In the U.S., May 1st is the first day of May—and that’s all it is. In fact, if you polled Americans, I would bet that a very small minority would have any idea what May 1st means in the rest of the world. Labor Day in the U.S. is safely quarantined in September, where it can in no way join with labor movements elsewhere to create any kind of actual advocacy, and is associated primarily with barbecues (family over solidarity) and end-of-season-sales (everybody in service industries works on Labor Day).
Vienna, however, is a socialist city in a country with a long history of socialism (as well as fascism, of course, which only makes the resonance of socialism stronger) on a continent with an endemic tradition of socialist activism. If you think anyone expects to go shopping here on May Day, otherwise known as International Workers’ Day, otherwise known as the true Labor Day, you can think again. Everything is closed, everything is red for the day, and the public presence of the SPÖ, otherwise known as the Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs, otherwise known as the Austrian Social Democratic Party, is ascendant.
Invited by friends who are party members and functionaries, I successfully infiltrated the annual massive May Day parade and waved a flag, carried a balloon, and shared a cheese-filled sausage, all in the name of international labor rights. Below is my photojournal.
The first thing to know is that Vienna is structured by its districts — 23 of them. On May Day, all of the districts gather and march, loosely organized under sectional banners, toward the Ringstrasse, which circles the city center and along which one finds the major structures of government. Eventually the parade passes by the Parliament (not to mention the former Habsburg court and even the Opera) on its way to its final destination, the Rathaus, or town hall, where the Mayor and other government functionaries await on a viewing stand.
Here, our particular troop is under way as representatives of the 5th district, called Margareten (full disclosure: none of us actually lives in the 5th, but one of our party is a High Ranking Official in the SPÖ for the 5th, so in the name of Solidarity, we were all Margaretens for a day).
Our route led through the crowded streets of the 5th, eventually passing by the Naschmarkt, or giant food market.
Allow me to present my comrades, who include professional employees of the SPÖ, as well as folks who have been out all night partying (I name no names).
In general, as we headed toward the Wienzeile (nice scenic route we had), there was a celebratory air, fueled in part by the first “pause,” a stop at a little bar that, in solidarity, fortified the marchers with a spread of free bread, meats, sweets, and, of course, the worker’s elixir, vodka.
Speaking of solidarity, along the way one sees its signs (literally):
Eventually, we arrive at the Ring, and hang a left at the historic Opera.
As we march along, we pass other districts waiting to make the turn onto the Ring:
Each group has its own drummers and musicians, and cultivates a distinct identity:
I got a huge kick out of this unconventional juxtaposition:
As we go, we pass many of Vienna’s public landmarks, including the Parliament:
Eventually — so very eventually — we arrive at the Rathaus simultaneous with the districts coming in the opposite direction (the Ring is a circle, after all). We alternate turning into the Rathausplatz, where a giant crowd cheers from behind barricades, and the mayor awaits on a viewing stand:
The view from behind our banner:
I have to say, I love this picture. Thanks to whoever handed me a flag just in time:
After passing through the Rathausplatz we were disgorged back onto the Ring, where we had the opportunity to view a few of the districts still waiting to make their way in. Like these guys:
Or my favorites, these guys:
Directly behind them, this contingent:
Yikes. And it wouldn’t be Vienna if wine did not make a significant appearance:
After you leave the Rathausplatz, directly across the Ring is the “Red Market,” that is, a pop-up outdoor cafe for drinking giant quantities of beer and wine — and liberally populated by firefighters, who are a prominent presence at May Day festivities:
Later in the day, the festivities move over to the Prater, Vienna’s giant public park, where there is music, food, more drinks, and balloons for the kids:
May Day. It’s my kind of holiday.