May Day: Days Off, Dancing and Demonstrations
Happy International Workers’ Day! Whether you know it as May Day or the first day of summer or Labour Day or simply a day off, 1 May is a day of remembrance, unity and freedom all over the world.
The first of May is for the workers. Those who have the day off, either on 1 May or attached to the closest weekend, can enjoy their well-earned time away from the daily grind. Perhaps they will attend a local festival for May Day’s more ancient origins – the first day of summer on the pagan calendar, for instance.
But for others, however, May Day is marked by protesting unfair labour policies and demonstrating for political causes. This year saw massive rallies in Indonesia, Russia, Turkey and Cambodia – in Turkey, police intervened with tear gas and water cannon. In Cambodia, with violence.
These marches take place because of 1 May’s historical significance. It’s bloody, gritty, momentous past is grounded in workers’ rights. In the late nineteenth century, workers across the world were demanding better conditions. On 1 May, 1886, 30,000 workers in Chicago went on strike for an eight hour workday. Two days later, in Haymarket Square, the police came to end the day’s rally when suddenly someone threw at bomb at them. Gunshots began ringing out. Eleven people died – seven police officers and four workers. The details of who threw the bomb and who opened fire are unknown to this day.
Ever since that May Day in 1886, the importance of 1 May to workers all over the world has been deeply felt. The date began to be recognised as a formal holiday – a Labour Day. The Catholic Church even dedicated 1 May to Saint Joseph the Worker. Politically, 1 May has developed a special significance for socialists, communists and anarchists, but it is a day for all those who feel disenfranchised, exploited and downtrodden to stand up for what they believe in, to actualise their identities.
Whether people do this by protesting or by Morris dancing at a festival, the idea behind May Day remains – it is a day to ensure that each person has the opportunity to live freely in a just world.
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