- See: Mayday for the distress signal
The holiday is most often associated with the commemoration of the social and economic achievements of the labor movement. The May 1st date is used because in 1884 the American Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions demanded an eight-hour workday, to come in effect as of May 1, 1886. This resulted in the general strike and the Haymarket Riot of 1886, but eventually also in the official sanction of the eight-hour workday.
In the 20th century, the holiday received the official endorsement of the Soviet Union, and it is also celebrated as the Day of the International Solidarity of Workers. Celebrations in communist countries during the Cold War era often consisted of large military parades with the latest weaponry being exhibited as well as shows of common people in support of the government.
Curiously (given the origin of the May 1st date), the United States celebrates Labor Day on the first Monday of September; May 1st is Loyalty Day, a legal but not widely recognized holiday in the United States. There is some suggestion that the reason for this was to avoid the commemoration of riots that had occurred in 1886. The adoption of May Day by communists and socialists as their primary holiday further cemented official resistance to sanctioning May Day labor celebrations in America.
Berlin, Germany traditionally has yearly demonstrations on May Day. There is little political or religious connection to the Walpurgisnacht celebrations that are traditional on the night before May Day in the Brocken mountains. The Berlin demonstrations became yearly riots in 1987. While left wing socialist groups still demonstrate on May Day as they always have, it has recently also become a focal point for the NPD (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschland), an extreme right wing nationalist party, and for Neo-Nazis. Some Burschenschaft (university fraternities) are also connected to the NPD. The NPDs most likely choose May 1st to demonstrate in order to antagonize the left wing socialists by appropriating their holiday. Streetfighting frequently occurs between the right wing Neo-Nazis and NPD and the strongly anti-Nazi and anti-nationalist left wing demonstrators, often associated with the punk rock subculture.
As the years went on, the Berlin May Day rioting has become less overtly political and more oriented towards generally destructive behavior by individuals with little interest in politics, though political demonstrators are still a factor.
Berlin rioters have been dealt with severely by police, though in recent years an official nonescalation policy was implemented, which seems to have reduced the overall level of May Day violence in Berlin.
May Day also marks springtime celebrations such as: