Dancing Around The Maypole
Rituals welcoming the
end of winter and the entrance of spring were common among the Celtics and Germanic people of ancient times. The celebration
of May Day, another cross-quarter day marked among the pagans living in the Northern Hemisphere, has been pictured as children
happily dancing around a Maypole, their hands clutching a bright colored ribbon attached to the pole.
Maypoles were popular throughout Europe. During the May Day celebration,
people danced around the pole. Often a brass band was playing. The practice was abandoned and in some cases declared illegal
after Christianity arrived.
The name May
Day took on a new meaning during the Nineteenth Century when working class people engaged in a struggle to force employers
to improve working conditions. Workers sought eight-hour work days, safer working conditions and better pay.
The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, during its national
convention in Chicago in 1884, marked May 1, 1886, to be the date when a legal day of labor would be no more than eight hours.
The next year, in 1885, various Knights of Labor locals backed up that proclamation and threatened to support the idea of
an eight-hour work day by strikes and demonstrations.
When the big day arrived, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses in the United States walked off their
jobs in what became the first May Day event in history. The epicenter for the union strikers was Chicago, where 40,000 workers
struck their jobs. There were demonstrations and fiery speeches in the streets.
The protests grew. More and more workers walked off their jobs in the following days. Then on May 3, 1886, the
police intervened at the McCormick Reaper Works where the Steelworkers Union workers were striking. Police used clubs, the strikers responded by throwing rocks, and finally the police began firing into the crowd.
Two workers died and many others were injured in what is still remembered as the Haymarket Massacre.
The capitalists despised what became known as an anarchist movement. The media
supported big business interests and anarchism became synonymous with socialism and un-American activity.
The unions in America and throughout Europe grew in power and helped
create what has been called the Middle Class. May Day evolved into International Workers Day. But as we all know, big corporate
powers have slowly eroded the power of the unions. With international trade agreements
that have allowed large industrial corporations to move operations overseas in search of cheap non-union labor, shipments
of goods into North America without paying tariffs, and with the invention of “right-to-work” states (where workers
are not required to join unions to have jobs), unions are disappearing. And with them are going the Middle Class.
The significance of May Day has been all but lost.