1 May 2021

Eric Hobsbawm: “My present subject is perhaps the only unquestionable dent made by a secular movement in the Christian or any other official calendar, a holiday established not in one or two countries, but in 1990 officially in 107 states. What is more, it is an occasion established not by the power of governments or conquerors, but by an entirely unofficial movement of poor men and women. I am speaking of May Day, or more precisely of the First of May, the international festival of the working-class movement… [R]efraining from work on a working day was both an assertion of working-class power — in fact, the quintessential assertion of this power — and the essence of freedom, namely not being forced to labour in the sweat of one’s brow, but choosing what to do in the company of family and friends. It was thus both a gesture of class assertion and class struggle and a holiday… It is, in fact, more universally taken off work than any other days except 25 December and 1 January, having far outdistanced its other religious rivals. But it came from below. It was shaped by anonymous working people themselves who, through it, recognised themselves, across lines of occupation, language, even nationality as a single class by deciding, once a year, deliberately not to work: to flout the moral, political and economic compulsion to labour.”