Sunday, May 1, 2011
May Day. Two simple words with multiple meanings. This year, May Day, or May 1st, falls on a Sunday, which is traditionally a day of rest. However, many countries will honor this Sunday with May Day demonstrations that celebrate its heritage of unrest. Of course, that doesn’t preclude people in other countries from dancing around Maypoles celebrating May Day as the official advent of spring. If you plan on writing about May Day, it behooves you to consider all of its meanings.
Since 1856, May 1st has been recognized as a day to honor labor’s struggle in establishing an eight hour work day. May 1st also commemorates the 1886 Haymarket Affair, in which during a three-day general strike in Chicago, Illinois, common laborers, artisans, merchants, and immigrants gathered in front of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company plant. During this strike, police opened fire and killed four protestors. On the following day, an angry crowd rallied at Haymarket Square, and when things got ugly, the police moved in and opened fire on the unarmed crowd under the guise than an unknown assailant tossed a bomb at the police. By the time the bloody riot ended, at least a dozen people were dead, including one policeman. Following a sensationalized trial for the eight defendants, four anarchists were hanged. International outrage and the memory of the Haymarket martyrs led to May Day being commemorated as International Worker’s Day or Loyalty Day.
Today, May 1st is still recognized with various job actions and demonstrations, although in the US, Labor Day isn’t celebrated until the first Monday in September. Why? Because Labor Day didn’t become an official US holiday until six days after a number of workers were killed at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the 1878 Pullman Strike. Placing reconciliation with the labor movement as his top political priority, President Grover Cleveland pushed a bill through Congress that created Labor Day as a national holiday. Cleveland selected the flexible September date rather than using the more widespread International Workers' Day because he was concerned that observing the latter would stir negative emotions linked to the deadly Haymarket Affair and Pullman Strike.
Socialist countries use May 1st to televise massive propaganda displays demonstrating their military might and worker solidarity. Although designed to be intimidating, these May Day celebrations are in effect a type of political protest, not unlike some of the international labor demonstrations.
Celtic and Germanic festivals celebrate May Day as the official end of the unfarmable winter in the Northern hemisphere. Budding flowers and leaves provide ample reason for raucous celebrations before the hard work of farming the fields begins. With the seeding already done, laborers often get May 1st off, allowing revelers to dance around Maypoles with colorful ribbons.
May Day has another meaning, though. When the two words are combined, you get “Mayday”; the international distress call broadcast by ship or aircraft crewmembers in imminent danger. Stemming from the French word “m’aider”, meaning “come help me”, adrenaline shoots through the veins of anyone hearing Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! on the radio.
In tactical airplanes, a Mayday call usually precedes the pilot bailing out, and that’s what I’m doing here. An upcoming move to Texas and writing deadlines preclude me from continuing writing for Make Mine Mystery. It has been a pleasure contributing to this blog and I hope it continues its reputation for excellence. I wish all of you the best in your writing endeavors. Come visit me at markwdanielson.com or Muderous Musings.