May Day is an official holiday in 66 countries and unofficially celebrated in many more, but it is rarely recognized in the US where it began.
In 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (which later became the American Federation of Labor) passed a resolution arguing that eight hours should constitute a legal day’s work. The resolution called for a general strike to achieve the goal, since legislative efforts had failed repeatedly. With workers being forced to work ten, twelve, and fourteen hours a day, mass support for the eight-hour movement grew rapidly.
On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day protest in history. Within a few years, the fight was won. But, in the early part of the 20th century, the US government, recognizing May Day’s galvanizing potency, tried to curb May 1 celebrations and their radical resonance by establishing an alternative: Labor Day, a holiday devoid of historical significance–but one offering a paid day off!
This year, around the country, there seem to be a respectable number of May Day events doing honor to the memory of the first May 1 protesters. United for Peace is putting on an old-fashioned march and rally past the United Nations in a call for the abolition of nuclear weapons and a US troop withdrawal from Iraq. The march sets off from 50th Street and First Ave. in Manhattan at 12:00 with the rally scheduled to kick off at the Heckscher Ballfields in Central Park at 2:00. Featured speakers include Daniel Ellsberg, Helen Caldicott, Ray McGovern and the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagaski. Click here for more info and click here to help spread the word.
(And on May 2, you can join Ellsberg, Caldicott, Jonathan Schell, Ariel Dorfman, Eve Ensler, Carolyn Forche, Amy Goodman, James Carroll, Robert Lifton and others for a conference addressing the political, moral and cultural dimensions of the growing nuclear threat. At 9:00am at CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. Click here for info.)
After the UFP march, you can also head downtown to Tompkins Square Park for the 19th annual squatters’ Mayday celebration, a free music and arts festival brought to you by a group of local anarchist collectives. Starting at 11:00 and going on all day.
There’s also a “May Day Rally for Jobs, Not War” going on at Union Square in lower Manhattan at the same time as the UFP event takes place. Click here to read the call to action and click here to see a list of endorsers. People are massing at the 14th Street entrance to the park at 1:00pm.
Meanwhile, in Charlotte, North Carolina, many of the local chapters of the groups putting on the Union Sq. rally in Manhattan, including the Million Worker March Movement, the Troops Out Now Coalition, and the Action Center For Justice, are calling for a “JOBS NOT WAR–Bring the Troops Home Now!” rally gathering at 2:00pm at Independence Park.
Nation reader Greg Gibbs reports that May Day has been celebrated in Minneapolis for 31 years, in Powederhorn Park on the City’s southside–the “people’s republic of south Minneapolis.” There’s a parade, booths, food and music led by a local puppet troupe called In the Heart of the Beast. This year the festivities start at 1:00.
And, in the great Northwest, they’re celebrating International Workers Day with a bike ride and picnic in Seattle. Converge at Westlake Center at 12:01. Picnic spot to be decided later. “Bring friends and lovers and fellow workers. Bring food to share, chalk, songs, banners, flags, creativity, defiance and your bicycle.”
This is just a sampling of some progressive ways to spend your time this May Day. Please click here to let us know about any other events we should be highlighting before Sunday.