May 1st demonstration in Palma. | Enrique Fueris | PALMA

On the twelfth of April 1918, the 844th edition of 'El Obrero Balear' was published. Its editorial read: "The memorable date for the workers is approaching. The universal festival of labour that the proletariat of all civilised countries celebrates on May Day is undoubtedly the most important and far-reaching in recorded history. Nothing like it has such sublime and redemptive significance. Nothing equals it in terms of grandeur, idealism and justice.

"For this reason, the workers yearn for its arrival and prepare to celebrate it with all the solemnity that its importance requires. This year's gathering in Palma appears to be of exceptional importance, judging by the preparations that the workers' societies have already been making. At a meeting on Tuesday, important agreements were reached and various committees were appointed to organise and carry out all the day's festivities and acts."

The editorial concluded by exhorting the readership to take part: "Workers! Celebrate the labour festival with ever more enthusiasm and solemnity this year. Let no one go to the workshops or factories on May the first. Long live the party of the workers!"

The celebrations commenced on the evening of April 30. The venue was the Teatro Balear, which still exists and, as far as I am aware, continues to wait to find out what activity it can stage according to Palma's new urban plan. A bingo hall, there was the idea for it to become a casino; it won't be. Anyway, in 1918 there was a performance of 'La malquerida', The Unloved Woman, by the Spanish playwright Jacinto Benavente, which had nothing to do with the workers' struggle, but was followed by poems for the proletariat.

At 6am on May 1, there was a grand wake-up. A music band toured the streets. At 10am, it was back to the Teatro Balear, where approvals were given for demands to be submitted to the mayor of Palma and the civil governor (the Spanish government's representative). A rally followed and accompanied the committee charged with delivering these demands, which included an eight-hour working day, abolition of night work in the bakery sector, regulation of domestic work, and an amnesty for all those convicted in recent years for political and social crimes. At 3pm, everyone went to Bellver Castle for a picnic and for walks.

That's how it was one hundred or so years ago, El Obrero Balear having been the principal source of reporting. Founded in 1900 by the Balearic Socialist Federation, affiliated to the national Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), its editors included Llorenç Bisbal. He was to be mayor of Palma for a brief time in 1931, which was when he proposed a tourist tax for the city - it was rejected - but who most famously was responsible for the weekly newspaper being shut down for a time in 1909.

This was on account of his withering criticism of the only Mallorcan to have been the prime minister of Spain, Antoni Maura. It was Maura who was held responsible for what is remembered as Tragic Week, when socialists, republicans and anarchists rose up against working-class reservists being sent to the conflict in Morocco. More than 100 civilians were killed in the clashes with police and army. An end to the war in Morocco was another demand in 1918. The full-scale Rif War didn't actually break out until 1921, so the demand fell on deaf ears.

May Day in 1918 was against a background of tension. But who, at that time, could remember anything other than tension? By 1918, though, there were the antecedents of what was to follow, and they were born in Mallorca because of the supporters of Maura. The Mauristas have often been portrayed as the precursors of the radical right in Spain; they were not beyond engaging in street violence.

Exactly one hundred years ago, the May Day celebrations were to be the last under what passed for democracy at that time. In September 1923, Miguel Primo de Rivera led the coup which resulted in him being installed as dictator. El Obrero Balear, perhaps surprisingly, was able to survive the period of the first dictator, but not without great difficulty. 1936 was to be last May Day for which it was able to send out its call to the workers. But the final rally before the Civil War was preceded by a much larger demonstration. This was on March 14. The paper headlined its report: "Against the corruption of popular consciousness".

Ostensibly, this protest was against the "suffocating environment of the hateful caciquismo of March". The March was the banker Joan March, caciquismo was the system of political bosses. The protest, which drew people from across Mallorca, demanded the annulment of recent elections that this caciquismo had influenced. It called for the seizure of March's assets, for the dismissal of all monarchist and fascist soldiers, for republicanism to prevail in all state, provincial and municipal bodies.

The protest against the “suffocating environment of the hateful caciquismo of March” in 1936, passing through Palma’s Paseo del Borne. Photo: Rinas-Duran

The governor received the protest representatives and said that he would convey the demands to the Spanish government, which had already shown its willingness to listen to the aspirations of the Popular Front of left-wing organisations that had been formed in January 1936. It was all to prove futile of course.

The first of May is nowadays a public holiday. In Mallorca, it marks what is often referred to as the official start of the tourism season. Unions hold their rallies and it can seem as if some recall the cry of 1918 - let no one go to the workshops or factories on May the first. Strangely, for the first day of the season, there are some places that are shut for the day.