May Day: The Most American Holiday Americans Don’t Celebrate

Alternatively known as (International) Labor Day or International Workers Day, the first of May is celebrated across Europe and beyond with marches, protests, and celebration of wins like the 8-hour work day and the 40-hour week that were won by union activists like the ones who pioneered the first May Day strikes. I strongly recommend this week’s episode of the WNYC radio program On the Media (one of my NPR favorites!) about the history of this movement.

International Workers’ Day is celebrated with rallies and protests all over the world on May 1st, but it’s not a big deal in the United States. Last May, Brooke [Gladstone, of On the Media,] spoke with Donna Haverty-Stacke of Hunter College, CUNY about the American origin of May Day — and about how it has come to be forgotten.  The first national turnout for worker’s rights in the U.S. was on May 1, 1886; contrary to what you may have heard elsewhere, it wasn’t the same thing as the Haymarket Affair. Haverty-Stacke is also author of America’s Forgotten Holiday: May Day and Nationalism, 1867–1960, and she explains that the fight over May 1st, or May Day, is also about the fight for American identity and what it means to be radical and patriotic at the same time.

Justice Interruptus | On the Media | WNYC

Expect the yellow vest movement to mark May Day with continuing protests, now 25+ weeks’ strong in France, where May Day is particularly popular. Trade unionists and other leftists already turned out in support of the gilet jaune (yellow vests) last weekend.

yellow vest protesters in Paris, by Norbu Gyachung @norbuw via

Venezuela‘s opposition leader Juan Guaido is calling for massive demonstrations on Wednesday for May Day.

Closer to home, the teachers of North and South Carolina are planning to walk out, demanding better for their students:

In addition to improved wages, teachers are demanding the hiring of staff such as counselors, nurses, and librarians, a $15 wage for all non-teaching staff, a 5 percent cost of living adjustment for retirees, and a reinstatement of retiree health benefits for teachers hired after 2021. They are also seeking an expansion of Medicaid to benefit lower-income children and their families.

One teacher, Sherri Jones Laupert, posted on the North Carolina Teachers United Facebook, “We have multiple students with life-threatening conditions, such as juvenile diabetes, seizure disorders, etc, at our school. There is a nurse who comes through a couple of times per week, but it is their teachers who are expected to be the full-time nurses for those children (while also educating and caring for 22+ other students!)…MAKE NO MISTAKE…there’s not enough support staff in every N.C. school! Not by a long shot.”

US teachers in the Carolinas to hold mass protests on May Day |
World Socialist Website

Unions will also be marching in New York City and on the South Side of Chicago Wednesday, followed by the Youth Climate Strike on Friday, May 3rd. Strikes and marches will happen in a handful of other places across the United States….

Find your local march today!

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