May 3, 2022
From Alternative Bristol (UK)

In the midst of a world in chaos and upheaval, MayDay in Bristol was a dismal affair. Scouring reports from around the UK it seems in general the traditional labour movement marches, rallies & celebrations weren’t on the whole that much better, the Red side of MayDay is in a real downturn at present.

As for the Green side of MayDay, despite the ever closer environmental & ecological catastrophes that humanity has helped bring about, there’s not a lot either. Green events have been suppressed, recuperated, or commercialised. The free community Maypole & similar events of a few decades ago are few. Bristol’s Jack in the Green event, which at least gives a sanitised nod to the original meaning, takes place on the first Saturday in May, not on MayDay itself. Our recall of the origins of the Green MayDay, from way before industrialisation, as a celebration of mother earth, nature, the seasons, and much more, is it seems beyond us now. In our high tech, low joy, monetised world, a celebration is only for those who can afford it.

In their Facebook report of Bristol’s MayDay march, that they organised (and we were happy to promote), the Bristol Trades Union Council but on a brave face, and put some brave defiant words out. But their photos & report masked the fact that perhaps only 100 people turned out for a dreary damp march around Broadmead (again). They promoted the event on FB, but not on their own website. We have no idea how much publicity reached Bristol’s tens of thousands of union members, but suspect not a lot. No senior reps from the local Labour Party were seen either, certainly not the Mayor nor MP’s. Which is all disappointing, and odd, given the onslaught in recent years on workers pay & conditions, and the ever worsening cost of living crisis – amidst all the other crisis. Whilst the rich blatantly just get richer at our expense, the class war attacks coming from the ruling class know no end. But from the working class and it’s traditional bodies (and even it’s more random ones), there is little or no response. Do we blame the ‘leadership’, or those who choose not to follow? Are we so alienated, atomised, disenfranchised, excluded, misinformed etc that we just can’t be arsed anymore? When we look around the world we see plenty of resistance, is it just something about us in the UK?

It is currently easy to get demoralised and depressed by the way things are – that’s understandable! Some self-medicate with the drug of their choice and others profit from that; others bury heads deep in the sand, the mobile phone, or the tv screen. Defiant noises from younger radicals come to little, or turn out to be one-off events. But we’ve been here before. We, the people, the majority, the mass, the working class, have throughout history faced attacks. But equally throughout that history we have fought back, and fought & celebrated for a better future – and those struggles continue to benefit us in the here & now, even as one by one they are being taken back by those who rule over us. An awareness, and understanding, of history is beneficial, as it helps us see that the present situation is not new, and can be changed. To do nothing means a dead-end life, to eventually die on a dead planet – so really we ain’t got much too lose, let’s fight back! Here’s two short blasts from the past to help us on our way…

The RedWhat Are the Origins of May Day? By Rosa Luxemburg:
“The happy idea of using a proletarian holiday celebration as a means to attain the eight-hour day was first born in Australia. The workers there decided in 1856 to organize a day of complete stoppage together with meetings and entertainment as a demonstration in favor of the eight-hour day.

The day of this celebration was to be April 21. At first, the Australian workers intended this only for the year 1856. But this first celebration had such a strong effect on the proletarian masses of Australia, enlivening them and leading to new agitation, that it was decided to repeat the celebration every year.

In fact, what could give the workers greater courage and faith in their own strength than a mass work stoppage which they had decided themselves? What could give more courage to the eternal slaves of the factories and the workshops than the mustering of their own troops? Thus, the idea of a proletarian celebration was quickly accepted and, from Australia, began to spread to other countries until finally it had conquered the whole proletarian world.

