Remembering May Day and the history behind it. The best sources to explain the origin of May Day are in the links at the bottom of this post.
There are two reasons May Day is celebrated.
The first is over a thousand years old and a much more festive and cheery celebrations.
The Celtic Northern Hemisphere celebrations of Beltane, are on May 1. “May Day was, and still is, known as Beltane; a festival for the celebration of the life, fertility and summer.”
Dancing around the decorated Maypole and children giving May Baskets to their neighbors on their doorsteps are all part of this celebration here in America, though these traditions are not as common in the twenty-first century. The baskets were made out of whatever was available and filled with flowers or sweets or both, then delivered early in the morning May 1 on each neighbor’s doorstep.
The second reason May Day is celebrated is to remember those who gave their lives to gain 8 hour workdays and safe working conditions.
Below is an excerpt from one of the articles.
“In the late nineteenth century, the working class was in constant struggle to gain the 8-hour work day. Working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unsafe conditions. Death and injury were commonplace at many work places and inspired such books as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Jack London’s The Iron Heel.
Workers had seen first-hand that Capitalism benefited only their bosses, trading workers’ lives for profit. Thousands of men, women and children were dying needlessly every year in the workplace, with life expectancy as low as their early twenties in some industries, and little hope but death of rising out of their destitution. Socialism offered another option.
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 celebration in history. In Chicago, the epicenter for the 8-hour day agitators, 40,000 went out on strike with the anarchists in the forefront of the public’s eye. With their fiery speeches and revolutionary ideology of direct action, anarchists and anarchism became respected and embraced by the working people and despised by the capitalists.
More and more workers continued to walk off their jobs until the numbers swelled to nearly 100,000, yet peace prevailed. It was not until two days later, May 3, 1886, that violence broke out at the McCormick Reaper Works between police and strikers.
For six months, armed Pinkerton agents and the police harassed and beat locked-out steelworkers as they picketed. Most of these workers belonged to the “anarchist-dominated” Metal Workers’ Union. During a speech near the McCormick plant, some two hundred demonstrators joined the steelworkers on the picket line. Beatings with police clubs escalated into rock throwing by the strikers which the police responded to with gunfire. At least two strikers were killed and an unknown number were wounded.”
Unfortunately, so many people believe that in America this freedom was just handed over. Not true. It wasn’t out of the goodness of business owners hearts that work days became 8 hour days with pay. The workers fought for it, the first labor unions gave their lives for it which gave way to better formed unions who eventually paved the way for the industrial working conditions today.