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May Day in Italy and the tradition of the concerts

The 1st of May was established as Labour Day even before 1900, and is considered a national day of rest aimed at the celebration of workers’ rights. The day is very much felt in many countries around the world: it started in America, where it was inspired by protests against the prevailing working conditions , to subsequently spread to the most industrialized countries. In Italy it is celebrated with the closure of all offices and commercial activities and with a huge concert held every year in the capital, Rome, an event highly anticipated and participated by both young and old.

Why is it celebrated on the 1st May? And why the concert?

Everybody celebrates Labour Day, but very few people know why. The first of May has been considered a national holiday since the now-distant 20th July 1889. Every year in Roma, the famous “First of May Concert” is held, a concert conceived by Maurizio Illuminato and sponsored by the major Italian trade unions for the protection of workers ‘ rights. The event, which every year involves internationally renowned artists (such as Oasis, in 2002, and Iron Maiden, in 1993), is broadcast on the national network and boasts record levels in terms of physical attendance and TV audience.

Why the 1st May?

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The Labour Day date was fixed on the first of May due to the events and rebellions that inspired it. During the second half of the 19th century, workers, had practically no rights; indeed, they were often forced to work shifts of 16 hours a day resulting in frequent accidents and casualties in the workplace. As far as Europe is concerned, the idea of celebrating the 1st of May was proposed in 1889 at the Second International Congress when it was decided to demonstrate through the streets asking for the reduction of the working day to eight hours. The motto that inspired the workers ‘ protests came from the Australian Government with the slogan “8 hours of work, 8 hours for recreation and 8 hours to rest”. The message was clear: the workers had to commit themselves but they also needed enough time to sleep and enjoy their lives and families. As for the United States instead, in Chicago on May 1886 a revolt began, called Haymarket to reduce the working day to 8 hours. The strike lasted two days and ended with the death of several people. At present, in many countries, Labour Day is celebrated on the first Monday of September.

The holiday during the twenty years of fascism

The holiday, which has always been celebrated in Italy, has not always been fixed on the same date as the rest of the world. During the twenty years of fascism, in fact, from 1924 onwards, the holiday was anticipated to 24th April to coincide with the celebrations of the famous “Natale di Roma”; the secular anniversary that on April 21 celebrates the founding of the Italian capital. The original date was restored only later, at the end of the Second World War, in 1945. From then onwards it has kept the current status, that of national holiday.

The first of May concert

The concert, also called “concertone”, because of its length (from early afternoon to late night) has been organized in Rome since 1990 by the Confederate unions of CISL, UIL and CGIL in Piazza San Giovanni Laterano and It involves the best artists of the Italian and foreign music scene.

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In honor of Labour day there are many cities, in Italy as well as in the rest of the world, that organize protest events aimed at reaffirming the rights of workers. The first of May is therefore a day both of rest and protest and it is always important to celebrate it in order to remember the commitment and the goals reached by the workers after the protests.

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