May Day ought to reclaimed by American workers from the clutches of Stalinists, the ABA (Law Day) and the Catholic Church (which created a St. Joseph's Day in 1956).
Wikipedia summarizes the origins and significance of May Day
The holiday is most often associated with the commemoration of the social and economic achievements of the labor movement. The May 1st date is used because in 1884 the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions demanded an eight-hour workday in the United States, to come in effect as of May 1, 1886. This resulted in the general strike and the U.S. Haymarket Riot of 1886, but eventually also in the official sanction of the eight-hour workday. May Day is designated International Workers Day. It is indeed a thoroughly international holiday; and the United States is one of the few countries in the world where pressure from local working classes has not led to an official holiday.
Bill Onasch, webmaster of KC Labor has an excellent column on line which gives some additional background and perspective.
The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions reports on May Day Plans
As workers around the world get ready to celebrate May Day, trade unionists in Zimbabwe and worker rights activists in Iran who are preparing May Day events face the heavy hand of government repression, as authorities try to stop public observance of the international workers’ day.Here's the ICFTU May Day Manifesto
On 27 April, six Zimbabwean trade unionists involved in a May Day preparatory meeting in Mutare, Zimbabwe, were arrested by the authorities, using provisions of the notorious Public Order and Security Act. A further six union representatives taking part in commemoration activities for the International Day of Mourning for Dead and Injured Workers on 28 April were arrested, prompting a strong ICFTU protest to President Robert Mugabe.
In Iran, two out of seven worker rights activists arrested in for taking part in May Day celebrations last year have been ordered to appear in Court on May 1st this year. ICFTU requests to the Iranian Authorities to be allowed to observe the trial have been refused.
“Workers in countries all around the world will be taking part in festivities to mark the many achievements of the trade union movement and to show the importance of workers’ rights and solidarity”, said ICFTU General Secretary Guy Ryder. “But many millions of workers around the world are denied these rights, and government repression of May Day activities, in Iran, Zimbabwe and other countries, shows the lengths to which authoritarian regimes will go to stop free and democratic unions organising”.
With 2005 a major year for international decisions on tackling global poverty, the global trade union movement is using May Day to call for debt relief for the poorest countries, greatly increased international aid, and justice in the world trading system, as part of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), a coalition of trade union and non-government organisations. The ICFTU May Day Manifesto highlights this call, stressing the central importance of decent employment, trade union rights and collective bargaining in ending world poverty.
Today, May Day 2005, workers around the world are celebrating the proud record of achievements of more than 100 years of trade union solidarity. We pay homage to all those who throughout history have done so much to promote and defend the rights of working women and men, create social justice and fight for equality, human rights and democracy.
This year, trade unions are joining with others all around the world in the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, demanding that the grand promises made by governments at the United Nations and elsewhere should be put into action urgently. The world can no longer afford to ignore the plight of the hundreds of millions women and men who live on less than one dollar per day. Creating decent jobs for all has never been more important, as divisions between the haves and the have-nots in the global economy grow ever greater. One billion people are unemployed, underemployed or working poor: 60% of these are women. In the Global Call, we demand debt relief to the poorest countries, greatly increased development aid and justice in the global trading system.
More than 200 million children are working instead of at school, while young people who have finished their education struggle to find decent jobs in countries across the globe. Millions of working people face exploitation, discrimination and insecurity, having to accept jobs which pay too little for them, and those who depend on them, to have a decent life. Trade unions themselves face enormous pressures, as governments and employers in many countries violate workers’ rights, including outright assaults on the trade union movement. Our global action is critically important to put an end to union-busting, and to defend the rights of those, particularly women, who are the victims of the global race to the bottom.
We are confident that we can meet the challenge to change the path of globalisation. We will act across borders and across continents to help organise the millions of workers who are denied union rights, to tackle the exploitation of migrant workers and those who toil in the world’s export processing zones, and to put women and men on an equal footing in our own movement, in the workplace and in society. We will take forward the reform, strengthening and unification of the international trade union movement, to make sure that we are equal to the enormous tasks ahead of us.
We demand a better world, a secure and peaceful world where social justice, equality and fundamental rights reign supreme. We pledge to do all in our power to build this better world for future generations.
Long Live Global Labour Solidarity!
You'll find lots of reports on May Day at LabourStart. That's where I came across a really neat site, Euro May Day, organized by young contingency workers in Europe. There you can join a virtual May Day net parade with your own avator.In Canada, there's May Week Labour Arts Festival in Edmonton which " brings together the labour movement, workers and artists to celebrate and support working class culture and the contributions of artists and workers to our society." And other events throughout the country can be found here.
"May Week’s goal is to promote the interests of cultural workers and trade unionists, and to bring working-class culture from the margins of cultural activity onto centre stage."If you're in Kansas City, the KC Labor Party is having a picnic from noon-4 pm at Macken Park and at 1 pm Fred Whitehead is speaking on "The Cultural Heritage of May Day" at the Community of Reason, which meets in the library of the Hogan College Preparatory Academy, 1221 E. Meyer (near 63rd and Troost).