Today, May 1st, is the Labor Day holiday in Switzerland — well, not ALL of Switzerland, but certain parts of the country (yes, it seems odd that a national holiday isn’t exactly “national,” but Switzerland, I’m learning, is a complex country). The city of Zürich is in an area that DOES celebrate the holiday, and as the site of the largest Labor Day celebrations in Switzerland, it is also a key site for demonstrations and protests on this day. What?! Protests in Switzerland?! Who can possibly protest against the “world’s best country”??! What do people find to complain about in a country with low unemployment, a skilled labor force and one of the highest gross domestic products per capita in the world?? Not to mention an abundance of well-preserved natural resources accessible to all??? Yup, my thoughts exactly.
So it turns out that Labor Day is also known as May Day or International Worker’s Day, a day that is celebrated across many countries in honor of workers. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know this. In my defense though, in America we don’t officially recognize May 1st as Labor Day. Our Labor Day is on the first Monday in September, and the essence of the holiday is a day off and great discounts at your favorite retailer. Now that I’ve Googled and Wikipedia-ed up some knowledge, I’ve learned that May Day — ironically enough — has its roots in the US, and when the US government did finally decide to designate a holiday in honor of workers, it purposely chose not to celebrate it on May 1st. You can read more about it here.
So yes, like pretty much people in all countries, even people in Switzerland have something to protest about. The primary issue this year appears to be equal pay, with Swiss unions marching under the slogan “Equal pay. Period,” demanding equal salaries for men and women (a topic we are quite familiar with in America).
Interestingly though, the demonstrations aren’t limited to Swiss issues. I heard from several folks that foreigners also tend to congregate here on May Day and demonstrate for/against specific issues. The following video from Zürich this afternoon is an example of that with the demonstrators marching in support of Rojava, a de facto autonomous region in northern Syria.
It appears that these demonstrators were also the reason for the stepped up police presence.
Besides this and a random assortment of dirty diapers strewn in front of a storefront (and some plastered against its shutter), I saw little else out of the ordinary.
Most shops and restaurants were closed, but many in the vicinity of the train station — which itself was running on a holiday schedule — were open for business. People milled about and enjoyed the balmy weather. As for me, I had a nice bike ride around town on a free bike rental courtesy of Zürirollt. Later, I got myself a nice mug of hot chocolate and had a great conversation with a lovely Swiss couple, Claudia and Corrado, while the police vans raced past.