Our Blog - May Day in Toulouse 2017

One celebration for May 1st “May Day” is to celebrate the coming of Spring although it is not really celebrated in the US. One thing that you see all the time are people selling these little bouquets (normally 2-3 sprigs) of Muguet, or Lily of the Valley. The French tradition dates to 1561, when King Charles IX received a Muguet (Lily of the Valley) as a lucky charm on May 1st. He decided to offer a lily of the valley each year to the ladies of the court. At the beginning of the 20th century, it became custom to give a sprig of the flower, also a symbol of springtime, on May 1. The government permits individuals and workers' organizations to sell them tax-free. While in Rome, right?

May 1st is also International Workers’ Day. The May 1st date was chosen to commemorate the Maymarket Affair in Chicago (May 4th 1886). For those of you who aren’t familiar with that (I wasn’t either before writing this blog), a public assembly during a general strike ended with 4 dead after police fired on the workers who were gathered at the Chicago Haymarket after someone threw a bomb at police. The next day, another incident occurred in Wisconsin where 7 people died when state militia fired on a crowd of strikers. Unfortunately, the 7 included a schoolboy and a man feeding his chickens.

The Second International (a Marxist alliance), meeting in 1889 in Paris, called for international demonstrations starting in 1890 on the anniversary of the Chicago protests and was formally recognized in 1891. In 1904, the International Socialist Congress called on all Social Democratic Party organizations and trade unions around the world to demonstrate on May Day (at that time, for the establishment of the 8-hour day). In general, May Day is considered a Socialist, Communist, and/or Anarchist celebration, basically because those groups tend to be heavily focused on the workers. For example, during the Cold War, large military parades were held in Red Square in Moscow (we remember seeing the pictures of this on TV).

Let’s get to May Day in Toulouse! We started out walking and realized that the streets were bare! This is rue Alsace-Lorraine, which is one of the main pedestrian streets in the city, and I have never seen it SO empty. Nothing was open on the road at all.

We did notice that the Victor Hugo market was open and headed over to see what was open, and about 30-40% of the vendors were there and working. We asked one person about it (we had bought something from her the other day) and she said that yes, normally the entire market is closed on Mondays, but they do open on some holidays. Then we headed down to Place Esquirol, which is where the parade was supposed to start. As we got there, we noticed a few groups that had already gotten their vehicles there, and an increased police presence.

There was an “organ grinder” with a small organ cart that was playing music and singing over on the other side of the road.

There seemed to be a general theme within the parade and the groups … there were several of the main workers’ unions there, including CGT. The CGT (General Confederation of Labour) is one of 5 major French trade unions and is the largest in terms of votes with the elections, and 2nd in terms of membership. It cut ties in the 1990’s with the Communist Party in France and moved to a more moderate stance. Unlike the unions in the US, which tend to be focused on workers within a single trade (like auto workers, teachers), the unions here are more cross-trade.

We were standing at the start and we saw this guy, who must have been a TV reporter, giving a report prior to the start of the parade for CNews. Then a picture of the parade going by.

I took several different videos, mainly because the parade itself was going VERY slow. Here are the first 3:

There were a couple themes in the parade, including several statements against the Front National. This one says, “The extreme right is a mortal danger”, the extreme right being the Front National and Marine Le Pen. The smaller words explain the basis for their party (from this groups view): violence, inequality, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, nationalism, and racism.

Here are the next videos, the first one you can here the people chanting and they are basically saying that we must "fight against the Front National".

This section is with La France Insoumise (translated to France Unbowed or Unsubmissive France), which is the party of by Jean-Luc Mélenchon. You can see the sign "F.I pas F-Haine" ... "Haine" is translated to "hatred", so "F-Haine" is the Front National (Front-hatred literally). The other says "Pas 1 voix au FN" which is "not a single vote (or voice) for the Front National".

Another group, the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) was also marching against the Front National: “The Front National is our worst enemy” and “For our rights and our liberties, unity of all the exploited”.

And the last video:

This is something we see often ... the street cleaners. Here, the parade was only like 100 feet past here, and the street cleaners were already out cleaning up. We also see this where the open market is near our apartment. The market ends at 1:30 and by 1:45, there is a set of street cleaners including guys walking with these vehicles, sweeping and power-washing the sidewalk.

And then we headed back to the apartment, and the parade had swung around and was coming up Boulevard Strasbourg.

We were watching the news and it seems like there was quite a few problems in Paris during the May Day demonstrations, including protesters throwing Molotov cocktails. While we didn’t follow the entire parade route, it didn’t seem like there were any problems like that here.