Labor Day is a national holiday in Croatia celebrated on May 1, along with 90 other countries. It is a day when we celebrate solidarity among workers as well as worker’s rights. In Croatia, Labor Day is called “Međunarodni praznik rada” but is also referred to as:
- Praznik rada
- Prvi Maj (from the Yugoslav period)
- Blagdan rada (rarely used)
History of Labor Day
How it originated
In the industrial period of the 19th century, employers exploited their workers who were often children. People worked 18-hour days in dirty and unsafe factories. Accidents at work were frequent and salaries were low. Workers began to organize strikes in the hopes of gaining better working conditions.
The biggest labor movement happened in Chicago, USA on May 1, 1886, when approximately 40.000 workers took to the streets. It is estimated that between 300.000 and 500.000 people went on strike. The strikers in Chicago formed into the shape of the number 8, three times, to symbolize their requirements: 8 hours of work, 8 hours of rest, and 8 hours of cultural education. During the strike, police killed 6 protestors and wounded 50. Five leaders of the strike were sentenced to death, and three others were sentenced to years in prison.
In 1889, it was decided that worker’s strikes would be held every year on May 1 in memory of the Chicago tragedy. Since 1890, May 1 is known as an international workers’ solidarity day or Labor Day, as it is more commonly called. During the mid-1900s, this day was celebrated with parades in capital cities all over the world. Through the years, crveni karanfil (red dianthus) became a symbol of the worker’s rebellion and the torture of those who were killed in Chicago.
Labor Day in Croatia
Croatia experienced its own May 1st tragedy. In 1920 in Pula, 7 workers were killed and 126 were wounded during a worker’s rights protest, when the army attempted to stop the protest. Several protestors threw roof tiles on the army. In response, the army received an order to start shooting at the protesters. Demonstrations then erupted all over Istria.
Croatia has celebrated Labor Day since 1890. During Yugoslavia, celebrations were large and the whole country celebrated together. It was one of our most favorite holidays. Instead of protests, the state would organize parades in larger cities where the army would have a ceremonial performance. The night before, people would gather around a campfire. People would often celebrate by roasting a lamb or an ox. In addition, companies would pay their employees to go on holidays organized by their trade unions.
Međunarodni praznik rada, today
Labor day is a national holiday that celebrates the right to work, rest, and have a decent private life. This day represents the fight for human rights that results from societal progress. The fight for better working conditions and human rights is still ongoing. It shouldn’t be stopped until the same rules and rights are available for every person in the world.
Presently, the celebration of worker’s rights has been watered down. As this is a national holiday (meaning a free day from work), many Croats spend it with their families or friends. A common custom is to barbecue somewhere outside – in nature or in the garden. Parades are no longer held, but some cities organize local gatherings.
Citizens of Zagreb enjoy a traditional celebration in Park Maksimir where they eat grah (beans). When it is possible, some combine this holiday with the weekend and go on a short trip to the sea.
This day holds an important and impactful purpose that should be passed to future generations.
And now a little treat Prvi Maj treat from Bosnian band Dubioza Kolektiv…