Long Live May Day

1st May 2009

Today I’ll be out photographing May Day in London. There is a march every year to celebrate International Workers’ Day, organised by the London May Day Organising Committee,  and there has apparently been some kind of socialist celebration on May Day in London since the 1880s, although it was apparently only in 1904 that the Sixth Conference of the Second International in Amsterdam called for “all Social Democratic Party organisations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on the First of May for the legal establishment of the 8-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace.” (thanks to Wikpedia for the quotation.)

1st May 2013

And while we may generally have the 8-hour day (or something even shorter) there is certainly a long way to go on the demands of the working class and universal peace.  The socialists of course took over May Day from its general celebration as a Spring festival, which had earlier in the 19th century become promoted as a traditional festival with the coronation of May Queens, something else I’ve also photographed.But until I gave up teaching, I was seldom able to celebrate May Day unless it happened to fall at a weekend. May Day this Wednesday is for most workers a normal working day, and we have instead a rather silly Bank Holiday on the first Monday in May.

1st May 2000

Possibly the first May Day celebrations I photographed (or at least the earliest I’ve shared online) were on May 1st 2000, which was a Monday, and the events in Parliament Square and elsewhere were an anti-capitalist event rather than the rather more staid trade union and socialist march.

1st May 2000

Later in the day things turned rather nasty and police charged the protesters, a small number of whom had broken the windows of a McDonalds on Whitehall.

1st May 2003

It was not until 2003 that I first posted pictures from the official May Day March in London, though it wasn’t the first time I had been there, rather the first time I’d photographed it digitally. As usual I was very struck by the various socialist groups from London’s ethnic communities that were taking part.  There is a long list of supporting groups on the May Day Committee‘s site which as well as other trade union and community groups includes ” organisations representing Turkish, Kurdish, Chilean, Colombian, Peruvian, Brazilian, Portuguese, West Indian, Sri Lankan, Indian, Pakistani, Bangla Deshi, Kashmiri, Cypriot, Tamil, Iraqi, Iranian, Irish, South African, Nigerian migrant workers & communities”.

But even then, once I’d photographed that march, I went on to photograph anti-capitalists also celebrating May Day in their own way, and this May Day I’ll also be with friends celebrating it rather than listening to the speeches in Trafalgar Square, though I may manage to cover some other protests later in the day.

My London Diary has pictures from May Day for every year since 2003 and I’ll have more to add after today’s events. Long Live May Day!


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My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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