Cuba’s May Day Parade: Same Old May Routine

Kabir Vega Castellanos

Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — This year’s halfway point is drawing near and with that came another May 1st, an annual event where Cubans show their enthusiasm and hard-working spirit by joining the classic parade. A “voluntary” act which reinforces the union between adults, young people and even the historic generation, a time to prove the Revolution’s important value.

At least, that’s what my third grade teacher used to say while I stared out the window. They gave us a two class slot (an hour and a half) just to explain how big this day is.

From what I could imagine, or watch on TV, it always just seemed like some boring ritual under a scorching sun. It didn’t make sense to me and I never asked my mother. I just thought it was an “adult” affair.

During high school, they continued to tell us about it and in seventh grade, without paying attention, however, the event was no longer just a symbolic act (like it had been at primary school), they were now offering us a reward. The school director herself came to our classroom and announced: “Students who go to the parade will receive an award that will be recorded on their file so that they can apply to better degrees at the end of ninth grade.”

I didn’t go, but those who did complained later because they weren’t given what had been promised to them.

At my pre-university course and around the same date, we weren’t told about awards or incentives, we were talked to in a more threatening tone: “Whoever doesn’t attend the May 1st parade will have a permanent mark on their record which will prevent them from choosing the degree they want.”

From being a child up to today, I have never attended the working class’ glorious parade. I only see tired faces on TV, brimming with sweat on their furrowed brow because of the sun and, I imagine, their stress. However, they remain loyal to celebrating this day, but, what is it they are celebrating exactly?

Strangely enough, May Day celebrations were born when various anarchist labor union workers held a demonstration demanding an 8-hour work day. So, I’ll ask again, what are Cubans celebrating?

Most workers linked to the State do work eight hours, but that can’t be considered an achievement as their wages hardly let them grumble out of frustration. Many of their wages aren’t even enough to get them to the end of the month and they depend on family remittances sent from abroad, which is beneath a self-sacrificing worker. Or worse still, they have to turn to illegal businesses or stealing state resources from their own workplaces just to meet their most basic survival needs.

However, they swallow their howls like domesticated dogs and continue to parade every May 1st, collapsing under this island’s merciless sun.

An old friend once told me: “everyone is free to choose their slavery.” Maybe, that’s all this is at the end of the day.

7 thoughts on “Cuba’s May Day Parade: Same Old May Routine

  • Glad to see you’re well, Carlyle! Always love the back and forth you generate on Circles’ org!

  • You make an incorrect assumption Bob, when you imply that half of Havana’s population attended the May Day parade. People were shipped in from quite far away – certainly 100 km. Only a proportion (maybe two thirds) are from Havana.
    But I agree wholeheartedly that people should not assume that Cuba is only Havana or that Havana represents all of Cuba. There is for example a long established undercurrent in Eastern Cuba that the folks in Western Cuba are mentally inferior.
    But, when one watches the preparations to persuade (or instruct) people to attend, which take well over a month, it is perhaps surprising that attendance isn’t higher.

  • Unlike the author who acknowledges he has never attended this parade, I have attended various May 1st parades in Havana (2014), Cueto, Holguin (2016), and Holguin Cuidad (2018).

    The parade in Havana was comprised predominantly, but not totally, of those who were demonstrating their pride in their employment contributions. There were a lot of happy people in that march as well as many spectators. The estimate of 1 million marchers of Havana’s 2 million population appeared reasonable to me. After the parade ended late morning, the crowd dissipated.

    Cueto in Holguin is a small pueblo of about 15,000 that I know well. Everyone in the march was very excited to be in the parade. Every bicitaxi driver, all independent business people, proudly pedal as a group in the parade. There were not that many spectators because so many were in the parade. There is always a big street party thereafter that ends 2AM the following day when the band stops playing. There is my 2:23 photo show at

    This year I attended the parade in Holguin Cuidad. Everyone in the parade seemed proud and ecstatic to be there. I heard an estimate of 250,000 marchers which seemed reasonable given Holguin’s just under 400,000 population. There was a huge fiesta at the nearby stadium that began immediately as marchers finished the parade. This event is the biggest party of the year in Holguin City.

    Never assume that Cuba is only Havana or that Havana represents all of Cuba.

  • For once Kennedy Earle Clarke I think that your usage of the term “brother” in addressing Nick is correct!
    You two although not brothers-german have so much in common, not least being residing on islands (I mean geographically although there could be other interpretations).
    But please oh please Kennedy Earle Clarke refrain from addressing me that way!

  • Brother Nick, you are so correct with your historical facts concerning MAY DAY. Workers worked for 10-16 hours per day with DEATH stalking the work place and no compensation paid for the loss of their lives. Workers were agitating for an eight hour day and the capitalists who were only interested in working the workers to death in order to achieve huge profits, defied their requests.

    I request that the reader of my POST research the HAYMARKET MASSCRE of Tuesday 4th May, 1886 which occurred in Chicago. The writer of this Post, Kabri Vega Castellanos, is either a Fake, out of touch with reality or is down right anti- working class. No son of working class people could write such drivel!.

    Cuba is not alone in celebrating May Day on the 1st MAY which is called MAY DAY! In other countries it is celebrated on the first Monday of May (LABOUR DAY) so that the workers could enjoy a longer weekend. This DAY is set aside to show APPRECIATION for the CONTRIBUTION WORKERS are Making to the Development of their Country. Capitalist USA which is anti- Working class, could not celebrate theirs in May with all the WORKERS of the world, because they looked at it as Socialist movement and moved theirs to September.

  • Mostly the ppl going to march in Cuba because the threat of losing theirs jobs. It’s very interesting that not one in Cuba is demanding anything the proletarian paradise is so good to be true that is exactly what it is, a farce. An obsolete fallacy

  • International Workers Day originated in the United States of America…….
    Or more specifically in the great city of Chicago.
    It stems from the brutal US gentry beating down upon decent US workers making entirely reasonable demands regarding their ‘inalienable rights’.
    Unfortunately this corner of the US population has to some extent been propagandised and subsequently co-opted into the far-right, lame & meaningless ‘Make America Great Again’ brigade.
    However this current mode should not be allowed to blur history.
    The propaganda in the USA has seen fit to bury this noble chapter of their national pride.
    Perhaps one of these days the decent folk of the USA will rise again to shout down the undeniable fact that their rights have been stolen by the prevailing neo-liberalist ethos and all those sinister corpratist interests.
    Maybe once again US Heroes such as the likes of August Spies, Albert Parsons, and Samuel Fielden will be rightly recognised as having stood up against the prevailing and oncominig tyranny as they most surely and valiently did.
    And never to be forgotten!!

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