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Mayday Greetings! Er…no actually that was on Sunday… May 1, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, The Left.
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Fraternal greetings to one and all on May Day 2007.

Still, as noted by Ed Hayes and franklittle, May Day has been and gone. Obviously not the day, but the traditional march and commemorations in Dublin. They were held on April 29th. Yes, there is an argument that Sunday was the closest day to May 1st, and for once the weather was with them, but…why not next Sunday which has the most positive quality of actually being in May!

As I recall it was the Irish Labour Party that introduced the May Day Bank Holiday in the 1990s, and I seem to remember that was under the Fianna Fáil/Labour Coalition but I could be wrong. In that instance it did the people ‘no small service’. But enough of that.

I’ve a number of reasons for saying that. First up, as someone probably overly influenced by Andre Gorz in the 1980s, I think a society requires such days, both for the break from work that they provide, and also because they can engender aspects of social solidarity.

Secondly, in a society where public performance was restricted largely to sporting or state sponsored ‘festivals’ with roots in Irish tradition the idea of celebrating International Workers Day seemed to me to be no bad thing. There’s little enough cultural leftism as it is here.

And, in fairness, the first couple of May Day events were pretty impressive and well worth visiting the city centre to see. I also thought they made a good statement about the place of labour (in the broad sense) in the society. Since then, though, it’s dropped largely off the radar. As it happens I was out with a number of activists on Sunday and no-one mentioned the festival (although, mind you, some of them hadn’t realised an election had been called until well after lunchtime so perhaps they’re not the most representative group!). That can’t be right.

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But then, there is something a little coy about the promotion of the most recent May Day Festival or “Global Day for Fair Pay” as it was entitled. There’s much there to applaud. The linkage with global concerns is absolutely correct. The emphasis on a family day is no harm and the overt multi ethnic appeal heartening. The line up of events are worthy, although they’re mostly lower key (having said that I haven’t been in Liberty Hall since 1991 so the opportunity of ‘feasting [your] eyes on our Fair City from the tallest building in Dublin’ is one that I wouldn’t have passed up lightly had I known). Perhaps it’s the inevitable result of a “political” event that cannot be electoral. Is the Labour party still the manifestation of organised labour, or does Sinn Féin also have some ‘ownership’ of that title, or indeed since the net is cast much wider could it be that ‘organised labour’ is now a misnomer in a globalised world where campaigning and activist groups take a more prominent role?

Note the array of bodies involved from ICTU Youth, Dublin Council of Trade Unions, the OPW and the Department of the Environment. Fair dues to them all but more is needed. And of course it did have to happen the day the election was called when at least some good leftists might be expected to be elsewhere. That’s bad timing.

Or is it that this sort of display has forever overshadowed whatever other significations May Day might have as a Festival? That this is the event fixed in the public mind as the ‘authentic’ manifestation of international workers celebration?

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Perhaps too this is a case of trying to graft a tradition that has relatively little resonance with the broad mass of the Irish people onto them. Hobsbawms concept of ‘invented tradition’ may well be appropriate here. How to give it more resonance, although little resonance does not of course mean no relevance.

So what are we left with? Is it a Festival? A Street Party? A celebration of labour and international workers? Or an event that simply has no traction on the wider public imagination, that has no life in public discourse. That if the weekend, next weekend that is, has any meaning it is simply that it is another and very welcome Bank Holiday at a time when the weather is improving.If that’s it well, it’s not the worst thing in the world, but I can’t be alone in thinking that this desperately needs a greater push than it’s currently getting. Particularly if it is to have any chance of reaching a more prominent position in the societal consciousness. That, of course, requires actual effort and I wonder who is willing to make it?

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Comments»

1. thepillionpassenger - May 1, 2007

Simply didn’t know it was on. I don’t think a lot of u-25s see the point in these things. It sounds selfish but I can see why they would say – what did a union ever do for me? Most u-25s will never have been in one, and last year’s excellent Irish Ferries protest aside, they’re probably never been on a march.

This is particularly true in west Dublin, along the commuter belt, where a lot of the employed work in Services where there is little union activism. Suburban isolation is acute out here where you have a lot of people starting new lives and creating, I suppose, a history. Our positioning makes it less likely that we will go to a march as we are over an hour from the city. Again that sounds selfish but after 40 hours work and 20 hours commute it’s hard to sit on another bus to go for a sunday lunchtime protest.

These are just my observations, even though I support union causes as much as I can.

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2. Ciarán - May 1, 2007

Belfast’s May Day rally is this Saturday coming, 5th May. Seriously, is it at all possible that a May Day rally in Ireland could actually happen on May Day? If you’re too afraid to have your rally on a weekday because all of the workers will be working, well then you’ve just defeated the purpose of having a May Day rally in the first place.

There’s usually a good turnout up here in Béal Feirste from the unions, from left-leaning parties and from campaign groups. I’m from West Belfast though and the only people you’d see from this side of the town would be the handful of Irps and the members of SF’s trade union department (and this year might be interesting with the rally falling on the anniversary of Bobby Sands’s death) or activists who’d be there with the likes of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign or the Anti-Racism Network. Most people ignore the events because they don’t have any time for the trade union movement in the six counties, and why should they I suppose.

Obviously the sectarian nature of the six-county statelet and the historical discrimination in employment plays a part in the that up here, but there are larger issues that undoubtedly affect these things even beyond Ireland. One thing, in my opinion, is that while there certainly is a trade union movement in this country (spineless though it may be for the most part) there isn’t much sign of a labour movement.

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3. franklittle - May 1, 2007

I think the comparative success of this year was down to the Dublin Council of Trade Unions (DCTU) taking a back seat and letting ICTU Youth run it. I’m no fan of Congress, but they were willing to do the work, whereas DCTU has been presiding over an increasing disaster for some time.

Like most people, I continue to think May Day can be a successful event if publicisied right and if the various parties and organisations take the seriously. On Sunday for example, the only elected reps I saw were Joan Collins, the Independent, and a couple of Shinners. Admittedly, an election had just been called, but it wasn’t much better last year.

Hopefully, now the organisation of it has been prised from the dead hand of Sam Nolan, things can continue to improve.

On Ciaran’s point, the Independent Worker’s Union only marches on May Day. No-one turns up, but they feel more ideologically pure as a result. People are not going to lose a day’s pay to attend a march and be one of 30 people at it. If May 1st was a bank holiday, things would be different.

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4. WorldbyStorm - May 1, 2007

I think there are good arguments for May 1st as be the Bank Holiday.

thepillionpassengers that’s a good point about people not wanting to come in, although in fairness there is a growing population within the city centre. And unless or until it becomes much larger it’s not going to attract that sort of spread which in a way makes Ciarán’s point very valid. There simply isn’t much of a Labour movement on the island and what there is, such as the Labour History Museum in Beggars Bush in BAC is sort of muted.

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