The Bollocks of Labour Day

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freedomToday is the beginning of a new month and also May Day or Labour Day. They seem to be different institutions, but might as well be one and the same. In Lowlands Country, the region of my birth, Labour Day is not a public holiday and therefore not celebrated as such. I remember the event as a yearly recurring news item mainly about demonstrations and violent protest in some European cities about we-don’t-really-know what. In the UK May Day is celebrated and the first Monday of May is always a public holiday. In the UK the public randomly gets a few days per year allocated as public holidays and besides Christmas and Easter none of these public holidays seem to clearly link to a religious or otherwise big fest, or that is what we think. For that reason there might be far less awareness about May Day not being just another day off. The May Day bank holiday is some sort of celebration of spring and in general a good opportunity to do something fun for the long weekend, assuming one is not working. Here on the Rock Labour Day, celebrated on 1 May, is a public holiday and if only today were a week day, all 9-to-5-ers would have had the day off.

May Day: The Slavery and the Magic

There are two distinctive aspects to May Day or Labour Day. One is the celebration and promotion of workers’ rights and Labour Day as such is also known as International Workers’ Day. The origins of the celebration of International Workers’ Day on 1 May seem a bit obscure. In America researchers explain the date as a commemoration of the Haymarket affair, which took place on 4 May 1886. The Haymarket affair refers to a tragedy in which four demonstrators died during a workers’ rights protest in Chicago, when the police shot on demonstrators after a bomb had gone off. This event is specific to the United Stated and I don’t think it was such a watershed moment for the whole world to start celebrating Labour Day on 1 May because of it. Also, the Haymarket affair took place on 4 May. If this affair would have been the reason behind Labour Day it would have been commemorated on 4 May.

Among pagans, hippies and dabblers in the dark arts of the Celtic tradition, May Day has always been an important celebration in the yearly cycle. It’s also known as Beltane and this is the second distinctive aspect to May Day. It takes place in between the spring equinox and summer solstice and is an announcement of the beginning of summer. Beltane is usually celebrated on 1 May and throughout the ages people have celebrated Beltane in different ways. In the spiritual sense by doing rituals to protect livestock and crops and on a seemingly more hedonistic level with markets, may pole dances and bonfires. It is assumed and believed that during Beltane the veil between ‘our’ world and the spirit world is at its thinnest and besides making sacrifices to please or appease certain entities, beings from other realms can be summoned to help accomplish certain things in ‘our’ reality.

In many regions across the world many holidays- whether really ‘holy’ or not- have merged or have been given a new name. A well-known example is Christmas, which many Christians celebrate on 25 December. This same holiday was known as Saturnalia in ancient Rome and Midwinter fest or Yule in more Nordic regions (the Danish word for Christmas is (still) yule). From the second half of the 19th century workers became more vocal and organised. They protested against certain aspects of their conditions and demanded workers’ rights. In the so-called western world the 40 hour week, sick pay, holiday pay and other employment rights are considered very big achievements. For unions and socialist movements to have a day to celebrate the worker, his achievements and his rights became an important next step in workers’ emancipation. Perhaps one has chosen to celebrate workers’ rights on May Day as people were out celebrating anyway.

Happy Labour Day?

On Labour May Day we can ask ourselves the following: what makes someone a worker and is this condition something to be celebrated? And also: are you mentally, emotionally and spiritually preparing for summer and if yes, how? Chances are high you are a worker or have been one in the past. You might not work in a factory or in a mine, but you might be chained to your desk or locked up in your car all day driving from client to client. Despite the 40 hour work week and sick and holiday pay, is there really something to celebrate? Proud industries throughout Europe like mining and textiles have been dismantled decades ago leaving communities still suffering today. The job for life is no more, just like my pension. By the time any of my generation, or anyone coming after us, wants to retire and claim their pension, there will be nothing left. As an employee 20% to 60% of my income will be taken away from me before I have even seen it and I have no say in how that money is being spent. They call it tax and because it’s the government who robs you, they say it’s a moral obligation. But what it is, is theft, especially if you realise that our tax money is not servicing the community, but is bailing out greedy and uncaring bankers, is paying for rich people to get even more and better tax deals and is financing dirty wars in country we have no business. Most of us wouldn’t work if they didn’t have to, so for many work seems to be self-imposed slavery.

Perhaps this May Day Labour Day we can think about what kind of worker we are and if we are happy with our bondage. We can think of how work can be different; more inspiring and much more constructive. There is no need to be a slave to the system, but first comes the awareness that we are one. I wish you much joy and contemplation this May Day and a great preparation for a glorious summer.

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