May Day

May Day has been a big day for me ever since I left a full-time teaching post, when most years I would be at work – unless it happened to fall at the weekend. One of the many changes I hope the next Labour government will make is to replace the silly Early May Bank Holiday on the first Monday in May – brought in by Jim Callaghan in 1978 and called ‘May Day’, with a real May Day bank holiday on May 1st every year.

May Day was an ancient festival to mark the first day of summer (and such celebrations exist – as in the London May Queen Festival and others I photographed which you can view some pictures of in my book preview – and more in many posts on My London Diary.

Since around 1891, May 1st has also been celebrated as a socialist festival, usually called May Day, but often also referred to as International Workers’ Day, Labour Day or Workers’ Day, the date chosen in memory of the Haymarket massacre in Chicago in 1886, where a bomb was thrown at police as they attempted to disperse what had been a peaceful rally of trade unionists. Eight anarchists – none of whom had actually thrown the bomb – were convicted of conspiracy, and seven were sentenced to death, though the sentences on two were commuted to life imprisonment. The trial was widely criticised as a miscarriage of justice and the three men still alive were pardoned and freed in 1893. The massacre was on May 4th, and the date of May 1st was almost certainly chosen because it was by tradition May Day.

Every year the London May Day Organising Committee’s May Day March gathers at Clerkenwell Green and marches to a rally in Trafalgar Square. Ever since I’ve been attending the event it has been dominated by some of London’s migrant communities, from countries where May Day is a much more significant event, although there are also quite a few trade union branches taking part with their banners.

This year, as in previous years there have also been other groups taking the opportunity to protest, some more closely related to International Workers’ Day than others – and I’ll write about some of those in a separate post. But because May Day is not a Bank Holiday, there are also May Day marches that take place on other days, and in Croydon trade unionists and others met to march through the town centre to a rally at Ruskin House in celebration of May Day on the following Saturday rather than on International Workers Day.

London May Day March meets
May Day March on the Strand
May Day Rally
Croydon march for May Day


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