May Day

May 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

First things first: the news you’ve been waiting to hear: did I actually finish the outline? I did! Finished it at 6pm yesterday, complete with all the research and citations, and sent it off to my professor. In honor of that accomplishment, I took the rest of the evening weekend off… which resulted in crappy movie watching with Nadine last night, and May 1st festivities today.

Like the vast majority of people in the United States, I had no idea that labor day is celebrated in many places in Europe and Asia, including in Denmark, on May 1st (to those readers not in the United States, the US has a version of labor day celebrated on the first Monday of September. It is mostly an occasion full of barbeque, beer, and the unfortunate American football games…) The May 1st version of labor day celebrated in Denmark has an undeniable socialist/left wing twist and was established over a hundred years ago upon the passing of the 8 hour work day. The original origins of the day are actually from Chicago though. According to Wikipedia:

May Day can refer to various labour celebrations conducted on May 1 that commemorate the fight for the eight hour day. May Day in this regard is called International Workers’ Day, or Labour Day. The idea for a “workers’ holiday” began in Australia in 1856; after a stonemason’s victory in securing improved employee rights, April 22nd was declared “Eight-Hour Day”, a public holiday. With the idea having spread around the world, the choice of May 1st became a commemoration by the socialist Second International for the people involved in the 1886 Haymarket affair.

The Haymarket affair occurred during the course of a three-day general strike in Chicago, Illinois, United States that involved common laborers, artisans, merchants, and immigrants.Following an incident in which police opened fire and killed four strikers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. plant, a rally was called for the following day at Haymarket Square. Towards the end of the rally, as police moved in to disperse the event and opened fire on the unarmed crowd on the plea that an unknown assailant threw a bomb into the crowd of police. The bomb and resulting police riot left at least a dozen people dead, including one policeman. A sensational show trial ensued in which eight defendants were openly tried for their political beliefs, and not necessarily for any involvement in the bombing. The trial led to the eventual public hanging of four anarchists. The Haymarket incident was a source of outrage from people around the globe. In the following years, memory of the “Haymarket martyrs” was remembered with various May Day job actions and demonstrations.

I have studied the Haymarket riots in school, but I had no idea that they lead to an international labor day. So, in conclusion, I have no idea why labor day in the US is in September. (Actually, I do know because I just read it in the same Wikipedia article, but it is a really stupid reason: “Although the commemoration of May Day as International Workers’ Day received its inspiration from the United States, the U.S. Congress designated May 1 as Loyalty Day in 1958 due to the day’s perceived appropriation by the Soviet Union.”)

According to this document I found called “Why May 1st” from (the document is in Danish so excuse the poor google translation), a May 1st Labor Day has been celebrated in Denmark since 1890.

In 1890 the Danish trade unions would also participate in the celebration and make the requirement for an 8-hour workday. The Copenhagen unions chose North Fælled (now Fælledparken) as a rendezvous for a demonstration and urged the workers to take time off to participate. However, it was a part harder than they had imagined.
In April 1890 the police issued a confirm Executive Order for the whole country, which “prohibits the marching through the streets in procession, to lead unfolded banners, flags, etc. through the streets, singing or in the streets to demonstrate against the second police regulations provisions conflict behavior.”
The pamphlet goes on, and it is actually quite interesting but I will let you read it yourself if you so desire (click here for a PDF). To make a long story short, it turned out that all the protests in Denmark were peaceful and since then Labor Day has been celebrated every year in Denmark. There were actually a bunch of protests occurring at various places across the city, but judging from my last protest experience in Denmark, I would be completely lost without someone to translate for me, so I didn’t make it out to any of them. (I really, really need to learn Danish.)
(Side note: See, that was much more educational than this essay I need to write, and I will definitely remember it for much longer also.)
In any case, the celebration is still in Fælledparken, and attendence each year is estimated at many tens of thousands of people. So early afternoon I packed up my lunch on my bike and cycled over to Nørrebro to meet three friends, and we continued on to Fælledparken. Little did I know the amount of food they brought, or I would never have packed my own lunch.
Pictured: grapes, carrots, cheese, garlic spread, cookies, wine, crackers, beer, Maltesers (malt balls), M&Ms, chocolate eggs. Not pictured: Bread
Anyway, the general atmosphere was one of welcoming in summer (despite it being way colder than it has been the past few weeks). Lots of picnics and beer, at least three stages full of live music, and many stands selling food. Wasn’t really different than an American music festival in many respects, including the presence of some odd facial piercings I’ve never seen before. One difference between US music festivals and this was that in Fælledparken, there were urinals that were just open… no walls or cubbies or anything. Don’t know why that was necessary.
However, the biggest difference was probably (obviously) that everyone was speaking Danish, which I kind of love love love. Not that Danish is a particularly pleasant language to listen to, but I don’t know, there is something super enchanting about it. Maybe it’s because I don’t understand it…

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