May Day and I, or My May Days

Today is May Day, the International Workers’ Day. I’ve never really known too much about it other that it celebrates workers. That has always been enough for me. For many years I’ve tried to take the occasion to spend some time in nature (so not that much different than how I celebrate every day that I can), although I always tried to set aside some time for reflection on the nature of wage labor and productive time use, which don’t seem to match up to me.

This day is completely officially and mostly culturally ignored in the US, but it had its origins here, in Chicago, where it was established as a day to support the 8-hour workday on May 1, 1884. In 1886, a May Day general strike led to the famous Haymarket Massacre and aftermath, in which 4 anarchist labor organizers were executed despite there being no connection established between them and a bomb thrown at police. In 1889, the Second International declared May Day an international holiday to commemorate Haymarket Square and to support the 8-hour day. The official US response was to wipe the day from the books, although for a time May 1 was officially declared Law and Order Day. That apparently didn’t fly, and now it passes almost completely unobserved in the US although it is an official holiday in 66 countries.

It continues to be an important day for activism, however, complete with sensationalist media accounts and police responses. The above link from the Los Angeles Times, a paper famous for its virulent anti-unionism demonstrates the fear still felt in the face of popular mobilization against corporate interests.

In honor of the day, here are some of my more memorable moments on May Day—my May Days:

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Branch skeleton, or Communist Propaganda? May Day has suffered in the US due to its association with anarchism, socialism, and communism. It became an important state holiday in the former Soviet Union. May 1, 2005
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There is rarely a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the world’s workers, something as true today as it was in the late 19th century when May Day came into being. May 1, 2005
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“Workers of the world, unite!” The famous rallying cry of worker’s associations, including the International Workers of the World. May 1, 2009

 


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