Friday, November 30, 2012

Origins of May Day - London May Day 1890, 1891 and 1892

Above Mayday 1891
Below May Day 1892

Origins of May Day

The first modern May Day was in 1890. At that time the main immediate aim of the Labour movement was to establish the legal eight-hour day. In 1889, delegates to the Paris foundation congress of the Second International decided to launch an international campaign for the eight-hour day:

" Congress decides to organise a great international demonstration, so that in all countries and all cities, on the appointed day, the toiling masses shall demand of the State authorities the legal reduction of the working day to eight hours." 

May Day was chosen as " the one appointed day " because already since 1886 the Amer-'can unions had organised strikes for the eight-hour day on that day.

Demand for Socialism
The next two congresses of the International strengthened and widened the May Day demonstration by adding to its objects improved working conditions, the preservation of peace between nations, and the achievement of the classless society. The 1893 Congress resolved :

" The demonstration on May the First for the Eight-Hour Day must serve at the same time as a demonstration of the determined will of the working class to destroy class distinctions through social change and thus to enter on the road, the only road, leading to peace for all peoples, to international peace."

The May Day demonstration became a symbol of the strength of the working-class forces and a rallying-point for working-class struggles in all countries.
The First May Day in Britain

In Britain at that time the unskilled were beginning to organise. The first May Day demonstration in Britain (May 4, 1890—the first ;Sunday in May) was a victory for the New Unionists and the pioneers of Socialism. 

The demonstration was organised by the Central Committse for the Eight Hours Legal Working Day Demonstration, created by Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling.

The London Trades Council, at that time dominated by the " old unions ", was brought to participate by the efforts of Tom Mann, then delegate from Battersea Amalgamated Society of Engineers. The craft prejudices of its old leaders prevented the Council from demon strating for legal enforcement of the eight-hour day, but the support of the Council for the demonstration helped to bring half-a-million people to Hyde Park. 

Landmark in Working-class Organisation
On that May Day for the first time the dockers, till recently the despised outcasts, marched in their rough working clothes next to the aristocracy of labour, the " gentlemen comps " in kid gloves and top hats. British workers proclaimed their organisation as a class, skilled and unskilled united for an immediate demand; and despite the distrust of " wild " Continental Socialists felt by the old T.U.C. leaders, the masses demonstrated for international solidarity.
Engels wrote of this demonstration as "the grandest and most important part of the whole May Day festival" in Europe.

" On May 4, 1890, the English working class joined up in the great international army. . . . The grandchildren of the old Chartists are entering the line of battle. . . . What would I give if Marx had lived to see this awakening." (Article in Vienna Arbeiterzeitung, May 23, 1890.)

[For a vivid summary of this demonstration, see " Fifty Years of May Day ", by Dona Torr, Labour Monthly, May 1940.] 

May Days of Struggle in Britain

Some of the high points in the  history of May Day in Britain.

1918. Wednesday, May 1, Clydeside struck work, led by the Clyde Workers' Committee and William Gallacher, and 100,000 marched to Duke Street Prison, shouting " Release John Maclean " (revolutionary fighter against the imperialist war).

1921. Building trade unions held " national holiday " (one-day strike) on May Day in support of their demands. 

1926. At the greatest-ever May Day demonstration (three-quarters of a million out in London) it was announced that a General Strike had been decided on by the General Council of the T.U.C.
The Right-Wing Leaders and May Day

The right-wing in the Labour movement consistently tried to weaken the class demonstrations on May Day— e.g., to prevent them being held on a week-day, involv ing strike action; tried to split them (as in London since 1946) or opposed them entirely. In 1929 the Social-Democrat police chief in Berlin, Zorgiebel, banned the May Day demonstrations and workers who took partwere shot down. 

The Ban on May Day in London, 1949

Twenty years later the Labour Government bans the May Day demonstration of the London trade unions, which has been held continuously for nearly sixty years.
The excuse was that the Fascist attempt to march through Hackney and Tottenham on March 20, with the protect on of 400 police, had resulted in disorder. 

The Home Secretary immediately banned all " public processions of a political character " in London for three months.