep.
Names In France
Originally known as Fête internationale des Travailleurs (International Worker’s Day), May 1 became an internationally recognized day in 1890, dedicated to labourers and working classes, emphasizing the achievements of past labour movements. Since then, the name has changed to Fête du Travail et de la Concorde sociale (Work and Social Unity Day) by France’s Vichy regime during World War 2, and finally settled upon as La Fête du Travail (Labour Day) and made a public holiday in 1941.
However, before May 1 was known as a day for workers and labor rights, it had been celebrated for centuries as a day of seasonal change from winter to spring, as well as a day to show appreciation for loved ones. Dating back to 1561, the lily of the valley flowers became a symbol for May Day because King Charles IX had received a gift of the flowers on May 1, and was so pleased with the flowers that he decided to present a lily of the valley to the ladies of his court each year. Over time, this tradition slowly evolved into giving bouquets of lily of the valley flowers to loved ones. However, today the gift of these flowers can be seen simply as a sign of appreciation to whoever they are given.
Today, May 1 exists as a public holiday in France with most businesses being closed in recognition of the workers. However, there is still a lot of activity throughout France as families spend days picking lily of the valley flowers, celebrations are held, people plan special outings, and demonstrations take place. It is because of these deep connections to France’s history, along with the social and cultural developments also associated with Labour Day, that Left Bank recognizes May 1 as an important day for French culture.
Celebrate the French Labour Day by sharing your evening with us at one of our Bay Area locations in San Jose, Menlo Park or Larkspur.