May 1st is International Worker’s Day and is celebrated around the world with marches and actions. There have been many attempts to rewrite the history of May Day. In 2011 the Tories proposed moving the May Day Bank Holiday to October and replace it with “UK Day” and in America May 1st is has been “Loyalty Day” since 1921 (not that many people celebrate it mind!).
Because of this we thought it was important to repost this article, explaining as briefly as possible, the true origins of May Day or International Worker’s Day. If reading isn’t your thing then check out this talk by Bristol Radical History Group from 2012 on the history of May Day.
by Eric Chase (1993)
Most people living in the United States know little about the International Workers’ Day of May Day. For many others there is an assumption that it is a holiday celebrated in state communist countries like Cuba or the former Soviet Union. Most Americans don’t realize that May Day has its origins here in this country and is as “American” as baseball and apple pie, and stemmed from the pre-Christian holiday of Beltane, a celebration of rebirth and fertility. Continue reading
Bristol was awash with a sea of red & black flags today as anarchists, radicals and trade unionists took to the streets for May Day. Four hundred people descended on College Green for a march and rally organised by Bristol Trades Council to commemorate International Worker’s Day (May1st). A large Radical Block we called that was made up of members of Bristol Anarchist Federation, Solidarity Federation, IWW and other revolutionaries numbering around 50 were present from the beginning handing out leaflets about the true origin of May Day.
As the march began the Radical Block took position near the front of the procession. The demonstration snaked out of College Green and down Park Street towards the Fountains as chants rung out from the block. There were some old favourites in there as well as a few new ones including a variation of “Solidarity Forever” called “Aristocracy Forever”.
MAY DAY – May 1st – has been celebrated as International Worker’s Day since 1890. The date was chosen by members of the Second International to commemorate the Haymarket Affair which occurred in Chicago, United States in 1886: On May 1st 1886 American unions held a nationwide general strike. An estimated 400,000 workers went on strike in Chicago. In the days following the strike, seven anarchists were framed and sentenced to death after a bomb was thrown at the police during a rally called on May 4th in response to an act of police violence following the strike outside the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company on May 3rd that left six workers dead.
For a full history of the Haymarket Affair, the Haymarket Martyrs and the origins of May Day please watch this talk by Bristol Radical History Group from 2012 at Hydra Books.
Across the world yesterday workers took to the streets to celebrate International Worker’s Day (1st May)! We have complied below a incomplete list of actions from around the globe. With this list we hope to showcase the sheer size and diversity of the modern worker’s movements: