Origins of May Day

As the Socialist Equality Party’s candidate for president in the 2012 US elections, I want to express my solidarity with workers throughout the world on May Day. The marking of this holiday—which has its origins in the bitter struggle by American workers to win the eight-hour day in the 1880s—takes on a special relevance this year. ~ Jerry White, ‘May Day 2012: Unite workers around the world against austerity and war’

The origin of our present holiday lies in the fight for an eight-hour working day, in which cause the leaders of the socialist Second International called for an international day of protest to be held at the beginning of May 1890. They did so just as the American Federation of Labour was planning its own demonstration on the same date. ~ Richard Seymour, ‘May Day is not about maypoles: the history of international workers’ day’

People seem to know about May Day everywhere except where it began, here in the United States of America. That’s because those in power have done everything they can to erase its real meaning… May Day started here, but then became an international day in support of American workers who were being subjected to brutal violence and judicial punishment. ~ Noam Chomsky, ‘What May Day means to me’

On this day in 1958, President Eisenhower proclaims Law Day to honor the role of law in the creation of the United States of America. Three years later, Congress followed suit by passing a joint resolution establishing May 1 as Law Day.

The idea of a Law Day had first been proposed by the American Bar Association in 1957. The desire to suppress the celebration of May 1, or May Day, as International Workers’ Day aided in Law Day’s creation. May Day had communist overtones in the minds of many Americans, because of its celebration of working people as a governing class in the Soviet Union and elsewhere.

The American Bar Association defines Law Day as: “A national day set aside to celebrate the rule of law. Law Day underscores how law and the legal process have contributed to the freedoms that all Americans share.” The language of the statute ordaining May 1 calls it “a special day of celebration by the American people in appreciation of their liberties and rededication to the ideals of equality and justice under law.”

On a day that, in many parts of the world, inspires devotion to the rights of the working classes to participate in government, Law Day asks Americans to focus upon every American’s rights as laid out in the fundamental documents of American democracy: the Declaration of Independence and the federal Constitution. The declaration insists that Americans “find these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and guarantees the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The Bill of Rights amended to the Constitution codifies the rights of free speech, free press and fair trial.

Law Day celebrates the legal construct for the determination of rights that the revolutionary leaders of the 1770s, hoping to prevent the sort of class warfare that went on to rack Europe [sic] from 1789 to 1917, were so eager to create. ~, ‘May 1, 1958: President Eisenhower proclaims Law Day’

The first eight-hour day procession

On 12 May 1856, over a thousand building workers celebrated winning an eight-hour working day. They marched through central Melbourne behind a banner declaring ‘Eight Hours’ Work, Eight Hours’ Rest, Eight Hours’ Recreation’, to a fete and sports event at Cremorne Gardens in Richmond.

Gaining the eight-hour day

A few months earlier, stonemasons working on some of Melbourne’s major buildings, including The University of Melbourne, Melbourne Public Library and Parliament House, instigated a movement to reduce their daily working hours from ten to eight. They argued that eight hours a day was appropriate in the Australian heat, and that it would give stonemasons time to improve their ‘social and moral condition’. From February 1856, employers conceded the eight-hour day to masons, carpenters and joiners, bricklayers, plasterers and slaters, and then to painters, quarrymen, saddlers and harness-makers.

International pioneers

The gain of the eight-hour day was an astounding international precedent, contributing in later decades to Australia’s reputation as a ‘workingman’s paradise’. New Zealand and Sydney building workers had gained the eight-hour day by 1848 and early 1856 respectively, although Sydney’s gains were short-lived. However, unlike their Australasian counterparts, Melbourne’s building workers did not concede pay or other conditions, and they promoted themselves as national and international pioneers, setting a precedent to which working men of the imperial world should aspire.

The eight-hour day procession and trade union banners

From 1857 the Eight-hour Day procession was held on 21 April. It became Melbourne’s biggest annual procession, growing in popularity when the Eight Hour Day became a public holiday in 1879, and reaching its peak just before World War One, when tens of thousands of spectators watched 13 000 ‘eight-hour men’ march.

The procession date changed in 1927 and again in 1949, and in 1934 the Eight-hour Day was re-named Labour Day. Moomba, first held in 1955, superseded the Labour Day procession. Trade unions continue to march with banners in the Moomba procession, May Day and other industrial marches and events. Many unions commissioned new banners in the 1980s. ~ Museum Victoria

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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2 Responses to Origins of May Day

  1. @ndy says:

    Irish Mooselem Barack HUSSEIN O’Bama gets in on the act…

    The White House

    Office of the Press Secretary
    For Immediate Release
    May 01, 2012
    Presidential Proclamation — Loyalty Day, 2012

    LOYALTY DAY, 2012



    More than two centuries ago, our Founders laid out a charter that assured the rule of law and the rights of man. Through times of tranquility and the throes of change, the Constitution has always guided our course toward fulfilling that most noble promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve the chance to pursue their full measure of happiness. America has carried on not only for the skill or vision of history’s celebrated figures, but also for the generations who have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears and true to our founding documents. On Loyalty Day, we reflect on that proud heritage and press on in the long journey toward prosperity for all.

    In the years since our Constitution was penned and ratified, Americans have moved our Nation forward by embracing a commitment to each other, to the fundamental principles that unite us, and to the future we share. We weathered the storms of civil war and segregation, of conflicts that spanned continents. We overcame threats from within and without — from the specter of fascism abroad to the bitter injustice of disenfranchisement at home. We upheld the spirit of service at the core of our democracy, and we widened the circle of opportunity not just for a privileged few, but for the ambitious many. Time and again, men and women achieved what seemed impossible by joining imagination to common purpose and necessity to courage. That legacy still burns brightly, and the ideals it embodies remain a light to all the world.

    Countless Americans demonstrate that same dedication to country today. It endures in the hearts of all who put their lives on the line to defend the land they love, just as it moves millions to improve their communities through volunteerism and civic participation. Their actions help ensure prosperity for this generation and those yet to come, and they honor the immutable truths enshrined in our Nation’s founding texts. On Loyalty Day, we rededicate ourselves to the common good, to the cornerstones of liberty, equality, and justice, and to the unending pursuit of a more perfect Union.

    In order to recognize the American spirit of loyalty and the sacrifices that so many have made for our Nation, the Congress, by Public Law 85-529 as amended, has designated May 1 of each year as “Loyalty Day.” On this day, let us reaffirm our allegiance to the United States of America, our Constitution, and our founding values.

    NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 1, 2012, as Loyalty Day. This Loyalty Day, I call upon all the people of the United States to join in support of this national observance, whether by displaying the flag of the United States or pledging allegiance to the Republic for which it stands.

    IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.


  2. @ndy says:

    May Day, Then and Now
    Greg Moses
    May 1, 2012

    Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group: May Day
    May 1, 2012

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