New life is blooming all around us. At the beginning of May, about midway between equinox and solstice, festivities around the world celebrate the glory of spring. It’s a time of maypole dancing, flower baskets, and romance.
It’s also an international day for workers’ rights, dating from demands in the late 1800s for an eight-hour workday. After a protest on May 1, 1886, in Chicago’s Haymarket Square turned deadly, many countries adopted May Day as International Workers’ Day or Labor Day. The United States, distancing itself from the taint of anarchy or socialism, chose early September instead. Recent unofficial May labor observances in the U.S. have focused on immigration reform and the rights of undocumented workers.
Who has it right, those who relish the moment or those who strive for a better future? “It’s hard to know when to respond to the seductiveness of the world and when to respond to its challenge,” E. B. White wrote. “I arise in the morning torn between the desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” May Day invites us to do both.
Images: (left, cropped) Maypole dancing at Bishopstone Church, Sussex, England; (right, cropped) Protesters march in Minneapolis for International Workers Day in 2010.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.