Published: 11 May, 2012
• EARLY May includes two historically significant dates: May 1 as International Workers’ Day, and May 8 as the anniversary of the victory ending World War II.
Odd that this year neither were celebrated here with holidays.
We had instead a bank holiday on May 7, a “spring holiday” held on the first Monday in May.
(Funny really, to go on celebrating bank holidays, considering what many of us now feel about banks. We owe bank holidays to a 1934 decision by the Bank of England to grant four annual holidays, but only when it was reducing these from 33 saints and religious ones.)
It’s true that a May holiday has its origin around 2,000 years ago as a pagan fertility festival, long traditionally celebrated in some English communities by Morris dancing around a maypole.
But in the last century the date has acquired a newer historical significance, as what many people call Labour Day.
This has a complex history, but a notable founding date was in 1904 when the International Socialist Conference in Amsterdam called on “all Social Democrats and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on May 1 for the legal establishment of the eight-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace”.
International Workers’ Day is now celebrated as a public holiday in about 80 countries.
The celebrations and rallies for workers’ rights are sometimes observed officially or sometimes unofficially.
It was its peace aspect, the armistice commemoration, which was observed the day after their election by both the new and outgoing presidents of France. In England (as, I understand, also in the Arab Emirates) it was officially ignored.
Here, the annual march from Clerkenwell Green to Trafalgar Square was rather less numerous than in some past years.
I noted only one banner, from Islington Trades Council, while listening to speeches from some trade union leaders and Dot Gibson, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention.
I trust the decline in numbers will not be influenced by the coalition government announcing in March last year plans to move this bank holiday to October – in order to lengthen the tourist season.
Subordinating the celebration of significant historical events to an advertising dodge is a degrading commercial ugliness.
Highbury Hill, N5