Lockdown keeps May Day in Italy a muted affair

Italy on Friday marked its first-ever International Workers’ Day, or May Day, under lockdown.

May Day has been celebrated in Italy since the end of the 19th century. For contemporary Italians, it is synonymous with picnics featuring a beloved combination of raw broad beans and a hard, salty cheese made from sheep’s milk called “pecorino.”

It’s also synonymous with the concertone (“big concert” in Italian) organized in a public square in Rome for the past 30 years by Italy’s “big three” trade union confederations: the General Confederation of Italian Labor (CGIL), the Italian Confederation of Workers Unions (CISL), and the Italian Labor Union (UIL).

Maria Teresa Bianchi, 59, is a mother of two young women and works as a fundraiser at a health care non-profit organization in Rome.

“When I was younger, we would go to the workers’ marches and to the concertone,” Bianchi told Xinhua. “For me, it was a time of awareness, of thinking about workers’ rights.”

“When I had my daughters, we started spending May Day with family and friends, usually at our lake house, and that is what we would have done [on this year’s May Day] if there hadn’t been a lockdown,” she said.

Luigi Ricci, 41, who owns a carpentry business, told Xinhua that for him, the May Day tradition involves going on an outing with friends in the countryside around Rome.

“Along the way, we stop at one of the stands run by Coldiretti (Italian farmers’ association) and buy fresh broad beans,” Ricci said. “Then we sit on the grass and eat them with pecorino, drinking wine from the Castelli area near Rome — that is our ritual.” `

“This year, of course, there will be no outing because we are under lockdown,” Ricci concluded.

John Green is a 60-year-old British journalist who moved to Italy in 1981, married an Italian schoolteacher and raised two daughters here.

Green told Xinhua that May Day “was quite a tradition in my working-class family” in the UK and that they usually celebrated it outdoors, with a barbecue or a picnic.

“In my early years in Rome, May Day meant meals in the country with friends, and sometimes attending the concertone,” he said.

“This year, if it weren’t for the lockdown, I would have taken my family for a short agritourism holiday, and we would have watched the concertone on TV,” he said.

This year’s concertone will be televised live on RAI public broadcaster from 8 p.m. to midnight local time, with the performers playing at Rome’s Auditorium Parco Della Musica concert venue and other locations across Italy that were chosen by the artists themselves.

The lineup this year includes beloved Italian rockers Zucchero, Gianna Nannini and Vasco Rossi.

In his traditional May Day address to the nation, President of Italy Sergio Mattarella said: “As I celebrate so differently from the usual, we must acknowledge the key social justice milestones achieved through the struggles of the workers and their unions, which are… instruments of progress and equality.”

“Recovery is possible because in over the past two months, we managed to mitigate significantly the dangerousness of the epidemic,” Mattarella said. “We must defend this result.”