Israel's May Day Marches of Yesteryear

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Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

The 1950 May Day parade was photographed for posterity by the IDF. The series of photographs of the traditional workers' rights march, which was kept in the Defense Ministry’s IDF archive, show the participants in Dizengoff Square and on the streets of Tel Aviv. In one photograph, a teenage girl from a youth movement is seen holding a pitchfork, a worker’s symbol. Some might find it ironic that the photographs are being released by the IDF, which belongs to the conservative establishment and has never participated in the events of May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day.

On the other hand, the IDF archive at the Defense Ministry has already shown that it possesses many photographs that document life in the State of Israel beyond the tanks and fighter jets. In a joint effort, we publish here several photographs of May Day parades that took place over the years, some from the time when images of Lenin or Stalin were still proudly displayed.

The roots of the workers’ holiday go back to the United States. On May 1, 1886, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) declared a nationwide strike in its fight for an eight-hour work day. Hundreds of thousands of workers responded, going out into the streets around the country. Violent incidents took place in Chicago; The city was paralyzed and several demonstrators were shot to death by police. The first workers’ holiday in pre-state Israel was marked in 1906 with a parade in Rishon Letzion.

Beginning in the 1920s, the Histadrut observed May Day as a holiday every year. In recent years, in response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s economic policies and following the social justice protests, May Day has experience something of a revival. Groups struggling for social justice, youth groups, human rights groups and left-wing movements continue to participate.

Uniformed youth marching in a May Day parade.Credit: Government Press Office
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Tel Aviv, 1950.Credit: IDF Archive, Ministry of Defense
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Tel Aviv, 1947.Credit: Hans Pinn / GPO
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Tel Aviv, 1950.Credit: IDF Archive, Ministry of Defense

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