Wednesday’s May Day events remind us about how the people who participate in an event define it for their own purposes. Initially a celebration of Spring, organized around May poles (and May flies?), for more than 100 years, May 1 has been a day for celebrating working people around the world (but not in the United States).
The May Day event was originally intended to commemorate the massacre of labor marchers at Haymarket Square in Chicago on May 4, 1886. Organized labor poured its efforts into May Day, and still does, but no one owns the calendar, or even the day.
By looking at May Day events, we can see how a range of activists are trying to define their own efforts–and the interests of working people.
As it did last year, Occupy Wall Street tried to use the occasion to showcase the broad range of activities Occupiers have undertaken since the encampments were cleared more than a year ago. They put together a full schedule and spoke out on many issues, but turnout and attention were down from last year.
In Greece the largest unions used the occasion to continue their protests against harsh austerity policies, supporting a 24 hour general strike. But turnout (an estimated 15,000), disruption, and attention were all diminished from similar events over the past few months.
In Los Angeles, organized labor and May Day are all about rights for immigrants. Supported by local unions, the turnout estimated in the thousands was reported to be largely Latino, and the demands were focused on immigration reform. An impressive display and a clear message, to be sure, but less dramatic and much smaller than immigration rallies in the same place over the past few months.
May Day has become an available holder for activists to try to fill with their own concerns. This year local concerns and local organizers overshadowed any national or international message–beyond a general concern for working people.