Make MayDay Our Labour Day

I was very happy to see the success of the MayDay events at City Hall, and I would like to echo the sentiments expressed by many brothers and sisters that MayDay become recognised as an official holiday in Bermuda in place of the Labour Day celebrated in September.

For many years comrade Robbie Lynch took it upon himself to advertise and educate fellow workers on the importance of MayDay as opposed to the September Labour Day. Since his passing it is heartening to see that his committment is bearing fruit with the current celebrations, and I look forward to its continuation.

While MayDay is an ancient holiday celebrating the coming of Spring and for a long time it was a pagan ritual day, on MayDay 1886 workers throughout the US called a national general strike which was ruthlessly repressed by the police and military which set the stage for revenge attacks and general repression of workers movements and the imprisonment and execution of many prominent workers. In subsequent years the US workers continued the tradition of striking on this day to commemerate the repression of 1886 and also to call for the 8 hour day and other workers issues.

In 1889 the first meeting of the Second International called on the European workers to demonstrate in solidarity with the US workers on MayDay 1890, and the success of this action led to it becoming an annual tradition for the international workers movement.

The US President Cleveland feared that the the anniversary of the MayDay events would help strengthen the growing socialist movement and opted to make the first Monday of September the Labour Day holiday instead. This followed the tradition of the Knights of Labour who agitated for this. Many workers groups opposed this, partly because the date had no significance to the workers movement, but also because the Knights of Labour were affiliated at that time with the Ku Klux Klan.

Today, MayDay is recognised by the UN as International Labour Day and is a public holiday celebrated by demonstrations and speeches by workers everywhere, except for the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Bermuda (although I think Bahamas also follows the US model). In the US sphere of influence (Canada and Bermuda) the decision to celebrate the US Labour Day echoes the decision of President Cleveland, to encourage workers to forget the origins of MayDay and its significance to workers everywhere. Australia and New Zealand have a different origin of their Labour Days based on the history of the workers movement there.

It is time Bermuda makes MayDay an official holiday, a celebration of the successes of the workers movement, and a testament to what still needs done. The September Labour Day can continue as a day of rest, while MayDay becomes a day of action, or scratch the September holiday altogether.

Make MayDay our Labour Day!


4 thoughts on “Make MayDay Our Labour Day

  1. You’re correct that Canada kep the September labour day even after pressure to have a May 1 date but didn’t want peopleto ‘sympathise’ with socialists, but Canada’s labour day was celebrated before the US ever had one, and was established before May 1 was the recognized ‘appropriate date’. The tradition in Canada is September.

    There are labour marches and speeches organised for the September Labour day, as well as smaller but relevant May 1 protests, (sometimes moved to the nearest weekend) such as reclaim the streets, critical mass, and more

  2. I for one was completely unaware of a switch in North America of the date of what we know as Labour Day, and had attributed it simply as a normal difference of celebration. Quite an interesting post and I’m glad to have learned a bit more of the history.

  3. Pingback: May Day 2013 | "Catch a fire"

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