South America's Dia del Trabajador

Traditional Women (Cholitas) in Typical Clothes during 1st of May Labor Day Parade - La Paz, Bolivia
diegograndi / Getty Images

If you are traveling in South America on the first day of May, you can expect to find banks, government offices, stores, post offices and businesses closed for the day as people celebrate the Día Internacional Del Trabajo with parades, demonstrations and other symbols of solidarity with the worker.

in English this is known as the Day of the Worker and is one of the most important for the working class population of South America, recognizing its contribution to society. Although some countries also call it Labour Day, it holds much more significance for the working class and labor unions in South America.


Venezuela celebrated Día Internacional del Trabajo for the first time on May 1, 1936. Day of the Worker, which is also known as May Day, had already been established in Europe. It wasn't long before this day would shortly sweep across the Latin American countries. Although the day was changed to July 24th from 1938-1945, it was changed back to celebrate the event on the same day as European and other South American countries.

The communist and socialist countries embraced the Day of the Worker, and over time, May Day became associated with those political systems in many non-English speaking countries.

"In Paris in 1889 the International Working Men's Association (the First International) declared May 1st an international working class holiday in commemoration of the Haymarket Martyrs. The red flag became the symbol of the blood of working class martyrs in their battle for workers rights."

Who were the Haymarket Martyrs? They are all but ignored in the history of the United States, who moved the May Day labor celebrations to September. The first Monday in September is now the Labor Day holiday, but it has very little to do with the reason for a working man's holiday.

Long before May Day, The Workers' Day, born in the struggle for the eight-hour day came to be, the first of May was a traditional day of feasting, celebrating spring, fertility, romance and more. Unlike Easter, Whitsun or Christmas, May Day is the one festival of the year for which there is no significant church service.

Because of this, it has always been a strong secular festival, particularly among working people who in previous centuries would take the day off to celebrate it as a holiday, often clandestinely without the support of their employer. It was a popular custom, in the proper sense of the word - a people's day - so it was naturally identified with the Labour and socialist movements and by the twentieth century it was firmly rooted as part of the socialist calendar."​

May Day Clashes in Chile
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Dia del Trabajador in Different Countries

In Argentina friends and family meet for an asado.

In Brazil, it is common for minimum wage and salaries to be adjusted on this public holiday.

In Chile and Colombia, there are many rallies, many unions use it as an opportunity to discuss labor issues.

In Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru it is called Labour Day.

In Uruguay, there is a plaza called First Day of May square where the biggest events are held.

So now you know why everything shuts down on May 1. It's a good idea to do any shopping and banking a few days in advance, instead of waiting until the day before like so many other people as it will be crowded and frustrating. Depending on what the economic and political climate is like in the city you are celebrating events can be a celebration or more of a protest which is something that could get out of control. Ask your concierge if it's safe to go out or it's best to take a rest day in the hotel.

Buen viage! Boa viagem!

Updated August 6, 2016 by Ayngelina Brogan