01 May 2019

May Day and the Yellow Vests Movement of France

Intro Copy

May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day or Labor Day, is a holiday which occurs in most countries on the first of May every year to celebrate the rights of workers. (The U.S. is a notable exception to countries celebrating May Day because it chooses to honor its labor movement on the first Monday in September instead.) While not observed in the U.S., May Day was inspired by an American labor movement for a shorter workday. On May 1, 1886, unionists and others in Chicago, Illinois, and other cities marched for an eight-hour workday. A few days later, a labor rally in Haymarket Square in Chicago turned deadly after a bomb was hurled, sparking a riot and resulting in the deaths of several police officers and protesters. In 1889, the date was chosen by the Second International, a pan-national organization of socialist and labor parties, to commemorate the Haymarket Affair.

Yellow Vests Movement

France is one of the many countries that celebrates May Day as a public holiday, with most businesses closed in recognition of the workers. Rallies and parades are a May Day tradition in the country. Last year, Paris, France, erupted in May Day violence, when more than 100 people were placed in custody after protests against reforms by French President Emmanuel Macron, including his aim to end some worker protections. Protests against President Macron have continued in the form of yellow vests protests, an on-going movement which initially centered on the government's decision to increase fuel taxes. Other aims of the protest include an end to austerity measures, a rise in minimum wage and an improved standard of living. On February 5, the yellow vest protesters were joined by the General Confederation of Labour, a major union, in a nationwide general strike. On April 25, President Macron has promised reforms, including lowering  taxes by about $5.5 billion, to quell the yellow vest protests. And, while fewer protesters took to the streets in the immediate wake of the president's announced reforms, some protesters remain unappeased by the president's measures and are expected to protest on May Day. Yellow vest protests have spread to other countries, including Belgium, Canada and Taiwan.

Related Resources

Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day: Larry Ferlazzo, an award-winning English and Social Studies teacher and education blogger, has a compilation of May Day resources for teachers. Library of Congress: Teacher-created materials  using Library of Congress primary sources are available on the Library of Congress website, including Labor Unions and Working Conditions: United We Stand, which can be used for Grades 6-12. ProQuest eLibrary: Students can access more than 11,000 editor-created Research Topics pages, including labor topics such as the Haymarket Riot. ProQuest SIRS Issues Researcher: If your students are preparing for a debate or persuasive speech on labor-related issues, guide them to ProQuest's SIRS Issues Researcher's leading issues on Labor Unions, Economic Inequality, and more.