Destination India

May Day in India: How a land of 522 million workers marks Labour Day

Forrest Brown, CNNUpdated 30th April 2019
(CNN) — Each May 1, workers in India join others around the world to mark May Day -- also called Labour Day or International Workers' Day, depending on local customs.
It's quite fitting that India celebrates with an official holiday in some of its 29 states and seven union territories. After all, the country has an estimated 522 million workers. For comparison, that's more than the entire population of the United States, at 327 million people.
Here's a Q&A on May Day in general, more about India's role and some travel opportunities in the birthplace of modern India's labor movement:

Isn't May Day about dancing around a pole?

You are correct -- dancing is involved. That's because "May Day" actually does double duty, celebrating two different things.
May Day originally started out as a pagan celebration with roots in Gaelic and Roman traditions. By medieval England times, May Day also involved the maypole, which is made of wood and covered with streamers. Those are held by dancers who circle around the pole.
That might be the May Day you remember from your childhood, and that's one of the two ways May Day is celebrated.

What does that have to do with workers?

This is where May Day's double duty comes in.
In May 1886, US activists organized a national strike seeking an eight-hour workday. In Chicago's Haymarket Square, the protest turned violent with an estimated 11 to 15 deaths among police and participants.
To honor the workers in the Haymarket riot, the International Socialist Conference declared May 1 would be a day designated for labor, to be called International Workers' Day. The holiday was established at a meeting in 1889 and eventually spread to many parts of the world.
And that's why maypoles, labor parades and protests are all part of May 1.

So where does India fit in with all of this?

Indian women work at a construction site in Prayagraj in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Indian women work at a construction site in Prayagraj in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images
India's first Labour Day was celebrated in 1923 in Madras, now called Chennai.
The Labour Kisan Party of Hindustan organized the first celebration on Chennai's Marina Beach. The red flag now synonymous with May Day in India was also used for the first time at this celebration. Over time, the holiday -- also known as Antarrashtriya Shramik Diwas or Kamgar Din -- spread to other parts of the country.
According to Hindu.com, organizations and trade unions arrange pageants and "children enter contests so they can understand the importance of fairness for workers."

Consider Chennai for your next holiday

Anna Nagar Tower Park is a popular attraction in Chennai. The tower is 138 feet (42 meters) tall and built for the 1968 World Trade Fair. Going to the park is a great chance to watch and mingle with locals.
Anna Nagar Tower Park is a popular attraction in Chennai. The tower is 138 feet (42 meters) tall and built for the 1968 World Trade Fair. Going to the park is a great chance to watch and mingle with locals.
Creative Touch Imaging Ltd/NurPhoto/Getty Images
May Day lasts for 24 hours, but you can tour the birthplace of India's Labour Day movement any time of year.
The best time weather-wise is probably November to February, which allows you to steer clear of the worst of the heat and the monsoon season that follows.
Here are a few tourist highlights:
May Day Park: Busy Chennai has an urban oasis that's dedicated to May Day. Once called Napier Park, the name was changed to May Day Park in 1990. There's a monument in the park marking the change. Its 14 acres contains shady trees and makes a good stop for a rest. (Dy Mayor Kabalamoorthy Salai, Chintadripet, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600002)
Government Museum: Located in the Egmore district in the heart of the city, the museum holds captivating works of art from India's deep history as well as a surprise -- a large collection of Roman antiquities. (Government Museum, Pantheon Road, Egmore, Chennai - 600 008; +91 44-2819 3238)
Kapaleeshwarar Temple: This astounding example of Dravidian architecture is a shrine to the Hindu god Shiva and Parvati, his wife. (Kapaleesvarar, Kesava Perumal Sannathi St, Vinayaka Nagar Colony, Mylapore, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 60000)
Marina Beach: At 12 kilometers long (about 7.5 miles), this is the longest beach in India and second longest in the world. Need we say more?