The first to follow the example of the Australian workers were the Americans. In 1886 they decided that May 1 should be the day of universal work stoppage. On this day two hundred thousand of them left their work and demanded the eight-hour day. Later, police and legal harassment prevented the workers for many years from repeating this [size of] demonstration. However in 1888 they renewed their decision and decided that the next celebration would be May 1, 1890. In the meanwhile, the workers’ movement in Europe had grown strong and animated. The most powerful expression of this movement occurred at the International Workers’ Congress in 1889. At this congress, attended by four hundred delegates, it was decided that the eight-hour day must be the first demand. Whereupon the delegate of the French unions, the worker Lavigne from Bordeaux, moved that this demand be expressed in all countries through a universal work stoppage. The delegate of the American workers called attention to the decision of his comrades to strike on May 1, 1890, and the congress decided on this date for the universal proletarian celebration.

In this case, as thirty years before in Australia, the workers really thought only of a one-time demonstration. The congress decided that the workers of all lands would demonstrate together for the eight-hour day on May 1, 1890. No one spoke of a repetition of the holiday for the next years. Naturally no one could predict the lightning-like way in which this idea would succeed and how quickly it would be adopted by the working classes. However, it was enough to celebrate the May Day simply one time in order that everyone understand and feel that May Day must be a yearly and continuing institution.

The first of May demanded the introduction of the eight-hour day. But even after this goal was reached, May Day was not given up. As long as the struggle of the workers against the bourgeoisie and the ruling class continues, as long as all demands are not met, May Day will be the yearly expression of these demands. And, when better days dawn, when the working class of the world has won its deliverance then too humanity will probably celebrate May Day in honor of the bitter struggles and the many sufferings of the past.”

The GreenThe incomplete, true, authentic and wonderful history of May Day. By Peter Linebaugh.
“Once upon a time, long before Weinberger bombed north Africans, before the Bank of Boston laundered money, or Reagan honored the Nazi war dead, the earth was blanketed by a broad mantle of forests. As late as Caesar’s time a person might travel through the woods for two months without gaining an unobstructed view of the sky. The immense forests of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America provided the atmosphere with oxygen and the earth with nutrients. Within the woodland ecology our ancestors did not have to work the graveyard shift, or to deal with flextime, or work from Nine to Five. Indeed, the native Americans whom Captain John Smith encountered in 1606 only worked four hours a week. The origin of May Day is to be found in the Woodland Epoch of History.

In Europe, as in Africa, people honored the woods in many ways. With the leafing of the trees in spring, people celebrated “the fructifying spirit of vegetation,” to use the phrase of J.G. Frazer, the anthropologist. They did this in May, a month named after Maia, the mother of all the gods according to the ancient Greeks, giving birth even to Zeus. The Greeks had their sacred groves, the Druids their oak worship, the Romans their games in honor of Floralia. In Scotland the herdsman formed circles and danced around fires. The Celts lit bonfires in hilltops to honor their god, Beltane. In the Tyrol people let their dogs bark and made music with pots and pans. In Scandinavia fires were lit and the witches came out.

Everywhere people “went a-Maying” by going into the woods and bringing back leaf, bough, and blossom to decorate their persons, homes, and loved ones with green garlands. Outside theater was performed with characters like “Jack-in-the-Green” and the “Queen of the May.” Trees were planted. Maypoles were erected. Dances were danced. Music was played. Drinks were drunk, and love was made. Winter was over, spring had sprung…

…Therefore, it was attacked by the authorities. The repression had begun with the burning of women and it continued in the 16th century when America was “discovered,” the slave trade was begun, and nation-states and capitalism were formed. In 1550 an Act of Parliament demanded that Maypoles be destroyed, and it outlawed games. In 1644 the Puritans in England abolished May Day altogether. To these work-ethicists the festival was obnoxious for paganism and worldliness….”
Read in full:The Green / Thomas Moreton of Merry Mount / On Both Sides of the Atlantic / The Red: Haymarket Centennial / May Day Since 1886 / Law Day/USA / An Ending

For more on the Red (and Black) story of MayDay – see these articles from LibCom (where two of these images came from).

Another world is possible…