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1989: May Day in the era of perestroika

media clip
Moscow's Red Square is a riot of colour on May 1, 1989 as 100,000 people march in the city's annual May Day parade. With banners reading perestroika (restructuring), citizens are solidly behind Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms. But, as correspondent Don Murray shows in this CBC-TV report, economic change is slow. Muscovites are still queuing for goods like sugar and shirts, and many of them are quite angry about it.
• May Day, which takes place on May 1 each year, became a day to demonstrate workers' solidarity as a result of Chicago's Haymarket Riot of 1886. After the riot, in which 12 people died, eight anarchist leaders were sentenced to death. Three years later the International Socialist Congress named May Day as an observance of the struggles of labour unions and workers.

• As the Cold War began after the Second World War, communist nations including the Soviet Union, East Germany and others in the Warsaw Pact began to embrace May Day. Moscow, in particular, held huge parades featuring massive displays of troops, tanks and rockets.

• By 1989, as seen in this clip, May Day celebrations in the Soviet Union focused less on demonstrations of its military might. After the U.S.S.R. broke apart into separate republics, communists continued to march in Red Square every May 1.

• In North America, governments shifted the day commemorating the workers' movement to Labour Day, a statutory holiday on the first Monday in September. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, U.S. president Grover Cleveland changed the date because he believed May Day celebrated socialism.

• In Canada, labour activists continue to observe May Day with marches, art exhibitions and concerts. Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Ottawa all hold May Week or Mayworks festivals to celebrate working people.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: May 1, 1989
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Don Murray
Duration: 2:34

Last updated: January 30, 2012

Page consulted on October 1, 2014

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