De eerste 1 mei viering in Barcelona

Plaça de Catalunya, 1 mei 1890.

May Day 1890 became a revolutionary international holiday, complete with anthems, globes enveloped with palms of peace, red carnations, red flags, and, in Barcelona, yellow triangular ribbons emblazoned with slogans calling for the eight-hour day. The demonstration in Barcelona started with a mass meeting at the Tívoli Theater on Gracia Pass, close to the Plaza of Catalunya. The audience heard speakers call for the eight-hour day, an end to child labor altogether for children under fourteen, and a six-hour day for those between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. They demanded abolition of most night work and prohibition of female employment in mines. They called for consecutive thirty-six-hour rest periods every weekend or for a half-day on Saturday. And they demanded that the government regulate jobs dangerous to the health of workers.

About twenty-five thousand people joined in the demonstration, among them marble cutters, shoemakers, tailors, sugar refiners, candy and cake manufacturers, copper smelters, cabinet makers, fabric print- ers, and members of various republican clubs, artist societies, and trade unions. They marched from the Tívoli Theater down the Rambla to Columbus Pass, then along the harbor to the civil governor's office on the Plaza of the Palace. People in balconies above the closed shops on the Rambla cheered the festive demonstrators, who obviously did not appear threatening even to conservative onlookers. The presence in the crowd of so many women and children dressed in holiday finery made the demonstration seem like an ordinary festival. When the parade reached the governor's offices, a delegation was sent up to present their petition for the eight-hour day. The ritual aspects of the procedure were deferential: peaceful supplicants stood below as the governor appeared on the balcony to bestow the political version of a blessing on the crowd. They responded by applauding him. The parallels to religious holidays were obvious to contemporary observers. One journalist compared the first May Day to Holy Thursday before Easter.

Several groups among the male anarchists insisted that May Day 1890 should be not a holiday but a general strike
Socialists and unaffiliated artisans were willing to accept the symbolic and festive elements of May Day from that first celebration in 1890 on. Anarchist workers, however, remained suspicious about festivals: to them, militant struggle was more appropriate. Several groups among the male anarchists insisted that May Day 1890 should be not a holiday but a general strike. They boycotted the Tívoli Theater meeting and the peaceful march to the governor's offices. Instead they met at Tetuan Plaza at the center of the northeastern workers' section of Barcelona and vowed to strike until they won the eight-hour day. Waving sticks, they marched down Workshop Street to the Rambla and headed toward the harbor, where police stopped them near the Atarazanas Barracks. Another group gathered close to the harbor, near the governor's palace.

On Friday, May 2, the shops and the Boqueria Market (Saint Joseph Market) along the Rambla were open as "servant girls, although in reduced numbers, went to market to secure provisions."  But anarchists struck the cotton and metallurgical factories in the neighborhoods of Saint Martin of Provence and Sants and attempted to hold another militant strike meeting in Tetuan Plaza. Angry workers filled the downtown area, setting fire to garbage in the Plaza of Catalunya and throwing stones. The governor felt menaced by so many mobilized workers and poised for action in the city center.[ Captain General Ramón Blanco y Arenas (who a few years later instigated Spain's scorched-earth policy in the war with Cuba), needlessly fearful that there might be an insurrection in Barcelona, declared a state of war, thus placing the city under martial law and under his own direct command.

Soldiers took up positions at the Plaza of Catalunya, the Rambla, the Plaza of Saint James, between city hall and the provincial government building, at Tetuan Plaza, and at Saint John's Pass, which workers from Saint Martin had to traverse on their way downtown. But fires blazed nonetheless in the Plaza of Catalunya, and workers walked off their jobs on the railroad and at the docks.

The militant anarchists agreed to assemble again at 9:00 A.M . on Saturday, May 3. From the Tetuan Plaza they moved across the boulevards that ringed the downtown working-class neighborhoods; as they proceeded down the Rambla they shouted for a general strike. When workers on Pelayo Street threw stones at police, the cavalry of the Civil Guard charged, driving everyone out of the Plaza of Catalunya. Troops stationed along the Rambla stopped the march, and shouts rang out in the Plaza of Catalunya. The Civil Guard apparently had orders to shoot if necessary to seal off escape routes and contain the demonstrators in the center of the city, away from the captain general’s headquarters.
Catalaanse arbeiders, 1886.

The militants must have won the support of people who had participated in the peaceful demonstration on Thursday, for an estimated twenty thousand workers congregated in central Barcelona on Sunday, May 4. They filled the downtown areas of the Plaza of Catalunya and the Rambla, where people of all ages, sexes, and classes usually teemed. On this Sunday, though, the female flower vendors, like most women, had withdrawn from the downtown area, afraid of fighting in the streets. On Monday morning, a rumor circulated that the guns of Montjuich would be turned on the streets below. Servants and working women quickly did their shopping and scurried back to their houses. But by Monday afternoon, women had returned in force to Gracia Pass and to the Rambla and the old city, having decided that there would be no more violence.

 On Monday morning, a rumor circulated that the guns of Montjuich would be turned on the streets below

In the poor people's suburbs, the strike continued. Workers stayed out of the factories in Sants and Saint Martin of Provence through May 11, vowing to stay on strike until they won the eight-hour day, double pay for overtime and holidays, and union membership as a requirement for hiring.[41] Shoemakers, cooks, hatters, and waiters joined the strike, airing their own grievances. The waiters and cooks, who may have belonged to a clandestine union known as the Progressive Society, called for a full day off every fifteen days. They wanted restaurant owners to pay for cleaning white uniforms, and the waiters demanded that they be allowed to keep their tips (not share them with owners).

May Day became emblazoned on the consciousness of the working population of Barcelona, which after 1890 continued to celebrate the day as a festival whenever it was permitted. The way this new civic ritual established itself in 1890 indicates how political struggles become part of traditional ceremonies. The mass meetings and the march through the city, which were part of a wholly peaceful demonstration, came to assume ritual form in later May Day celebrations.

Uit: Temma Kaplan - Red City, Blue Period. University of California Press, 1990.

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