A Little JOLT with Ken Balsley

A short history of May Day in Olympia

Posted

With May Day just around the corner perhaps it’s time to put the day and date into some perspective.

Many of us here in Thurston County think of May Day as the time young anarchists, mostly from the college, take over the streets of Olympia, causing trouble for police, harassing local business owners and generally making it hard on those who try to drive around the city.       

And, actually, the young anarchists have a point.  May Day has traditionally been their day, and while most Americans think of May Day as a communist holiday and a time to tout the benefits of socialism, May Day actually had its beginnings in America.

However, since May Day is on a Sunday this year, I don't anticipate that they'll cause much trouble.  I think that even anarchists take Sunday off.

Remember Haymarket?

Long a big holiday in European countries where it’s known as International Workers Day, May Day there celebrates the rights of the workers in the production process.

But it started in America, in 1884, when the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, later the American Federation of Labor, the AFL, called for an eight-hour working day beginning on May 1, 1886.

When that day came, thousands of workers in hundreds of cities and locales walked off the job in protest.  It ended two days later in Chicago, in Haymarket Square, when seven police officers were killed and dozens wounded from a bomb blast.

No one knew who threw the bomb that killed the police officers, but eight anarchists were charged with the murder; four of them were later hanged for the offense.

How Labor Day got started

Because of the violence around the riot, the United States; unlike European countries,  opted to move Labor Day from the first of May to the first Monday in September.

But anarchists around the world, and more than a few here in the Pacific Northwest, continue to see May Day as the time when the average worker needs to take back his community.  They see it as an opportunity to make a point.  

Others see it as an opportunity to have some fun, raise some hell and tweak the nose of the establishment.

So, if and when protests occur on May Day, chalk it up to a long history of political action on the part of young people. Or, just consider it Spring fever and the need to have a little fun.  Kind of like a late Spring break for our local college students.

But I’ll always remember a more innocent May Day, as the time of May baskets and kissing the girl you liked.  That’s the kind of May Day that many of us long for.

But, I guess, there’s more than one version of the “Good Old Days” and of May Day. 

Ken Balsley is Thurston County's longest-serving journalist. He writes every few days on his blog at  kenbalsley.com and hosts "Coffee with Ken" every Sunday morning at 8 a.m. on KGY 95.3 FM.

Comments

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  • Hadgib

    I’m with you, bring back the May Baskets and leaving them on the doorstep of the person you like. Then ring the doorbell and run!

    Friday, April 29 Report this

  • Hi Ken, I'm one of those who think back on the anarchists from the college on May Day. Not so long ago, on various years, they celebrated the day with property damage of businesses in downtown Olympia. I still don't think that's just a way "to have a little fun." Let's please note May Day for what it should be: Justice to workers.

    Saturday, April 30 Report this

  • wolfmanner

    "So, if and when protests occur on May Day, chalk it up to a long history of political action on the part of young people. Or, just consider it Spring fever and the need to have a little fun. Kind of like a late Spring break for our local college students.". Are you serious ? Do you own a business ? How would you like your windows smashed ? Just call it a little fun.

    Saturday, April 30 Report this