Archive for the ‘Labor’ Category

May Day: loyalty and labor

May 7, 2008

By David Farside

Over the years, May Day has represented different aspects of culture and customs. It is a day of celebrating the social and economic achievements of labor around the world. Gradually, it has evolved as a day designated to show off political power, and a time for demonstrators around the world to challenge that political power. There are many different explanations about its historical beginning. But one thing we do know: it has ancient origins.

The first day of May is considered to be a cross-quarter day. It falls almost halfway between a solstice and an equinox. The Saxons and Celts designated it as a time when all of the craft guilds officially celebrated the end of winter and the first spring planting.

The festivals started with a parade of peasant girls wearing colorful dresses, followed by villagers dancing in the street and drinking their favorite beverage of the day- beer. The party usually lasted three or four days; the hangover lasted all summer.

Naturally, by the late 1700’s, the Catholic Church outlawed all May Day celebrations. But the peasants, in their defiance of the church, continued their traditional celebration. They disguised themselves in costumes and wore masks to hide their identity from the neighborhood priest.

This spring tradition of masquerade was also celebrated at the time of the fall harvest in late October. Thus, the ghost and goblins of Halloween. The Catholic Church was losing its battle in suppressing the pagan fall celebrations so, in their infinite wisdom, they joined the pagans and gave them a Christian holiday to celebrate on the same day. They turned the dancing and masquerade into a celebration of all souls day and All Saints Day and past around the collection plate.

Over the years May Day evolved into an international workers day. In the 1800’s the guilds of shoemakers , coppersmiths, blacksmiths and other craftsmen began organizing unions for common and skilled labor.

On May 1, 1886 labor unions in the United States and Canada organized a three-day general strike at the McCormick harvesting machine co. In Chicago, Common laborers, merchants, artisans and immigrants were demanding an eight-hour day. The police tried to break the strike. They opened fire on the crowd and killed four strikers.

The next day at Chicago’s Haymarket Square a public demonstration and rally was organized. As the police tried to disperse the crowd an unknown assailant threw a bomb into a crowd of policemen. A riot resulted killing at least twelve people and injuring hundreds, including seven police officers. I guess throwing bombs into crowds of innocent people isn’t just a Muslim trait.

Keeping with our American way of justice, a “ show” trial was held for eight defendants. Four of them were eventually hanged; not because of their involvement in the bombing, but for their political convictions and personal beliefs in organized labor.

People form around the world held a demonstration protesting the killings. Consequently, since then, May 1 has been regarded as international workers day in commemoration of the people involved in the Haymarket demonstrations.

Although the rest of the world celebrates May first as Labor Day, the United States congress designated may 1 as loyalty day. Some say this is an effort to isolate American workers from the rest of the world.

Ironically, our loyalty day has become a day of political protest here and around the world.

In Istanbul, riot police used tear gas to break up workers in their attempt to demonstrate in a Labor Day rally that had been banned by their government.

In Istanbul, police arrested 467 demonstrators but Turkish unions said they would defy the government and hold their Labor Day rally.

In Russia the people demonstrated for economic equality; and more than a hundred thousand Cuban residents challenged their government in hopes of more political, social and economic changes.

In the United States, legal and illegal Hispanic immigrants demonstrated to protect their jobs, families and future. Their cause reflects the two faces of our government: one side argues for the deportation of illegal immigrants. The other side covers its eye and gives them an easy access to American businesses.

Since labor unions are slowly becoming extinct, you would think union organizers would take advantage of the millions of unorganized laborers crossing the border.

A union representing illegal immigrants might be an answer to our immigration problem. Every illegal immigrant would register with the national union as an available laborer without government interference. In turn, the union would supply skilled or non- skilled workers to the appropriate businesses. Together, the employers and unions would sponsor the worker for U.S. Citizenship. The problem is solved.

The unions would regain their role in labor negations for a higher minimum wage. All immigrants would have provided a major portion of laborers to employers and immigration couldn’t be used for political rhetoric.

The new union could form an actual political labor party ending our corrupt two party system. We’d replace the obscure day of loyalty with a real labor day and our labor force could celebrate its achievements on May 1 like every other country. Will that ever happen? What do you think?