may day

Raise the Red Flag – How the Viennese celebrate May Day

May Day is fast approaching, and if you haven’t yet experienced the “Tag der Arbeit” (Labor Day) in Vienna, then brace yourself for a day of festivities to celebrate equality, justice and Socialism in Austria.

What is the deal with May Day in Vienna?

May Day, otherwise known as Tag der Arbeit, is a public holiday in Austria, honoring workers and the labor movement, historically used as a a rallying cry to raise awareness of Socialist demands like the 8-hour workday, universal suffrage or old-age pensions.

Like most countries, it coincides with May Day – an ancient pre-Christian coming-of-spring celebration observed throughout Europe. In rural communities, this older festival is the more dominant, with village communities gathering around Maypoles to tanz in den Mai (dance into May).

Since 1890, May 1 is also a show of force for Vienna’s Social Democrats, who have been in power continuously since the end of WWII: the city’s grand buildings are adorned with red flags and the streets are filled with parading delegations from various unions and each of Vienna’s 23 districts. Marchers typically hold up signs bearing slogans such as “Wir arbeiten für Wien, wir kämpfen für Gerechtigkeit” (“We work for Vienna, we fight for justice”). After marching through the city, the party faithful eventually congregate in front of the City Hall (Rathausplatz) for a final rally.

What is the SPÖ?

Historically the vanguard of Socialism through due democratic process, the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) has been the nation’s leading party for most of the Second Republic (1945-today). Nowadays more of a left-leaning, moderate centrist group, its core campaign issues tend to be job creation, affordable housing, employee rights and bolstering the lower and middle classes.

First coming into power at the end of WWI, Vienna’s SPÖ governed with an absolute majority during the the First Republic (1918-1934), using their massive public mandate to create utopian projects like the Gemeindebauten: low-rent, municipally funded, state-of-the-art housing projects built in a progressive Art Deco style. Admired by Socialists worldwide, Vienna became a beacon to the movement, receiving the nickname Rotes Wien (Red Vienna).

In a city where about half a million people call a Gemeindebau home, May 1 bears a great deal of cultural significance: An official public holiday, businesses are closed and citizens of every political stripe bask in the spring sunshine and hold picknicks, sports festival and free concerts.

 What is there to do?

  1. May Day Festival at Prater – 13:00 – 22:00
  2. Paid for by the SPÖ Wien, the traditional May Day event at Vienna’s prater offers fun for the whole family, with tons of free music, entertainment, and a fireworks display in the evening. Most rides offer discounts.

  3. March through the city – 9:00 – 12:00
  4. The SPÖ invites the people of Vienna to march through the city, with the party faithful starting in their respective districts and marching through the city, assembling at Rathausplatz by 9:00 for the final rally. Afterwards, the festivities continue at the prater (see previous).

  5. Free Open Air Party – 10:00 – 12:00, Vienna City Beach Club, Kaisermühlen, 1220

This all-day dance event is channeling the “free love” movement of the 1960s. In a world that feels more divided than ever, the best way to combat indifference is to get together and just be. We’re not sure if this “progressive/psytrance” music event has any relation to Tag der Arbeit – but it sounds like a hell of a lot of fun!

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