Temple in Spain

May Day in Bilbao

On May first, I went to see May Day protests in the city of Bilbao, the capital of the province of Biscay in the Basque Country, an autonomous community east of Asturias. May Day is an international worker’s holiday that is celebrated on the first of May. The holiday was created in the United States to commemorate the Haymarket Affair of 1886 in Chicago, but these days few Americans are aware of the holiday; it’s recognized much more widely in Europe and elsewhere in the world. The holiday celebrates workers, the working class and the labor movement, and often involves protests regarding issues affecting the working class. May Day attendees usually include leftists, such as: socialists, communists, anarchists, labor unions, etc. Every year, Bilbao holds large protests in honor of May Day.

tuspain11-1plazaAt around 10a.m., protesters began gathering at the Plaza del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús (Sacred Heart of Jesus). Here, members of the Eusko Langileen Alkartasuna (Basque Workers’ Solidarity) set up their stage to prepare for a speaker to address attendees. If the name of this organization seems strange, it’s because the words are Basque, not Spanish. The Basque people, who have historically lived in northeastern Spain and southwestern France, have their own distinct culture and traditions and a unique language that is completely different from any other language in Europe or the rest of the world.

tuspain11-2recortesProtesters hold signs that spell out ‘Recortes Cero’ which means zero cutbacks. Recortes Cero is a campaign to end government austerity cuts.

tuspain11-3flagsThe Basque flag has the same pattern as the Union Jack of the United Kingdom, but with red, white and green instead of red, white and blue. The red, yellow and purple flag, to the immediate right of the Basque flag, has the same colors as the flag of the Second Republic of Spain, which was established in 1931. Leftist organizations tend to identify with the Republic of Spain because its government was quite liberal.

tuspain11-4JohnAdamsA statue of John Adams decorated with May Day stickers. The plaque on the pedestal of the statue contains a quote which reads: “…this extraordinary people have preserved their ancient language, genius, laws, government and manners without innovation, longer than any other nation of Europe.” This quote is taken from Biscay Letter IV A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the USA, written by Adams in 1787. 

tuspain11-5boyA boy wears the communist flag as a cape. The Communist Party of Spain currently has six representatives in the Congress of Deputies, which is similar to our House of Representatives, two representatives in the Senate, and one representative in the European Parliament. However, the Communist Party has never comprised a majority of the Spanish government.

tuspain11-6CNTThe Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (National Confederation of Labor) is a confederation of anarcho-syndicalist labor unions that was founded in 1910. The slogan on the banner translates to “your fighting tool.”


Protesters walk across a bridge, above the Nervión River, which runs through Bilbao.


A speaker from the Workers’ Commissions addresses a crowd in a park next to the river. The Workers’ Commissions (Comisiones Obreras in Spanish, abbreviated CCOO) was founded in 1976 and is now the largest trade union in Spain.


A crowd of protesters salute a speaker with raised fists in a plaza in the old quarter. Some protesters hold flags for the Langile Abertzaleen Batzordeak (Nationalist Worker’s Committees), a Basque trade union. LAB tends to support Basque nationalism and the Basque National Liberation Movement, which seeks independence and sovereignty for the greater Basque region.


Aside from protests, Bilbao is well-known for its unique architecture. The metallic building with the undulating curves is the Guggenheim museum, which was built in 1997 and designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry. The museum hosts some very interesting modern art, and Yoko Ono currently has several exhibits on display here. The skyscraper in the background is the Torre Iberdrola (Iberdrola Tower), an office building that was completed in 2011; it’s the tallest building in Bilbao.

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