The History of May Day and the struggle for the History

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The History of May Day and the struggle for the History

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Publication Conference Paper, peer reviewed
Title The History of May Day and the struggle for the History
Author(s) Johansson, Roger
Date 2007
English abstract
Name: Roger Johansson, PhD, senior lecturer, Department: History Department/Teacher Education, Institution Malmö University, Sweden Phone: +46 (0)40 665 80 84, cell-phone +46 (0)709 655 380 E-mail: Title of paper: The History of May Day and the struggle for the History – Narratives of the May Day in the United States This paper will discuss the May Day in the US. There is also a close relation between the International May Day and the Haymarket tradition. An American historian, William Adelman, wrote about the Haymarket events in 1886 in Chicago: “The Haymarket bomb, the May Day march for the eight hour day, the trial, and execution started a chain of events that have influenced every corner of the globe.” And it would not be possible to understand the heavy symbolism of the Haymarket, without understanding how close related the events were – and still are – to the eight-hour-working-day, free speech, and most of all, the international May Day. Carl Smith, another American historian, wrote about the meaning of the bomb: ”…the profoundest questions of all: under what conditions should human beings live and labor with one another? Four different monuments were erected to memorize the events at the Haymarket Square. Still, two of the monuments were placed at the Haymarket Square – but not at the same time. It is not surprisingly that the battle over the memory of the trauma also resulted in a violent battle over the space at the square in effort to erect a monument; The police monument from 1889 and The site of the Haymarket tragedy from 2004. As a member of the committee in 2004 the President of the Police Union in Chicago stated that the Haymarket monument also included the police as a labor force – today the Chicago police is unionized and a part of the labor movement in Chicago. And even more important, from the perspective of the international working class day, is the fact that when The site of the Haymarket tragedy was erected in 2004 it also became the starting point for the return of May Day in Chicago. And with the erection of the new monument over the Anarchists in 2004, the past and the present of the May Day tradition, meets at the Haymarket Square. Maybe this is how we should read the history over the two monuments. Monuments are not only shaping memories, or preserves the memory, the monument is talking to us and makes us understand our own contemporary world and in a deeper meaning they make us look into the future. In this sense a monument is truly interactive. The two monuments are standing as common testimonies of the May day of the 1886s in Chicago and everyone who meets The police monument or The site of the Haymarket tragedy are forced to meet the narratives they bring to us. As an American historian wrote, “…the passion” of the debate “…reveals how important the establishing of imaginative control over the city was….”, and you could add - still is. Ever since the Haymarket events, and even more, since the birth of the international working class May Day in 1890, there has been a struggle over the May Day and the meaning of the concept as an international working class day for class manifestations. In this sense the May Day reflects the conflicts inside the American society. On the other hand it gives us through its slogans, artefacts and the manifestations of the day, a representation of how the American working class movement understood the day and how this has changed over time. Both the attempts to criminalising the May Day by criminalising its artefacts by the Red Flag Law or by renaming the day to Child Health Day or working class celebration the day or not, or how Haymarket has been memorised, it all reflects changing values in the public debate and the imagines of the May Day inside the US working class and labor movement.
Publisher SSHA, Chicago, USA
Language eng (iso)
Subject(s) history
Humanities/Social Sciences
H-S: History
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