[OPE-L] May Day, a day to remember many traditions

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Thu Apr 27 2006 - 09:49:52 EDT

The information below ix excerpted from Wikipedia.

May Day, a day to remember.

-- It's a day to remember its historical origin in ... Canada.
-- In the UK, it's a day to remember Spring Bank Holiday.
-- Throughout the world, it's a day for revolutionaries to remember Blutmai.
-- It's EuroMayDay!
-- It's Saint Joseph's Day.
-- It's a day for Morris dancing.  It's the Return of the Sun day. (Not
    mentioned below) it's Squatters May Day.


1) Oh, Canada!

May Day is a name for various holidays celebrated on May 1 (or in the
beginning of May). The most famous of these is International Workers' Day,
which is the commemoration of the social and economic achievements of the
labor movement. The 1 May date is used because in 1884 the Federation of
Organized Trades and Labor Unions, inspired by Labor's 1872
<http://www.nupge.ca/news_2003/n01se03a.htm>  success in Canada, demanded an
eight-hour workday in the United States, to come in effect as of May 1,
1886. This resulted in the general strike and the U.S. Haymarket Riot of
1886, but eventually also in the official sanction of the eight-hour

2) Spring Bank Holiday

May Day in the United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom, political events have sometimes split into two camps.
The mainstream workers' movement celebrates May Day on the first Monday in
May, which is the national Spring Bank Holiday and may or may not actually
occur on 1 May. Small-scale rallies are held by political parties (generally
including, but not limited to, the Labour Party, the Socialist Workers'
Party, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Communist Party of Britain and
other left-wing groups). These occasions are typified by beer tents in parks
and selling of Marxist propaganda materials.

The actual date of 1 May in the U.K., meanwhile, generally features rallies
and demonstrations organised by anarchist groups, although in recent years
these have also involved communist groups, particularly those of the
Trotskyist branch.

3) Blutmai, 1929

May Day Militancy in Germany
May Day graffiti in Berlin. The text reads, "1 May: Cars burn, cops die."
'Bullen' (bulls, male cows) is a derogatory term used for the police.
May Day graffiti in Berlin. The text reads, "1 May: Cars burn, cops die."
'Bullen' (bulls, male cows) is a derogatory term used for the police.

Berlin, Germany, particularly in the districts of Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer
Berg, traditionally has yearly demonstrations on May Day. In 1929, the
social democratic SPD government prohibited the annual May Day workers'
demonstrations in Berlin. The communist party KPD, which was the strongest
party in Berlin, called demonstrations nonetheless. By the end of the day,
32 demonstrators, workers and bystanders had been killed by the police, at
least 80 were seriously injured. The Berlin police, under control of the
supposedly pro-labor social democratic government, had fired a total of
11,000 rounds of live ammunition.

This incident, remembered in the German language as Blutmai
<http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blutmai>  (blood May) deepened the split
between the workers' parties KPD and SPD. This gave an advantage to the
Nazis, who became Germany's governing party in 1933, partly due to the fact
that the KPD and SPD had been unable to form an anti-Nazi coalition. It was
the Nazis, not the social democratic parties of the Weimar republic, who
made May Day a holiday in Germany. By doing so, they took up the
connotations of having done so, but did not permit leftist demonstrations on
this day. Further, they adapted it to their purposes, calling it the "day of
work", which is still the official name for this public holiday. Ironically,
just after May Day - to be more precise, on May 2, 1933 - the Nazis outlawed
all free labor unions and other independent workers' organizations in
Germany. The Reichsarbeitsdienst (or RAD, Reich Labour Service) was formed
in July 1934 as an amalgamation of the outlawed unions.

In today's Germany May Day is still of political importance, with labor
unions and parties using this day for political campaigns and
activitileftists, including the punk rock scene, Autonome, and others, but
also "regular" youths not fond of the police. However, May Day 2005 in
Berlin was the most peaceful in nearly 23 years.

In recent years, neo-nazis and other groups on the far right like the es,
but since 1987 it has also become known for heavy rioting by radical
NPD have also used the day to schedule public demonstrations, often
leading to clashes with left-wing protesters, which turned especially
violent in the
historical city of Leipzig in 1998 and 2005.

4) EuroMayDay

Since 2001, EuroMayDay has become part of the celebration of the First of
May, aiming to update the political content of the traditional May Day. The
point of reference of EuroMayDay is not the industrial working class, but
rather the multitude of increasingly precarized post-fordist
flex/temp/networkers. EuroMayDay aims to create visible opposition against
precarization of labour and life. EuroMayDay was originated in Milan, Italy,
from where it first spread to Barcelona in 2004 and then to over a dozen
cities all over Europe in 2005. In 2005, approximately 200.000 people took
part in the Europe-wide EuroMayDay.

