The History of May Day Bank Holiday

The May day bank holiday was introduced by the then Secretary of State for Employment Labour MP Michael Foot as a day to honour workers on International workers Day.

International Workers Day is also partley  a commemoration of the Haymarket massacre. Workers in the Chicago employed on a paupers wage worked 14 hours a day six days a week all year long. Workers attempted to organise and ask for better working conditions this resulted in employers using acts of violence against them.

As workers gathered in protest and to ask for an 8 hour day police arrived en masse ordering them to disperse. A group of Anarchists amongst the crowd threw a homemade bomb at the police killing one officer. The police opened fire on the demonstrators taking time to reload and continue firing. In the confusion some police officers even managed to shoot each other. Seven police officers died and official records say Four protesters but other reports put the number at fifty dead as many mortally wounded were afraid to seek medical attention fearing arrest.

Its easy to sit back and say “the brought it upon themselves” by throwing the bomb, but you have to remember the identity of the bomb thrower has never been identified. Also it needs to be looked at with the context of the time when companies employed Pinkerton guards who repeatedly used lethal violence against workers.

This was a brutal time for workers rights, the Haymarket incident was just one of many that passed on the way to establishing the eight hour day.

And now we jump forward to today were the Tory lead coalition are looking to abandon the May Day bank holiday (they would like to move it to October)

I’m not saying that workers today face the same brutality that our comrades once faced but what I am seeing is they face an erosion of employment rights not seen since those times. The government keeps telling us that it is making changes to employment law to make the employment market more flexible, this is despite the fact that the UK already has one of the most lightly regulated employment systems in the world.

Their seems an attitude were people now live in fear of speaking up if they are mistreated at work. An atmosphere of if i’m not happy with the situation they can just get someone to replace me. This is not the way it should be, it should be beneficial for both employers and employees to be in an environment were workers are treated fairly.

On this day let’s remember the workers of the past. But let’s not forget the workers of the future and the prospects they face


About glenchisholm

Former Mayor of Ipswich Suffolk, Labour Cllr for Whitehouse, all opinions my own and do not reflect organisations I represent, Si-fi geek and Raiders fan
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5 Responses to The History of May Day Bank Holiday

  1. IS/BR says:

    Isn’t it because the Soviet Union held a public holiday on 1st May? I thought the Soviet Union instituted the day to recognise the contributions made by working people in the historical development of society.

  2. glenchisholm says:

    Thanks for reading Ben .The Soviet Union where one of the first to observe the day as a public holiday, In fact it was illegal in Russia untill 1917 when it then became an elaborate display. But it was at a meeting of `Second International` in Paris in 1891 that it was recognized that there should be an annual event and this was inspied by the events in Haymarket

  3. But celebrating May Day (not just as a bank holiday) came well before any of that and has nothing to do with workers but more to do with springtime and should not be hijacked by the socialist party. Quite frankly I was disgusted when i went to Alexander park at the weekend and i just hope it’s not subsidised in any way by Ipswich tax payers. Hubby and I walked out after 15 minutes because of the lies and propaganda on the array of red stalls. I was embarrassed for all of them sitting sanctimoniously behind each one including the Socialist Paper sellers.

    • Kevin Algar says:

      They’re to self righteous to see the hypocrisy of the whole thing. And yes, it is subsidised by the Ipswich council tax payer. Don’t socialists love spending other people’s money?

    • glenchisholm says:

      I like to think it’s a lot less black and white the “capitalism good” and “Socialism bad” view point and vice versa there are shades of gray, I welcome responsible capitalism and the benefit that socialism and unions have had for the working man can not be ignored. With it’s influence even in the capital of capitalism as “Haymarket” it bought to end the terrible abuse of workers and appealing conditions they faced. And workers rights and conditions are still relevant today not just at home but as recent events in Bangladesh have shown abroad as well

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