May 1, 2008 - 6:56pm ET
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Apologies for excerpting at length, but Kathy G has important things to say about
Loyalty Day: Law Day:May Day:
Today is May 1, May Day. In much of the world, this day -- sometimes known as International Workers Day, or Labor Day -- is a day that honors and celebrates workers and the achievements of the labor movement. Here in the U.S., we also celebrate Labor Day, but our version occurs on the first Monday in September. And too often America's Labor Day is treated as little more than an apolitical day of rest, in contrast to May Day in other countries, which is celebrated in a manner that is far more political and explicitly pro-organized labor. But the irony is that May Day began to commemorate an important episode in American history: the Haymarket affair.
The Haymarket incident occurred in my adopted home town of Chicago on May 4, 1886. Following three days of protests and a general strike by labor groups calling for an eight-hour workday, a rally was held in Chicago's Haymarket Square. A bomb exploded, police opened fire on the crowd, and apparently some in the crowd fired back. A number of people were killed, including at least seven cops and four civilians. Eight anarchists, most of them German immigrants, were prosecuted for the murder. Following a trial that many believed was a travesty, seven of them were sentenced to death, though only five ended up going to the gallows. The remaining three defendants were eventually pardoned.
Thereafter, Haymarket became a rallying cry for socialists, anarchists, and labor activists around the world. Emma Goldman, for example, credited her reading about the Haymarket affair with having a profound affect on her political views and helping draw her to anarchism. In 1889, a resolution was adopted by the Second International to make May 1, 1890, a day of demonstration for the eight-hour work day. That date was chosen in honor of the Haymarket martyrs. Many countries eventually adopted May 1 as a national holiday honoring workers, but not America. Uncomfortable with the radical associations of that date, Congress in 1894 deemed that the first Monday in September would henceforth be a legal holiday known as Labor Day.
And apparently, it wasn't enough for America to turn its back on the vibrant,radical, internationalist vision May Day represents and create a poor, largely depoliticized substitute (Labor Day) in its stead. We've also attempted to co-opt May 1 so that it serves an entirely different public purpose. Wikipedia notes:
the U.S. Congress designated May 1 as Loyalty Day in 1958 due to the day's appropriation by the Soviet Union.
And as if one right-wing holiday on May 1 wasn't enough for you, how about adding a second one?
Law Day was created in the late 1950s, by the American Bar Association to draw attention to both the principles and practice of law and justice, and to distract attention from International Workers Day. President Dwight D. Eisenhower established Law Day by proclamation in 1958. . . . Law Day has been resurrected by President George W. Bush.
This is important to me because it illustrates a crucial theme underlying all my work: the American establishment's neurotic reticience, bordering on hysteria, to acknowledge the ineluctable existence of deep-seated structural conflicts in American life.
As it happens, "Law Day" makes a cameo in NIXONLAND. The spring of 1969 was the moment when anti-war campus takeovers truly spread nationwide—the spring of the armed black students at Cornell, and the People's Park riots at Berkeley—and President Nixon took the occasion of May 1 to send his top Justice Department officials around the country to deliver speeches. Richard Kleindienst spoke of a time when "concentration camps" might be necessary for America's "ideological criminals." William Rehnquist, speaking to a Newark Kiwanis Club, called them the "new barbarians."
That same week Nixon aide John Ehrlichman got into a shouting match at liberal columnist Mary McGrory's apartment after she prevailed on him to at least meet some antiwar leaders:
"Sir, there are thousands of us ready to be arrrested because we will not serve in this war."
"You will go!"
"Then we will put you all in jail for a long time."
"There aren't enough jails to hold us all."
"Then we will build the wall of our stockades higher and higher."
America: a nation that respects its dissenters.
Anyhoo. Let me just slip in notice that anyone who wants to bid on an autographed copy of my first book, sadly out of print and unavailable on the used-book site Alibris for less than $89.95, have less than two days to do so.
Makes a perfect May Day gift.
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