I know clearly most of us set back home and enjoyed the day as it made a long weekend a success. I mean who would want to miss having a Friday all to themselves? The holiday was in deed a blessing for us all. But what did you do? how did you celebrate the day? What significance?
Well lets start off with a brief insight of the month May.The month of May was named for the Greek goddess Maia, who was identified with the Roman eraMaypole goddess of fertility; Bona Dea, whose festival was held in May, which is the month of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere and spring in the Northern Hemisphere.
During the month of May; in many places around the world there are various festivals celebrated by playing music, singing and dancing around what we now call the Maypole.
In addition to the music, singing and dancing, there are also climbing contests to see who can climb the king’s phallus the fastest; with loads of beer as the big prize. These poles are erected on or around the first day of May, with festivities lasting all throughout the month and in particular, on May Day.
Rosa Luxemburg tells us in her article “What are the origins of 1st May?” written in 1894, that it was in Australia where the workers’ cause was joined to the old Spring celebration on this day, more precisely in 1856, when the workers of this British colony began a campaign for an eight-hour working day, making a stoppage. This was total and the action was repeated the following year. The cause of the international workers had been launched.
In the USA the labour movement would choose this day to focus its demands. The embryonic workers’ associations and unions organized themselves during the 19th century and began to fight against deplorable working conditions – a working day of between 8 and 10 hours and in many cases in conditions of extreme discomfort and/or danger. In some industries, the life expectancy did not reach 25 years of age!
The unions/associations formed the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions – FOTLU (November 1881), later the American Labour Federation, which at its National Convention in Chicago in 1884, proclaimed that after 1 May 1886, the working day should be 8 hours. FOTLU announced a series of actions and strikes to apply pressure on the authorities to force them to implement the new working regime.
Meanwhile the labour movement was brutally repressed by the Pinkerton security agents and the police. When the day arrived, 1st May 1886, around 300,000 workers in 13,000 firms started to strike. Chicago was the epicentre of the labour movement and names such as Louis Lingg, Johann Most, Albert Parsons and August Spies will forever be linked with May 1st. The strikes and the revolutionary atmosphere created by the various factions linked to the labour movement continued during May 2 and 3, but always in a climate of peace. However, everything would change the following day.
The day was never adopted as a public holiday in the USA but the workers’ movement and its claims echoed far and wide, reaching the four corners of the world, where May 1st started to become the focal point for demonstrations in favour of workers’ rights. International Socialist proclaimed the date International Labour Day in 1889.
I hope you had the best May day ever!