In 2005, the EuroMayDay network used the slogan Precarious of the world
let's unite and strike 4 a free open radical Europe. The Middlesex
Declaration of Europe's Precariat 2004
<http://libcom.org/library/book/print/1635>  emerged from the Beyond ESF
event held in parallel to the European Social Forum held in London in
September 2004. In 2006, even more cities are taking part in EuroMayDay. The
amount of participants has increased from 5000 people in Milan in 2001 to
50.000 in 2003 and 100.000 in 2004 (Milan and Barcelona altogether).
EuroMayDay Cities have included Amsterdam, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Hamburg,
Helsinki, Jyväskylä, L'Aquila, Leon, Liege, London, Maribor, Marseilles,
Milan, Naples, Palermo, Paris, Seville, Stockholm and Vienna. External link:

*       Euromayday website <http://www.euromayday.org/>

5) Governmental Resistance to May Day

In the United States, instead of May Day, Labor Day is celebrated on the
first Monday in September. It is a creation of the labor movement and is
dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It
constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made
to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the country.

6) Saint Joseph's Day
In a separate attempt to co-opt May Day, the Roman Catholic Church added
another Saint Joseph's Day in 1955 that Christianized 1 May as the day of
"Saint Joseph, the Worker". It is perhaps surprising that the Church did not
take this step earlier, to distract attention from the traditionally virile
pagan celebrations of May Day.

7) Other Traditions

Morris dancing on May Day, Oxford 2004.
Morris dancing on May Day, Oxford 2004.

Traditional English May Day rites and celebrations include Morris dancing,
crowning a May Queen, celebrating Green Man day and dancing around a
Maypole. Much of this tradition derives from the pagan festival of Beltane.

In Oxford on May Morning, many pubs are open from sunrise, and some of the
college bars are open all night. Madrigals are still sung from the roof of
the tower of Magdalen College, with thousands gathering on Magdalen Bridge
to listen. Traditionally, revellers have jumped from the bridge into the
River Cherwell below as part of the celebrations. About one hundred people
did this in 2005. The river, however, was then only three feet deep in
places and more than half of those who jumped needed medical treatment.

St Andrews has a similar student tradition - the majority of the students
gather on the beach late on April 30th and run into the North Sea at sunrise
on the 1st, often naked. This is accompanied by torchlit processions and
much celebration.

May Day is exactly a half-year from November 1, All Saints' Day. Marking the
end of the uncomfortable winter half of the year in the Northern hemisphere,
it has always been an occasion for popular and often raucous celebrations,
regardless of the political or religious establishment. May Day was also
originally the Celtic holiday Beltaine, the "Return of the Sun". It is the
third and last of the spring festivals. We can see traces of Beltaine when
dancing around the maypole or sending a basket of flowers to your neighbor's

Other holidays on May Day were also respected by some early European
settlers of the American continent. The day also marks springtime
celebrations such as:

*       Walpurgis Night in Northern Europe, including the Finnish Vappu
*       Beltane in Ireland and Scotland
*       Roodmas
*       Calendimaggio in Northern and Central Italy, related to the return
of the sun and spring
*       May Morning in Oxford
*       Hamilton College hosts an annual music outdoor music festival known
as "May Day." However the name has no political connotations or association
with other May Day holidays. Rather the name simply refers to the fact that
the festival is staged in late April or early May.

In Hawaii, May Day is also known as Lei Day, and is normally set aside as a
day to celebrate island culture in general and native Hawaiian culture in
particular. In rural regions of Germany, Walpurgisnacht celebrations of
pagan origin are traditionally held on the night before May Day, including
bonfires and the wrapping of May Poles, and young people use this
opportunity to party, while the day itself is used by many families to get
some fresh air, wurst and beer. Motto: "Tanz in den Mai!" ("Dance in May!").

Some links:
*       May Day and related topics on the Marxists Internet Archive
*       May Day in the West and the East, by
<http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1924/mayday.htm>  Trotsky
*       The Idea of May Day on the March, by
<http://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1913/04/30.htm>  Rosa Luxemburg
*       Magdalen College description of May Morning in Oxford
*       May Day: Festival for the Workers
<http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=7981> , Keith
Flett, Socialist Review, May 2002
*       Euromayday 2006 <http://www.euromayday.org>


May Day -- a day to celebrate and remember!

In solidarity, Jerry

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