May Day must be the Republicans’ favorite holiday; they just love to celebrate the seeds of Socialism and labor unions, mixed with a little paganism. I am sure that they would find solidarity with me. I am after all, a union member (SAG-AFTRA) and a solid supporter of workers’ rights.
May 1st just might have more holidays than any other day of the year. It is a celebration of Spring; It is a day of political protests; it is a Pagan festival; it is the Feast Day of Saint Philip and Saint James, the patron saints of laborers; and it’s a day for the solidarity of organized labor. In many countries, it is a national holiday.
In medieval England, people would celebrate by going into the woods to do a little ”A-Maying”: gathering greenery and flowers. Another English tradition is the Maypole. Some villages had permanent maypoles that would stay up all year; others put up a new one each May. The pole, a phallic symbol of virility, would be hung with greenery and ribbons, brightly painted, and decorated, and served as the focus for the zany festivities.
In many countries, May Day is also Labor Day. This originates with the U.S. Labor Movement of the late 19th Century. On May 1, 1886, unions across our once great country went on strike, demanding that the standard workday be shortened to eight hours. Outrageous! The organizers of these strikes included Socialists, Anarchists, and organized labor. Rioting in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, including a bomb thrown by an anarchist, led to the deaths of dozens of people and the injury of over hundreds more.
In 1889, the International Socialist Conference declared that, in commemoration of the Haymarket Affair, May 1 would be an international holiday for labor, now known in many places as International Workers’ Day.
In the USA the holiday came in for particular contempt during the anti-communist fervor of the early Cold War. In July of 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a resolution named May 1 ”Loyalty Day” in an attempt to avoid any hint of solidarity with the workers of the world on May Day. The resolution declared that it would be: ”…a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States of America and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom”.
Sometimes a riot can have positive results; the eight-hour workday did become the standard for most people, if not for me. Labor leaders around the world took the American strikes as a rallying point, choosing May Day as a day for their protests, parades, and pep talks. It was a major state holiday in the former USSR and other communist countries.
I live in Portland which has a long history of uprisings. We have three demonstrations this afternoon, one for Immigrant Rights and another organized by Don’t Shoot Portland, rallying against excessive force by police. The Portland May Day Coalition (a part of the Occupy Movement) has a rally at 2 p.m. starting at Shemanksi Park. The group says the rally will promote resistance to capitalism, international solidarity, and respect for workers and oppressed groups within society. The local television news says to expect 10,000 + people to participate. Occupy Portland will be clashing with the Portland police; it is an annual tradition, like the May Pole. In Portland, with more strip clubs than churches, I am sure many a pole will be A-Maying today.