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May Day (aka International Workers Day)

May 1, 2010

Today is May 1st, May Day, and it found me sleeping most of it away in preperation for another overnight shift at the vulnerable adult group-home that I work at.  For most in the US, May Day is just another second or third rate holiday that usually doesn’t result any time off of the job or any other special observences, just a vauge awareness that it is distinct for some obscure reasons.  If I think back to my early school days as a wee lad I can conjure up hazy recollections of making baskets and flowers on this date, although that could have been any day in elementry school.  For others no doubt, the fact that ‘May and ‘day’ rhyme are reason enough to embrace the date.   In any case, May Day has little to no meaning for most people in the US.

May Day Poster from USSR, 1920

For the rest however, May 1st is International Workers’ Day, a celebration of the international workers’ movement.  Specifically it is in commemoration and rememberance of the Haymarket Massacre of Chicago, 1886 when police fired on workers striking for an 8-hour work day.  The resulting turmoil left 8 police dead and an unknown number of workers and supporters.  The incident led to one of the more infamous chapters in US labor history where 8 anarchist were put on trial for murder, resulting in four eventually being put to death.  The trial was recognized across the country and around the world as a tragedy and a farce of justice.

So, International Workers’ Day is held on May 1st and it is based on events that took place in Chicago, yet the US does not celebrate the holiday (aside from a small portion of the left).  How does this make any sense?  Rest assured it is not by an accident.  While the US does have its own Labor Day celebrated on the first Monday in September every year as a federal holiday, it was created in the 1880’s as well as an attempt to quell radical labor unrest.  Subsequent attempts to have the holiday switched to May 1st have failed in the US, ostensibly for the negative connotations it would bring about with the rememberence of the Haymarket events.  In this vain, president Eisenhower declared May 1st both as Loyalty day and Law day.  Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?  It kind of reminds me of something that a feudal lord would proclaim when he made the peasants swear an oath of feality him in the Middle Ages.

So this May Day take a bit of time to review the history surrounding the holiday and its implications for the present.  With unemployment hovering around 10% in the US and with all the talk about a ‘jobless recovery’ taking place it might be time to revive some old, but not forgotten traditions.


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