Monday, April 30, 2012

Walpurgis Night / May Day

Because I grew up during the Cold War, May Day was this scary event where the Commies in USSR hauled their missiles through Red Square.  It was supposed to scare their enemies—it certainly scared me.  It wasn't until I got out of college that I discovered that May Day, the international labor day, was based on an event in 1886 Chicago.

The triggering event was a march of unionists who were demanding the 8-hour day.  They assembled in Haymarket Square.  The cops showed up.  There was an explosion.  The cops opened fire and many were killed or wounded.  Naturally, the unionists were blamed and some were arrested and hauled in front of a kangaroo court.  Four were hanged.  By 1893, Illinois had a new governor who was appalled by the miscarriage of justice and pardoned the remaining defendants.

This was the origins of the International Labor Day on the first of May.  Of course, May Day as a rite of spring had been around since pagan times.  In Sweden, the night before May Day is called Walpurgis Night which is still a pagan celebration.  Since it six months from Halloween, it has become a light-weight spring version devoted mostly to getting drunk.  Whether you spend May Day dancing around the May Pole, marching in a union organized parade, or sleeping off a nasty hangover largely depends on your political affiliation.

This year's May Day celebrations in France look especially interesting.  Seems like there is actually something worth marching for.

Happy May Day!

Rival Labour Day rallies reflect national divisions

This year’s Labour Day in France will be like no other as trade unions, supporters of incumbent Nicolas Sakorzy and the country’s far-right simultaneously hit the streets of Paris, five days before the second round of the presidential poll.
By Charlotte BOITIAUX (text)

Five days before France picks its next president, Labour Day stands as a high-stakes campaign event for rivaling political camps. On Tuesday, trade unions traditionally allied with the political left, supporters of incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy, and the surging far-right National Front (FN) party, are holding competing rallies in Paris.

The parading red flags of the leading CGT union usually dominate May 1 in France, but the imminent May 6 presidential runoff between Sarkozy and Socialist Party challenger François Hollande has made for an altogether different national holiday this year.

Fifteen years after being kicked out of the Elysée presidential palace, Socialists are hoping the march will add momentum to Hollande’s campaign and help sweep them back into power.

Trailing in opinion polls, and with a meagre two weeks between the first and second round of the presidential elections, Sarkozy is hoping to upstage his opponents by gathering voters in a historic counter-celebration of worker’s day.

Finally, buoyed up by a record-high 18% score in the first round of the elections, the National Front is gathering members for its annual march from Paris’ Opera to the foot of the equestrian statue of Saint Joan of Arc at the Place des Pyramides.

The French media have highlighted the battle for Labour Day as a symbol of the growing divisions. “Choose your camp,” sarcastically quipped Nicolas Demorand, director of the left-leaning Libération daily in an editorial on Monday. “The Berlin Wall has been rebuilt in the middle of Paris, just like in the good old days of the Cold War.”

The Workers’ Day march organised by France’s unions is the event expected to assemble the most participants on Tuesday. Driven by decades of tradition, but also irked by what they saw as Sarkozy’s attempt to usurp their holiday, union workers and French left-wingers were marching in mass from Denfert-Rochereau in central Paris to the capital’s iconic Place de la Bastille.

"May 1 is about history, May 1 is about a desire for social change, May 1 is about international solidarity,” said Danielle Tartakowsky, professor of contemporary history at Paris University VIII, on France 3 television on Monday.

Tartakowsky added that while the holiday was observed across the world, May 1 was revered like a religious feast by some in France’s powerful CGT union. France’s largest workers’ syndicate made it a day of remembrance for the nine factory workers killed in northern France in 1891 and for May 1, 1936, the date French workers won the right to paid vacations.

However, this year’s Labour Day is hard to dissociate from the election. After three consecutive defeats to the right in presidential elections in 1997, 2002 and 2007, the French left is tipped to stage a comeback.

Hollande announced he would be traveling to the central city of Nevers to pay tribute to Pierre Beregovoy, a former Socialist prime minister, who committed suicide on May 1, 1993. He explained he would not be in Paris because Labour Day belonged “to workers and unions” and that he wanted it “to be respected”. more

1 comment:

  1. Just an observation about the American corporate sanctioned "Labor Day". We no longer have the solidarity with the rest of the globe's May Day labor observance, and the timing of the first Monday in September explicitly guarantees that Students & Labor cannot coordinate any actions on the American Labor Day.

    David Bauer